Monday 5 December 1994

Kate Herbert's Theatre Picks 1994 - The Melbourne Times Dec 1994

Herbie's Theatre Picks 1994
by Kate Herbert
December 5, 1994
published in The Melbourne Times, Dec 1994

My theatrical highlights for 1994 have surprised me. Three are overseas product, three are from Melbourne Theatre Company, one is from Sydney and only one of the five shows produced in Melbourne are locally written.

Top of my top ten list must be the Canadian Opera production of Bluebeard's Castle Ewartung. The highlight was the visionary direction by Robert Lepage making his opera debut with extraordinary stage imagery complemented by dramatic lighting creating an intense psychic landscape. The surreal illusion of Bluebeard's dead wives emerging from under water, dripping blood was a blinding inspiration.

I was mesmerised by the simple, poignant beauty and deceptive naivete in the writing of Tim Winton which director- actor Richard Roxborough captured in his adaptation of That Eye, The Sky for the Melbourne Festival. I sat with my jaw on my kness at its physicality and the truthful recreation of Winton's emotional landscape, his ‘Magic Australianism’: the visions, hallucinations, poetic language and broad Australian colloquialisms stirred into the one sweet tragedy. It was thrilling  charming and a true ensemble piece.

The next eight or so on my list all rest are in no particular order but I was transported in some way by all of them. I begin at La Mama early in the year with Marguerita Duras' play, L'Amante Anglaise which is a superbly crafted piece of writing about murder, madness and mystery. It was rivetting character drama, a production of inspired simplicity with the audience in full light almost in the laps of actors, John Flaus and Brenda Palmer who talk, seated opposite each other for 90 minutes.

Director, Bruce Myles is responsible for two of my hits. Someone Who'll Watch Over Me (MTC) he directed simply and stylishly in a terrifyingly truncated rehearsal period. He coaxed magnificent performances out of Richard Piper, Melvin J. Carroll and the inimitable Frank Gallacher, as the volatile and maddening Irish wit. It is based on the real experiences of hostages by extremists in Beirut. We are voyeurs who witness their wrenching, existential pain. Myles other success was Shadowboxing by James Gaddas with a rivetting Robert Morgan. It was an emotional and physical rollercoaster, an intimate and frenetic performance about a young boxer trying to make a career and discovering, in this macho boxing world, that he is gay.

A Room of One's Own ( MTC) , a solo by Pamela Rabe, was directly adapted from the writings and lectures of Virginia Wolff about Women in Fiction. This had me weeping for the sheer power of Wolff's words and her wonderful mind. Rabe's depiction of Virginia Wolff was magnificent, revealing, energising, intelligent and witty.

 The MTC also re-staged a magnificent double of with exceptional performances and writing by Tony Kushner, which shifts from the lyrical and poetic to the stridently political to the fantastic. The mind of this man is the Eighth Wonder.

The only classical text on my list is Renato Cuocolo's adaptation of The Bacchae - but IRAA never does a traditional production. In The Bacchae: Burning by Water, Cuocolo sets the whole performance in a shallow pool. What stays with me is Robert Meldrum's rich honey voice and the sensual and lyrical reflections of light from the pool over the bodies of the actors. It left me gaping and hypnotised by the evocative atmosphere and the "psycho-physical" performances of actors.

 IRAA is also responsible for bringing Otto Lechner, an impish Austrian piano accordion player who transforms the accordion from bad talent quest material to a sexy and hilarious hour of jazz and musical satire. His send-up of Viennese waltzes is legend.

 Falling From Grace, Hannie Rayson's new play for Playbox, is uncannily accurate in representing the worlds of four modern women fighting forty who have busy, successful, complicated, often fraught professional and personal lives. The characters are never predictable but heck, are they familiar!

I must mention Phillipe Genty's Forget Me Not from France. His whimsical combination of visual theatre, movement and spectacle is extraordinary. There were moments when I could not tell the people from the puppets.

Visiting overseas shows are generally already huge hits with even huger budgets but is the Melbourne theatre scene already suffering from the low or non-existent budgets, short script development and rehearsal time and lack of sponsorship and support for local product? Here's to more local and exceptional product in '95.

Kate Herbert 5/12/1994

Friday 2 December 1994

The Wilderness Room by Gilgul, 2 December, 1994

 By Gilgul

At 321 Chapel St. Prahran 8.30 pm until Dec 21, 1994 (not Fridays)

Reviewer: Kate Herbert around 2 December 1994

This review was published in th Melbourne Times in early December 1994.. KH


 The abstract in theatre can be riveting, illuminating and succinct and Barrie Kosky's previous Gilgul shows have had their fair share of these qualities. In The Wilderness Room, the latest production from this company, there are a few inspiring images, most of which are in the last 20 minutes of the one hour performance but a heavy symbolism disguises a lack of content .


The intention of the piece is noble and interesting, aspiring to represent the experience of the five Jewish convicts who were on the First Fleet. It draws cunning parallels with the Jews wandering in the wilderness for forty years after their escape from Egypt under Moses leadership and the immigrant - convict forced expatriation.


The Jews bring with them their rituals and conventions: Passover, Elijah's chair and cup, joyful and poignant songs which are often the most moving and atmospheric moment in the performance.


All five performers work very hard with Kosky vigorously playing piano and harpsichord live on stage. The company has a strong ensemble feel and a recognisable style based on the Polish and Yiddish theatre. It incorporates mask-like faces, minimalist design (by Peter Corrigan), physical, non-verbal performance, weighty symbolism and non-narrative form.


Some wonderfully evocative images remain with me: five figures with their heads draped in sodden white cloths; three actors stitching their eyes and mouths shut to avoid imbibing any of the Australian culture which is represented by the sudden unveiling of Hans Heysen landscapes; the new arrivals pulling tailors' tape measures from their mouths (presumably a reference to the Jewish rag trade?); five packing boxes clattering and swirling about the dimly lit space as First Fleet ships.


The perky Brazil '66 music during the musical-Passover-chairs scenes off-set the seriousness of other images.


The problem is that without the aid of the program notes the audience would have no idea about the five Jewish convicts' lives or even what the action meant. At times, the movement is repetitive and abstracted to the point of meaninglessness and tedium. When the action is supported by music, song or a rhythmic pace, the meaning is much more successfully communicated.


This Gilgul production lacks the icy irony and black clown quality of previous shows which prevented them from being too earnest.


By Kate Herbert


Thursday 1 December 1994

1994 Reviews Kate Herbert - The Melbourne Times

A hard Act to Follow
Top Ten
Someone Who'll Watch Over me
Wilderness Room
Glass Mermaid
Martin & Molloy
Wong article
Women's  Circus
Shaughraun 2
Shaughraun review
Wong 13 10 94
Going Places
That Eye the Sky
Canadian Opera
Mordsgaudi Accordion
Snake Pit 14 Sep
Fringe Theatre 94
Cross Arts Fringe
Fringe Draft 1
 My Body My Blood
Falling from grace
Blood Bros
Me & My Girl
To Pave
Yellow Wallpaper
Doing the Block
Love & other Sharp Objects
Grapes of Wrath
Last Chance Gas
Two hams
Berkoff 2
Physical theatre
Tania Lacey
 Circus Oz
Circus Oz Storm
Disturbing the Dust
West Side Story
Philippe Genty
Woyzeck No Talent Savron
$5 theatre
L'Amante Anglaise
The Danube
Game of Dolls
Indian Summer
Wind in Willows
South Pacific
Silly season review

A Hard Act to Follow by Peter Dann, La Mama, Dec 1994

 A Hard Act to Follow
by Peter Dann 
La Mama until December 18, 1994
Reviewed by KATE HERBERT
The Melbourne Times, Dec 1994

Have you ever noticed that parents invariably have horror stories about their creche? Kindergarten councils can be a hotbed of dissent and unrest. Teachers  clash with parents, clash with Montessori, Steiner or traditional methodologists.

A Hard Act to Follow by Peter Dann at La Mama reveals an older traditional and prudish teacher, Miss Hawthorne, who has been attempting to fill the shoes of Miss Gully, the previous kindie teacher beloved by yuppie children and parents alike. Miss H. has called an extraordinary meeting of the kindie parents to tell her tale of woe which has lead to her summary dismissal by the Council.

Dann's writing is cleverly crafted, allowing Miss H. herself to slowly and unwittingly reveal her participation in the sequence of events which have relegated her to Kindie Mistress Limbo. The language is formal and complex with witty asides woven into the cynical dialogue. Dann carefully observes details of kindergarten life: the sausage sizzle, the sandpit and its place in the yard, the kinder bunny and its demise, the pedagogic speech patterns.

Anne Phelan  plays the peculiar and obsessive  Miss Hawthorne with a touch of the maternal, the tartar, the bitter and beleaguered. Her madness filters through her apparent calm and bravado as she attempts to win us, the audience-come-parents, with a lecture detailing instances of her 'devotion' to the vicar who employed her, her dubious employment references and her ongoing battle with the sceptical Council President.

This is a funny and poignant monodrama which allows us to feel sympathetically toward the unbalanced Miss H and yet to feel guilt tinged with relief as we vote her out of a job. We watch her helplessly as her apparent self-defence collapses into paranoid desperation.


Tuesday 29 November 1994

Glass Mermaid by Tobsha Learner, 29 Nov, 1994



By Playbox Theatre

At Malthouse, South Melbourne until December 10, 1994

Reviewer: Kate Herbert around 29 November 1994

This review was published in th Melbourne Times in early December 1994. KH


Some plays polarise audience opinion. Glass Mermaid by Tobsha Learner is such a play. There were people moved to tears by its handling of a woman dealing with the suicide of her psychiatrist husband and others who were untouched by it.


Whichever side of the critical fence you are, it provides some animated discussion.


Learner's writing style straddles the poetic and the naturalistic. At times it is successful, at others it falls off the saddle. Aubrey Mellor's direction, in conjunction with dramatic lighting by Rachel Burke and design by Jacqueline Everett, creates a brooding and mystical atmosphere to support the poetic content. Having water on stage creates a dramatic tension for the actors and audience and allows some spectacular lighting effects rippling over the water's surface.


There are some moving moments, some very witty dialogue and observations in the text. It is, however, a little confused in the first half with threads of story not being clearly established and a heavy reliance on discussion about an absent character. It moves more swiftly in the second half with greater emphasis on the emotional relationships between the living characters and the impact of Carl's death on their lives. The introduction after interval of a new character, daughter Cassandra, was also timely.


Cathy Downes' dynamic and multi- faceted performance gives range to Sarah, the widow, who is relentlessly fraught. It is a tough call to play grief, loss, anger and obsession without pause.


Julian and Kristin, Sarah's neighbours, often seem extraneous to the action. Kristin particularly seems underwritten, but Nikki Coghill makes the most of the part. Yanko, the Croatian gigolo, provides the most intensely moving narrative thread and the most three-dimensional character. His revelations about the death of his family at the hands of the Serbs is deeply moving writing and Dino Martiko in his Playbox debut does a superb job in the role.




Tony Martin and Mick Molloy, Stand-up, 29 Nov 1994



At Comedy Club until December,1995

Reviewer: Kate Herbert around 29 November 1994.

This review was published in the Melbourne Times in early December 1994. KH


Tony Martin and Mick Molloy are intelligent comics - and they're really funny. Their audience at the Comedy Club may have had the attention span of a gnat but they laughed at the witty, the local, the observational and the wild even if they missed a few of the more esoteric jokes.


These two make a terrific double bill and a great combo. Martin's routine is relaxed, glib and laconic. He uses language with flare and intelligence and reincorporates gags beautifully at a comfortable pace. 


To characterise the differences in their stage personae, Molloy comes on scoffing a beer while Martin swigs Evian. Molloy is a wicked kid doing mischievous material which prompts him to say often with a mock-penitent grin, "Have I gone too far?" His persona is stronger and wilder than Martin which provides a fine balance of style for the night.


Their double routines are less successful than the stand-up but prevent the night becoming simply guys doing stand-up, stand-up and more stand-up. Their 70's folk duo with the awful polo necks is clever but other sketches needed a bit of polishing.


Compere and support act, Darren Casey, began the evening slowly but his second set was hot. Unlike many comedy shows, there is a beginning a middle and an end to the night and the three come together in a final song which may not have broken the laugh boundaries but was very charming.


These guys are really funny, intelligent, informed and appear to suffer less from egomania than many comics. It may not be machine-gun fire pace but who needs it? My face hurt at the end of two hours and that makes it a bloody good night.



Monday 21 November 1994

Death: The Musical by Women's Circus, REVIEW, 21 Nov 1994


At 162 Macauley Road Nth. Melbourne

Thurs-Sat 8.30 pm until Dec 3 1994

Reviewer: Kate Herbert around 21 Nov 1994

This review was published in the Melbourne Times in late November 1994. KH


One of the most exciting things about seeing the Women's Circus is seeing sixty people on stage which is generally cost prohibitive these days. The other wonderful element is that this is an ongoing community project by the very active Footscray Community Arts Centre. It offers opportunities in personal, physical and creative development to women of non-English speaking background, social disadvantage or those over the age of forty.


Death: The Musical makes up in commitment and energy what it lacks in technique and skill. The opening outdoor sideshow events, although a little long, were vibrant, colourful and reminiscent of old vaudeville routines. The more dangerous they were, the more excited the audience. Watching someone walking on glass at close range is terrifying!


The main show, Death, began in earnest as the audience followed a chanting, incense-burning procession (Scarily reminiscent of Catholic Benediction!) into the huge and impressive warehouse where we placed our herbs on the funeral pyre.


The show takes on an earnestness from this point which, in many ways, works against it. The main theme, a woman coping with the death of her mother and following her to the Afterlife, is unclear without program notes and somewhat melodramatic in execution.


The greatest impact is when the vigorous group of women of all shapes, sizes and ages is at its most physical, leaving the storyline aside to tumble, leap, juggle, hang and balance. The scene in heaven with pairs of white angels on trapezes and rope swings was a treat. The Moon Goddess was a spectacle and the finale with fifty women with flags, ribbons, juggling clubs, acrobatics and pyramids was an exciting finish to a passionate performance.


Musical director, Marianne Permezel, with the band, composed circus music to challenge Circus Oz' Julie McInnes. The band played riveting and atmospheric music which supported and, at times, made the scenes. Director, Donna Jackson, has taken creatively used the expansive space, taking advantage of its vastness and the plethora of roll-a-doors for entrances and disappearances of heavenly bodies.


Death: The Musical is a visual treat particularly if you love a broad canvas with a community feel. The kids love it!


By Kate Herbert

Interview with Anthony Wong-: Asian Australian Actors and cross-cultural casting 21 Nov 1994

Written by Kate Herbert 21 Nov 1994

This article published in The Melbourne Times around late Nov or early Dec 1994


Sydney-based actor, Anthony Wong believes having no positive roles models is discouraging for aspiring young Asian actors. "Imagine going to a movie house and seeing someone who looked like yourself portrayed as an idiot, raped of their dignity and dehumanised and multiply that by thirty years and that's what my experience has been like. It has a really damaging effect on your self-esteem."


Wong is a Chinese-Australian who has lived here all his life and speaks a negligible amount of Chinese. He admits he feels like an outsider on many levels. "When I go see Australian movies ... there are many aspects of Australian culture I relate to and then again I'm excluded on all other levels."


He recently went to the Hong Kong film festival and found "it was so wonderfully validating seeing Asian actors and actresses in lead roles playing complex people." Simultaneously, because of the specifically Hong Kong Chinese culture, there are other levels on which he felt excluded. "It's very odd having one foot in each camp."


Australia may have integrated the concept of a multicultural, multi-racial, multi-lingual community into our daily lives, but the film and television industries have not yet caught up. With Justine Saunders and Lydia Miller, Wong met with several commercial television executives earlier this year to discuss increasing cultural diversity on Australian television to represent the reality in the community. The reponse was almost ridiculously narrow-minded.


“’Commercial television isn't meant to be reality. It's meant to be fantasy.’ And I looked at Justine and Lydia and we said, 'How come your fantasy is Anglo-Saxon? White, middle-class and heterosexual.' They didn't have an answer for that."


Wong suggests that television executives and casting agents point the finger at training institutions that produce few trained actors from cultures from other than WASP backgrounds. Strangely, television has a habit of using untrained and often incompetent kid-models in its soaps these days, so this argument hardly counts.


"Every justification is pulled out of the cupboard to justify maintaining the status quo.

'We won't be able to get the people. The Australian public just don't want to see Asians or Kooris. They want to see their own people'." Apart from the fact that Australians are ‘these people’, Wong believes this argument is also fallacious.


"Look at the success of Annette Shun Wah and the commercial success of The Joy Luck Club, The Wedding Banquet, Dragon, Farewell My Concubine, The Last Emperor. Mainstream films with lead Asian actors will strike a chord with Western audiences so this a totally outmoded notion."


When the industry does use Asians on screen, Wong believes they fall into four recurrent stereotypes. Firstly, the enemy: members of the Japanese Yakuzah or Chinese Triad. Then the exotic, delicate beauty we can admire from afar or those who are easy sex objects. There is the image of the sage old man with a goatee who quotes Confucian wisdom and lastly, the demeaning roles of servants and house boys "who get tapped on the head and bring in the tea."


"I know Asians who are television producers, fashion designers, Justices of the Peace, choreographers. Where are these people on our screens?", asks Wong.


It is now time, after years of acceptance, to act politically and publicly on this issue.

From the beginning of his acting career Wong decided to deal positively with a work environment which cast him as an outsider. Being negative “would have been suicidal psychologically… Eleven years down the line I cannot deny there are glaring inequalities...It is important for someone to speak up."


Wong praises Melbourne theatre director, Bruce Myles, who employed what has become known as "Colour-Blind Casting" when he cast Wong in Louis Nowra's The Temple, last year. The role of Nick Albert was obviously not Asian but even so, one Melbourne critic described him as "Laurie Blake's Japanese adviser." Do all Asians look alike to him?


A further criticism by Wong of Western screen representations of Asians is that they over-sexualise Asian women and under-sexualise the men. "Asian women are portrayed to be disempowered sex objects and the Asian men are portrayed as almost devoid of sexuality...It's a very powerful way to strip an entire race of its power."


It is unacceptable for Caucasians to play Asians, says Wong, "given the situation that there's a lack of equality in Australian casting. My principle, my philosophy is that all actors, regardless of race or sexual preference or anything, should be able to play a diversity of roles. If we had a truly egalitarian society where I could go for the kinds of roles that Russell Crowe goes for, for example. I would say 'Go for it!'" Which, of course, is a scenario which remains in an ideal world.


Emotionally, his response is different. "I've seen too many white actors play Asians in such demeaning, demoralising, dehumanising ways that I 'd have a pretty negative reaction unless they were going to play an Asian character with incredible truth and complexity."


It is the dreadful stereotype of the buck-toothed Charlie Chan which has exacerbated the problem and trivialised a whole race. But a stereotype is often the basis of comedy.


“In Wogarama, I was playing a stereotype”, says Wong. 'However, I've done enough other things in my career to counter-balance that. It's always a question of balance...If we had Asians in regular complex roles in film and television, then a stereotype would mean very little."


The Media and Entertainment Arts Alliance, Actors Equity division has attempted to set up a series of guidelines encouraging producers of Commercial television to diversify in its casting and production. According to Wong, it acts more as a reminder than as a policy. Once again it is up to the people in power to implement the suggestions.


Wong sees Asian actors being employed as "otherness machines" or to portray a particular issue. "It's as if the Asian characters are wearing a placard saying, “I'm Phillipino" or "I'm a battered Chinese housewife" and often the program does not encourage you to see beyond the placard."


There is little exploration of the Asian Australian experience on an urban level. "A recurrent theme in film is World War Two Burma railway and Japanese brides," says Wong.


Is there an Australian soap which has Asian next-door neighbours?


Recently, Wong talked about the issue on Radio National program, Arts Today, and was invited to speak at a cross-cultural casting forum at The National Performance Conference in Melbourne in October.


Wong describes being an Asian actor in the west as "like going to a banquet and the Maitre D' says to you, 'You're not to eat anything except the prawn crackers.'...And most of the time you're not even invited to the party. So", he says with a wicked giggle, "I just gate crash."


The protest about the non-presence of Asians on screen is not a sudden event. "It's been building up over generations...Asians have been living in the West for many years integrating the ideas of democracy, self-assertion, political activism. "Certain world events - e.g. Tien A Min Square and the emergence of Michael Chang as a top tennis player – have had implications.


"It's not any one event that triggers it. It's like the 100th monkey syndrome ...It's all gathering in the collective unconscious and then it bursts in one part of the world and people are inspired by that to then take up their own political activism."


The movement to improve the status of Asian actors in screen and theatre is further advanced in America. Asian-American actors such as John Lone, Joan Chen, B.D. Wang who won the Tony award for M. Butterfly, Jason Scott Lee and Brandon Lee have raised the profile of the Asian actor. Much of the credit is due to the Asian-American Theatre which has pressured organisations and unions to political action. Remember the kerfuffle when Jonathon Pryce was to perform the Asian-American role in Miss Saigon In New York?


"Hollywood cannot be complacent anymore. They cannot expect that they can release a movie dragging the old Asian stereotypes out of the closet....and expect the Asian-American community to bow down and accept that." There was vigorous protest in the Asian-American press about The Shadow starring John Lone, which featured a 'Confucius says' kind of thing", explains Wong.


In the U.S., much of the action has been initiated by the Theatre community rather than the screen world and theatre in Australia, says Wong, has been much more willing to accept a range of actors. Theatre is where Wong has had most success breaking the straight jacket of stereotyping. But he believes it is in film and television "where you build a public profile, where you learn you reach a position of recognition, where you can put bums on seats - and that gives you the power to make better decisions in theatre. Screen being a popular medium is where the impact must be felt."


What are our solutions to this problem which is essentially a symptom of short sightedness on the part of directors, producers and writers who are not representative of our whole community? Do we legislate? Invoke Equal Opportunity laws and Affirmative Action clauses?


Wong believes this can create new problems. It could disguise the problem. There is a quota system in the United States which, says Wong, forces producers to employ Asian, Black, Hispanic actors but they can use them in token roles.


"Extras are black or Asian, but the main cast stays white. "The producers can sit back glowing with politically correct pride saying, ’We've done our bit. We've been progressive in our casting’ when all you have seen is an Asian cook in the background frying the dim sims.


"Maybe we need an Asian-Australian theatre or specific funding from Australia Council to fund specifically locally produced work by local Asian dramatists. "


We are all affected by the portrayal by the media of a world populated almost exclusively by the Blond and the Beautiful. But how would one feel growing up watching a screen which does not even acknowledge the existence of your race or else represents your racial group as appalling stereotypes?


It is always a matter of placing members of a particularly invisible group in the arts in positions of creative power: writer, directors, producers, funders. There has been a move by women artists to penetrate the predominantly male arts bureaucracy which is very slowly affecting the marketplace.


Australia does not have a David Henry Hwang (U.S.-Chinese writer of the award-winning M. Butterfly) nor does it have an Asian-Australian Theatre Company. A good model adn precursor would be the developing Koori performance culture with the evolution of the Black Swan Theatre Company, Jack Davis' and Sally Morgan's plays and the Aboriginal and Islander Dance School in Sydney.


Again, at the hands of Myles, Wong played Toni, a male prostitute transvestite, in Michael Gurr's Award winning play, Sex Diary of an Infidel.


"Playing Toni was a huge breakthrough for Australian theatre 'cos here was an actor who on the surface appeared to be a sleezy sex object in some people's minds and turns out to be the angel of the piece."


Wong has been cast in a number of roles in which he is playing sexually assertive characters which, he believes, goes against the stereotypical attitudes to the Asian male. In the Chinese erotic poetry in Gastronomica, as The Swan for South Australian Theatre Company, as Toni and as David in Unidentified Human Remains. "I find it delicious," he quips cheekily.


Training institutions can take initiative by taking affirmative action by targeting applicants from Asian cultures rather than pleading 'nobody applied'. Wong expressed concern that "NIDA [National Institute of Dramatic Art, Sydney] is supposed to be colour blind but it had never been colour blind."


It seems that it is information that the community needs. If we are not Asian-Australians, we probably do not even notice the problem. "It's not important enough. It's not in people's consciousness," says Wong. Our theatre and television industry is Anglo-centric. Not until people get up in arms, hit the press in force, make the public sit up and take notice, will the situation change. So, start talking about it - Now!


KATE HERBERT 21 November 1994

Thursday 17 November 1994

The Shaughraun, MTC/STC/QTC 17 Nov 1994


The Shaughraun by Dion Boucicault

Melbourne Theatre Company & Sydney Theatre Company & Queenland Theatre Company Playhouse until Dec 23

Reviewer: Kate Herbert around 17 Nov 1994

This review was published in the Melbourne Times after 17 November 1994. KH

The Irish have always been known for overcoming adversity, surviving oppression, spinning a bloody good yarn or a self-deprecating joke. The Shaughraun written by Dion Boucicault in 1873, is a feisty melodrama with more punch than those being done by the English at the same time.


The humour of the text seems timeless and still relevant now. It is the wickedness of Conn the Shaughraun himself (Marcus Graham) upon which the play surfs. A shaughraun ("Shok-ron" or "Sha-ron") was the town wag, a fiddle player who kept watch for the police and was often the reason they came a-visitin'.


Graham's delightful portrayal bears a strong resemblance to the Italian Arlequino. He is passionate, impish and athletic in the extreme, leaping effortlessly in and out of windows. He engages the audience, enlist our support and sympathy for his naughty doings and carries on blithely seducin', rescuin', fightin' and dyin'.


The melodrama style is captured superbly by Gail Edwards fast-paced direction and recurrent tableaux effects. Particularly in the second half, it takes on a Keystone Cops speed, complete with chase scenes, hissing and booing by the audience of the villainous Corry Kinchella (Bob Hornery) and abducted damsels.


The romance counterpoints the drama, the slapstick heightens the genuine pain and oppression of this period of English occupation. (So what's changed?)


There are some terrifically energetic performances. Anne Looby as Claire Folliott, is a vibrant and excitingly unpredictable Irish colleen and Mark Owen-Taylor is perfect as her excruciatingly humble lover, English Captain Molineux. Jonathon Hardy as Father Dolan has impeccable comic timing and provides a delicate and poignant moment as he struggles with his moral dilemma, "To lie or not to lie?"


Pagan and Catholic as only the Irish can do. It's a romp and a lot of fun to cheer and yell and boo. It's easy to see why more people went to the theatre at the turn of the century to see melodramas than go now.


Not the least of the performances was by the extraordinary set designed by Dale Ferguson. The Cliffs of County Sligo are recreated on stage in harsh rock and lurid green moss along with the hovels of the poor. The set was almost the victim of a recalcitrant revolving stage on opening night but a 40-minute delay of the curtain and much backstage anxiety and action remedied the problem.


The Shaughraun is both Pagan and Catholic as only the Irish can be. It's a romp and a lot of fun to cheer and yell and boo. It explains why more people went to the theatre to see melodramas at the turn of the century than go to the theatre nowadays.





Friday 28 October 1994

Going Places by Lisa Dombrowski, 28 Oct 1994


At La Mama, Carlton until November 13, 1994

Reviewer: Kate Herbert around 28 October 1994

This review was published in the Melbourne Times after 28 October 1994. KH


The path of true art never runs smooth and when you combine an artist with love you have a very rocky road indeed.


In Lisa Dombrowski's new play, Going Places, Joan Murray plays Annie, a successful painter turning forty who discovers that her reviewers are saying that she has lost it. Being told you are predictable and passe' by a critic is hard on the ego but when your friends start to look away when you ask their opinion, it's time to regroup or give up.


There is some learning which can only be done alone without a prop / partner to boost your ego or to support and distract you. Annie is in a mid-life crisis which draws her to the vigorous, loudmouth Jude ("The Obscure?" "No. The Rude.") an inexperienced but sublimely talented painter who uses Annie to climb the arts ladder. She charms people into lying on the barbed wire for her so she can climb over them.


Jude is played raunchily by Belinda McClory who is a wonderful foil to Murray's fine and detailed emotional see-saw portrayal of the intellectual aesthete and conceptual artist, Annie. Annie's artwork is mannered and full of intellectual bullshit. Jude's is passionate, honest and vivid. Annie plays mentor and pal till jealousy turns everybody's head except the selfishly oblivious, invincible and ambitious Jude. The role of mentor is always fraught with danger. The pupil can overtake the teacher.


Performances are strong and the writing is smart. Dombrowski, who also directed the play, has a great line in witty observations of artistes of the ultimate wanker variety. Steve Payne plays Annie's long suffering lover Joe with a delightfully wry humour and deep pathos and the other two actors play fabulously wrought stereotypes. Leon Teague is hilarious as the total bullshit fringe artist, Pete and Lise Rodgers has a terrifyingly credible smug-gallery-owner 'visage'. (n.b. 'visage', not just 'face'.)


The form slips about a little more than is comfortable from the naturalistic to monologue to movement and the poetic, but the whole is clever and charming.



Tuesday 25 October 1994

Picasso and Einstein at the Lapin Agile by Steve Martin , 25 Oct 1994

At Playbox Until October 30, 1994

Reviewer: Kate Herbert around 25 October 1994

This review was published in the Melbourne Times after 25 October 1994. KH


US comic Steve Martin's play, Picasso and Einstein at the Lapin Agile, is by no means great art but it is pretty bloody entertaining fluff. The play has a degree of silliness of about 95%. Martin has an eclectic magpie-like mind which draws from all sorts of areas: art, physics, philosophy, psychology, feminism and anything else you like to name.


He weaves the lot together with the twisted logic and conceptual somersaults he uses in both his stand-up routines and in his movie scripts like LA Story. The script leaps over the fourth wall into the audience at odd intervals. He brings in insane cameos like the could-have-been-famous Schmendiman (Richard Piper) and makes delirious references to symbolism, post-romanticism and the mad fact that nobody buys paintings with "sheep" or "Jesus" in them.


There is little narrative to speak of and jokes to burn but the most interesting element in the script is the convergence of geniuses and the fact that both the scientist Einstein and the painter Picasso are dealing with the same creative process. They have a surge of extraordinary, lateral ideas which they are compelled to pursue into a fourth dimension. The magic and mysterious intuition of art, the poetry and paradox of physics, become one in the creative realm. The intersection of these two processes was dabbled with in the script but remained frustratingly unconsummated.


Much of the comedy arises from the counterpointing of the respective sexual attractors of the two geniuses: Einstein’s mind and Picasso's animal passion. The two are ironically juxtaposed against the hottest thing of the 20th century, Elvis (Nick Bufalo) who time-travels to 1904 Paris to bring a message to Picasso foreshadowing his Post-Blue period.


Neil Armfield's direction is uncluttered and light-handed keeping the play going at a cracking pace. Performances are delightful. Tyler Coppin plays a sweet and edgy Einstein, strangely with an American accent. Jeremy Sims seethes and slithers latin-ly across the stage as the lusty Picasso.


Bufalo is a subtle, comic and soft-edged Elvis while a laconic and easy-going Bourne and witty Deborah Kennedy hold the piece together with portrayals of the relatively thankless roles of the two bar-owners. Piper as Schmendiman was a wild and zippy cameo which was a smart injection of energy into the middle of the play where the lack of plot was beginning to tell.


Martin wants to be a playwright. he may not be a great one but he will almost certainly be a famous one.



Monday 17 October 1994

That Eye, the Sky, adapted by Richard Roxborough from Tim Winton’s novel 17 OCt 1994


That Eye, the Sky, Adapted & Directed by Richard Roxborough from by Tim Winton’s novel

Playhouse October 13 – 15, 1994

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on 13 October 1994

This review was published in the Melbourne Times after 17 October 1994. KH


There is a simple, poignant beauty in the writing of Tim Winton which Richard Roxborough has captured in his sparkling stage adaptation of the award-winning novel, That Eye, the Sky. To coin a style, this is Magic Australianism. There are visions, hallucinations, poetic language and broad Australian colloquialisms stirred into the one sweet tragedy.


Ort (David Wenham) is the slightly simple ("I don't get some things."), pre-pubescent son of Sam and Alice Flack, a pair of latter-day hippies. His father is rendered comatose after a car accident and Ort, who was in a coma with meningitis as a little boy, is the one person with a common experience. Ort alone has visions of the crockery spinning and glittering like jewels, of a little cloud over the house which arrived on father's return and of the sky as an eye watching over them.


Ort, with his recalcitrant 16-year-old sister, Teguin (Susan Prior) and devoted mother Alice (Rachel Szalay) assisted by a stranger, Henry Warburton, (Richard Roxborough) who arrives unannounced and sent by God, to help nurse Sam back to life.


This production is a truthful translation of Winton to stage. Roxborough's astounding directing debut has created a stunning ensemble piece with exceptional acting, strong physicality and fine, unobtrusive choreography by Kim Walker. There are delicately rendered and intimate moments, seamless and inventive scene transformations, a thrilling introduction of live sound effects and music by multi-skilled actors, an extraordinary use of stage space and wonderfully appropriate distressed-fabric costumes.


A few f mentionable and magic moments were the transformation of six chairs into a gum-tree forest, Dad's chilling car crash, the "coming in" of the feathery cloud and a delightful cameo from Steve Rogers as Errol the rooster.


Wenham magically transforms himself into the fragile child Ort, doing the most credible kid acting I've seen in an age. Szalay is a warm and heart-wrenching as Mum and Prior is a fabulously physical Teguin. Roxborough himself is rich and dangerous as the alien Warburton.


The whole ensemble is charming, electric and committed to the piece, the style, the narrative and the play as a great theatrical event. The group beat out percussive rhythms by running on the floor or clanging on the scaffold set. There is a sense of the whole company being inside each other's roles as they breath in rhythm with each character's internal state, pulsing out an emotional landscape.

Friday 14 October 1994

Sister Girl by Sally Morgan, MTC & Black Swan Theatre, 14 Oct 1994


At George Fairfax Studio, Melbourne Arts Centre in October-November 1994

 Reviewer: Kate Herbert on 14 October 1994

This review was published in the Melbourne Times after 14 October 1994


Sistergirl by Sally Morgan comes to MTC from the Black Swan Theatre which is an aboriginal theatre company from Perth. Rosy Snow, an old Koori woman, is dying in a hospital ward with only Molly, a naughty gin-drinking Irishwoman (Faith Clayton), for company.


The script flashes from the drying-out ward where she is visited by her sister (Dot Collard) and friend Tommy (Jack Charles), to her dreams and Dreamtime where she is visited by her dead child, the Aboriginal Protector at the Mission who took her child from her and the Bird Man who comes to test her, seduce her and take her to the spirit world.


The most potent moments were the visits of the Bird Man (Djunawong Stanley Mirindo). The atmosphere was charged and the production cried out for these scenes to be extended.


Other high points were the joyful and wickedly crude interactions between characters were hilarious and the relationship between the naughty Irish outcast culture and that of the disenfranchised aboriginal people was touching. Rosy and Molly they share not only nips of gin and a lusty love of men. They are both embattled victims of Protestantism and British government.


The whites are not a pretty group being represented by the patronising and righteous Crown Protector (Robin Cuming,) his churchy assistant and the bitter harradin, Nurse Kaye (Wendy Strehlow) who treats the women like retarded children.


There is a warmth, love and truth in the often rough acting which made the performances engaging. There is some funny, truthful dialogue between characters and Theresa Creed did a sterling job understudying the role of Rosy. while Jack Charles gives a perky performance as the lady-killer Tommy.


The design was strong. Projections of paintings by Mark Howett which spilled onto actors and set, were exceptional mood setters.


The raw acting was not well supported by the unimaginative staging and flabby direction. There were pauses to drive a truck through. Shifts between the hospital naturalism and Dreamtime became clumsy and slow. As the play nears its ending and Rosy's death, the frequent lighting changes become annoying and unnecessary. The drama is interrupted and flaws are highlighted.


This story needs to be told and Sally Morgan's script goes part of the way to doing so. The production may be flawed but it is charming and entertaining.


Thursday 13 October 1994

Bluebeard's Castle & Ewartung, Canadian Opera, Robert Lepage, 13 Oct 1994

Bluebeard's Castle, Music by Bela’ Bartok, Libretto by Bela' Balazs

& Ewartung, Music by Arnold Shoenberg, Libretto by Marie Pappenheim

By The Canadian Opera Company State Theatre October 13 – 16, 1994

Melbourne Internatinoal Festival of the Arts

Reviewer: Kate Herbert o 13 October 1994


This review was published in the Melbourne Times after 13 October 199


Canadian Robert Lepage is a visionary theatre director who makes his opera debut with two short 20th century works for the Canadian Opera Company. Arnold Shoenberg's Ewartung (libretto by Marie Pappenheim) is performed in Hungarian and Bela' Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle (libretto by Bela' Balazs) in Hungarian, both being accompanied by English surtitles. Lepage has created spectacular theatrical imagery and a common thematic form for these pieces which are here for the International Festival.


Both pieces explore the dark side of the psyche. In Ewartung, J one psychotic moment is stretched into 40 chilling minutes while in Bluebeard's Castle Judith, the fourth wife of the murderous Duke Bluebeard, probes both the mind and past of her husband.


Bluebeard is an hour-long work for bass baritone (Richard Cowan) and mezzo-soprano (Jane Gilbert). Bartok's score takes a dark, sonorous and dramatic line and the resonant velvet smooth voice of Cowan with the rich, near-contralto texture of Gilbert enhance the fearsome violence of the work.


Soprano Rebecca Blankenship gives a flawless performance as The Woman in Ewartung. She may be singing solo, but she is never alone on stage. Lepage peoples her nightmare hallucinations with dancers and objects which appear and disappear in the mind of this vulnerable, neurotic figure.


The landscape is intimate and Dali-esque. Arms grip her through a wall, figures tilt horizontally.  Freud sits by, coolly taking notes in his office chair. The woman confronts the murdered body of her lover. As the story unfolds it becomes clear she has killed him through jealousy.


Bartok and Shoenberg are not easy listening either musically or linguistically, but the orchestra, conducted by the extraordinary and ebullient Bradshaw is exceptional.  The gold leaf picture framed stage and stark brickwork of the design by Michael Levine provide an enclosed, grim castle for Bluebeard, and a bleak internal wall for the raving woman in Ewartung.


One magnificent highlight is Robert Thompson's lighting which supports Lepage's concept with some of the most dramatic design I've seen in years. The seven doors of Bluebeard's benighted castle are opened to reveal glorious reflections of jewels, weaponry, gardens and red clouds drifting across a mountainscape. An extraordinary image of a "pool of tears" is also represented in an actual stream downstage which catches light and sends ripples of colour across the front scrim.


This pool is the site of the most spectacular images of the production. Bluebeard's dead wives emerge from under water, dripping blood: water tinged with the red glow of light. The space becomes elemental, the danger heightens, the violence is palpable. In Ewartung, the Woman's lover rolls in slow motion into the pool and disappears underwater. The image is rich and terrifying.


The sheer theatricality of the production and the stunning intensity and courageousness of Lepage's vision, make the discordant brass and atonal score of Shoenberg and the gloomy thrum of Bartok into a mesmerising evening of music and spectacle.



Sunday 9 October 1994

The Trial adapted by Theatre Tarquin, 9 Oct 1994

Adapted from Franz Kafka by Theatre Tarquin 

 At Napier Street Theatre until October 23, 1994

Melbourne Fringe Festival 1994

Reviewer: Kate Herbert around 9 October 1994

This review was published in the Melbourne Times after 9 October 1994


The Fringe production of The Trial by Theatre Tarquin may need a big red pencil through it but there are some memorable moments and a good cast.


Melbourne Theatre companies love to deconstruct text and adapt great literary works but often the prose does not come off the page as theatrical dialogue. Exceptional narrative does not necessarily translate into dramatic monologue. This is one of the problems with Nick Harrington's adaptation of Kafka.


The meaning is thinner (I hesitate to say 'more simplistic') on stage than it is in Kafka's very dense and layered novel. The dialogue is often stodgy and the actors looked uncomfortable at first but warmed up as the pace improved. There was rather too much neurotic, twitchy mad acting in the ensemble for my liking and too many girlish, Melrose Place inspired interpretations of the sexy seductress.


There are a couple of stand-out performances. Nick Crawford-Smith is a favourite newer actor around town with his quirky and dangerous style. His Joseph K. is initially more of a bumbling buffoon than a tortured and oppressed victim, (I don't remember Joseph K. being dizzy) but he develops momentum. Ben Rogan who appears in various cameos is a face to watch.


Some strong images remain in my mind, one being the opening scene in which actors emerge from beneath a pile of video tape. However, this had no apparent relationship to anything which followed unless the connection was the stacks of Big Brother video screens which ran comments, images and quotations


The most arresting and deeply theatrical moment was the counter- tenor (Paul Scott-Williams) singing the Kyrie in the cathedral scene. For a magical 30 seconds I was transported. The scratching of my pen seemed sacrilegious in the silence which ensued.


The live piano (Monique di Mattina) gave atmosphere to some of the too wordy scenes. It must also be said that the smoke machine was bothering not only the asthmatics in the audience.




Tuesday 4 October 1994

The Dark Side of the Accordion & Mordsgaudi, Theater Ohne Grenzen 4 Oct 1994

By Theater Ohne Grenzen from Vienna, Austria

At 14 Lowther Street Alphington (home of IRAA Theatre)

4-8 October 8.15pm

Part of Melbourne Frige Festivla 1994

Reviewer: Kate Herbert around 4 October 1994

This review was published in the Melbourne Times after 4 October 1994


You've probably heard jazz piano but Jazz accordion? Now you're kidding me!


Otto Lechner is an Austrian virtuoso musician who makes both his instrument and our hearts soar. His music and indeed the man himself, are warm, witty and sexy. Yes, an accordion can be sexy, I assure you.


Lechner, after working on IRAA Theatre's Woyzeck, has stayed on to grace us with this season of his idiosyncratic musical form. He satirises a trio of Austrian waltzes, invokes a dark, atmosphere with drones, creates a whole big band including the melodic, harmonic, rhythmic and percussive.


 He chants and intones over the top of the instrument in the mode of the Mongolian goat-herders, hitting a triple harmonic in a nasal drone. Lechner makes the mechanics of playing the instrument a part of the whole performance.


This man is passionate about his accordion. He is married to it. He becomes the instrument and it makes his performance terribly attractive and mesmerising.


I loved the finale of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon complete with heartbeat finale.


Dark Side of the Accordion is exciting, thrilling, engaging theatre with none of the usual trappings. The crowd on opening night stomped and cheered. A big 'thank you' to IRAA Theatre for bringing this consummate performer to us.


 The performance which opens the bill, Mordsgaudi, is also from the Austrian contingent. Airan Berg and Martina Winkel tinkle with kitchen implements to create a collage of witty and sometimes chilling vignettes challenging the Arian myth of superiority. They animate objects in the manner of Handspan Theatre, but they have a sharp political edge and are more performer-based than object-based.


Racial groups are defined by household objects. The Asians are represented by a chopstick and a surprisingly deeply emotive paper umbrella. The black is a chocolate royal bikkie, the fascist skinheads are a phalanx of smooth-pated soup ladles. The cold, fearless hit men are a schnitzel hammer and potato peeler. The golden wooden spoons are a cowardly "look the other way" father and son team.


The actors employ a Berlin cabaret club style of comedy, parody and political satire with songs and dialogue in Austrian and English. The whole piece is accompanied by a rhythmic background of utensil percussion.


Much of Mordsgaudi is cute and funny but I was amazed at the sheer violence achieved with simple images, symbols and objects. The moment a handful of raw beetroot is squeezed through the hand is horrifying. The murder of the chopstick is a racial outrage and the grief of the umbrella is palpable.


Look out for their Alt / Tag in Week Two of the Fringe. And hunt down Otto if it kills you.