Saturday 29 January 1994

Opa: A Sexual Odyssey by Patricia Cornelius 29 Jan 1994

At Atheneaum Theatre II, Jan to Feb 1994

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

This review was published in Melbourne Times after Jan 29, 1994.



Sexual fantasy is the stuff of Hollywood movies and of a new play by Patricia Cornelius. Opa: A Sexual Odyssey, steals the ancient Greek myth of Penelope awaiting the return from war of her warrior husband Odysseus (Ulysses). She waits, chaste and faithful, dodging the potential lovers for twenty years. Unbelievable!


Opa is written and directed by Cornelius with music by Irene Vela. It is an intensely female show performed by five actor-singers and four musicians with an all-female crew. It contains some revealing and threatening material based on interviews with women about their sexual fantasies - of which there are evidently myriad.


The performance is relentlessly entertaining and sexy. These women of Italian, Greek, Islander and Anglo heritage are warm, honest, passionate and exposed emotionally and sexually. It is both titillating and a challenge to watch.


The music is a highlight. Sons from many cultures pepper the show and are sung with relish and skill. The opening number, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, with leads vocal by Anna Butera as Penelope was a golden moment as was the final farewell to Odysseus, Je Ne Regrette Rien.


In spite of the sheer delight and raunchiness of this show, there are some problems. Its structure is often loose and direction thin. There are moments of confusion about the narrative and characters. The set of scaffold and plastic is clumsy and awkward for the actors who often look unsafe.


But this is a vibrant night in the theatre. Be prepared to have your secrets shouted to the skies.


KATE HERBERT   29. 1. 94      260 w

The Danube by Maria Irene Fornes REVIEW 29 Jan 1994

At La Mama till Sun Feb 13, 1994

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

This review was published in Melbourne Times after Jan 29, 1994.


Maria Irene Fornes' play, The Danube, like the river itself, resonates with romantic, emotional and political images. The narrative is skeletal. Paul, an American soldier in Budapest, marries Eve, a young Hungarian student. They become ill. They must leave. But it is the structure, form and the allegorical references rather than the story which are the important components of this play.


Scenes are composed as taped language lessons in Hungarian. The characters communicate in the clipped, simple sentences of the language novice as a voice-over translates to and from Hungarian. It has the peculiar and dramatic effect of dislocating the speakers from their thoughts and detaching dialogue from the often passionately expressed emotions.


Some scenes remain untranslated but the formal verbal style of question and answer, repetition and information-giving remains. It makes seemingly banal conversations about ordering food, seeing the doctor, going to the movies, seem strange and absurd. This is accentuated by the brisk, concise movement of Wendy Joseph's direction.


There is an underlying sense of tragedy in the tale of these eccentric characters. Hungary is described as heavy and dark, America as light and bright. Paul (Nick Crawford-Smith) and Eve (Trina Tonkin) become ill and polluted like the river, like the politics. They are symptoms of an inexorable cultural degeneration. They are trapped in the thrall of the Danube and Budapest.


All performances are impressive. Crawford-Smith is magnetic as Paul the GI and Robert Lyon as Eve's eccentric father, is charming. It is strong ensemble work with Stephen Smith playing a bevy of quirky Hungarians. Joseph's direction takes risks which have largely been successful. At times, however, the set changes between such short scenes became unnecessarily laborious, and briefly the persistent translation became tiresome.


This is an intelligent, dense and poetic piece of writing which makes a powerful night in the theatre at La Mama.



KATE HERBERT  29.1.94        310 wd.

Saturday 22 January 1994

Game of Dolls by Brett Melke 22 Jan 1994


(Venue uncited) from 22 Jan, 1994

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

This review was published in Melbourne Times after Jan 29, 1994.


Lawyers, violent crime and court cases are meaty content for a playwright. Game of Dolls is written by Brett Melke and draws on his experience in legal practice. Andrew has an extensive history of felonies and psychiatric treatment as a result of being an abused child. He is accused of theft and rape but denies the rape.


Game of Dolls addresses the problems faced by his young female solicitor and experienced male barrister. This seemingly innocent youth has incontrovertible evidence against him.


This is a gripping story if not perfect theatre. The episodic TV drama form is not enhanced by clumsy direction. Scene changes seem interminable, much of the acting is mediocre and an evocative score by Lencon is misused to make scenes too melodramatic. A major problem was that the actor playing Andrew was unable to make this pivotal and complex role credible.


There were a couple of good performances. Kristen Moses is believable as the solicitor and Simon McGuiness gives a credible and detailed performance as the smug but competent barrister. Melke's legal background has created three-dimensional lawyers, but other lives remain ill-defined.


Kate Herbert   22 .1 94

Sunday 16 January 1994

An Indian Summer by Julia Britton, 16 Jan 1994


By Performing Arts Projects

At Rippon Lea House from 16 Jan, 1994

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

This review was published in Melbourne Times after Jan 16, 1994.


January in Melbourne has been more of an Antarctic than an Indian summer, but Performing Arts Projects pays no heed. It's outdoor performance, ˜An Indian Summer is playing in the glorious grounds of Ripponlea. The audience, carrying fold-up chairs, is led from the gates by the robust tour guide, and actors are posed en route frozen in tableau amongst the trees.


 Julia Britton's story is set at Garsington, the Oxfordshire mansion of Lady Ottoline Morrell, patron of the Bloomsbury group. Director, Robert Chuter, has used seven locations including the driveway, stables, orchard, lake and croquet lawns. In fact, the greatest asset of this production is the surroundings which so sumptuously evoke Garsington and the period. 


The audience seemed to enjoy both the performance and the location. There are some very smart quotes from Bloomsbury characters, some entertaining moments and a creative use of the gardens although often background action was more fascinating than scenes. Chuter has actors boating on the lake, strolling and standing about the house and garden. The performance is often upstaged by screeching birds, aeroplanes, trains and even an incoming wedding.


Although it is a delightful evening in the garden, there are several problems with his production one being that the script has no dramatic action. This is the last weekend before Lady Ottoline sells Garsington. This central issue might have generated intense emotion for the party, but the whole remains totally unemotional and unaffecting.  The most interesting events are spoken about. Nothing actually happens.


The script relies on information and quotes about the art, philosophy and sexual preferences of its various artistic and indulgent characters: biographer and bisexual Lytton Strachey; his lover Dora Carrington; painter and sister to Virginia Wolf, Vanessa Bell; ballet dancers from Diaghelev's company; Aldous Huxley and his long-suffering wife, Keynes the economist and the odd fop.


Scenes are very static. The acting style is arch and often histrionic which leaves it without heart. Somehow, extraordinary characters emerge lacking in dynamism and charm. The pace is unnecessarily slow and the script needs editing, but anyone who has an interest in the Bloomsbury set will find it interesting and watchable.


Kate Herbert   14.1.94       360 wds

Thursday 13 January 1994

Wind in the Willows, (ASC) 13 Jan 1994

Adapted from Kenneth Graham’s story by Glenn Elston

At Botanical Gardens, Melbourne from 13 Jan, 1994

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

This review was published in Melbourne Times after Jan 13, 1994.


For eight years now Glenn Elston has produced Wind in the Willows in the perfect surroundings of the Botanic Gardens. Families seem to love it. The kids, who are dubbed rabbits by Head Chief Rabbit (Ian Mc Kellar), have "an adventure" with Ratty, Weasel, Mole, Badger, Otter and the inimitable Toad of Toad Hall played with great panache and wit by Guy Hooper.


Oldies can lounge around picnicking and laughing at the abundant adult humour in the script.


The production is not high art and has a flawed script, but it characters make delightful surprise entrances in boats, through trees, on bicycles and in motorised vehicles. 


There is some inconsistency in performances and voices are often a little strained in the outdoors, but the show is gentle and fun with plenty of participation for the kids and time for wine-sipping for parents.


Kate Herbert 13.1.9

Sunday 9 January 1994

South Pacific, 9 Jan 1994


Music by Richard Rogers, Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, Book by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan

At State Theatre Melbourne, 9 Jan 1994

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

This review was published in Melbourne Times after Jan 9, 1994.


We are definitely in the midst of The Revival of the Great Musical. 42nd Street has been, West Side Story is coming and the exuberant production of South Pacific, directed by Christopher Henshaw, has just opened at the State Theatre.


The play has a strong narrative which manages to incorporate two multi-cultural love stories, the Second World War, black-marketeering and several wacky US Marines. The gender politics of the play are, of course, outmoded. Women are represented by characters like the bimbo nurse Nellie (played energetically by Paige o’Hara) and her nursing comrades in bimbosity, or by the exotic and silent island-girl, Liat.


The politics of the show redeem themselves with a talented Phillip Gould singing You've got to be Taught. The lyrics succinctly describe the careful training from an early age which produces a racist. "You have to be carefully taught" to despise others for their eyes, colour and race - a chastening thought.


The sexiest, most interesting and entertaining woman is Liat's wicked and sassy mother, Bloody Mary played superbly by Roz Ryan. Mary is a Pacific Mother Courage who wheels and deals to ensure her daughter's future.


The unremittingly memorable songs keep marching on. Love songs like Some Enchanted Evening by Andre Jobin as the French plantationist, Younger than Springtime, and Bali Ha’i is sung hauntingly by Ryan.


The big number, Honeybun, had spectacular costuming and design and antics by the irrepressible Paul Blackwell as the enterprising low-life navy clown, Louther Billis.


There is Nothing Like A Dame as a highlight. It was sexism taken to a high art: leering and gyrating boys with superb bare chests and lyrics which would turn a feminist's hair blonde. Ah! The forties!


This production does not emphasise dance, but it is big on spectacle. The design and lighting are exceptional. Surprisingly, it avoids the tropical island paradise flavour one expects, and chooses to counterpoint army images against huge and austere Polynesian totems and muted cane constructions. The whole works against the lightness of tone in the opening scenes and heightens the drama of the devastation of war and loss of life.


The most memorable image was the extraordinary on-stage take-off of a real aeroplane. This sent the audience into paroxysm of childish glee.  Musicals are always thin on plot, but it was a pleasant surprise that South Pacific was topical and moving as well as a hoot.

By Kate Herbert

Scrooge the Musical by L Bricusse, 9 Jan 1994

Book, Lyrics and Music by Leslie Bricusse

Produced by David Mariner with UK producer Graham Mulvein

At Princess Theatre, Melbourne, from Nov 1993 to Jan, 1994

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

This review was published in Melbourne Times after Jan 9, 1994.


It may seem inappropriate to see a show about Christmas in January, but Scrooge the Musical is a great night out at any time. Not the least of its assets is the formidably talented expatriate, Keith Michell. He manages to be charming as the miserly and villainous Scrooge. And he can sing too!


The story, we all know, is based on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Scrooge is visited by his dead partner in miserliness, Jacob Marley who warns him to be a nice generous guy or he'll have hell to pay later. Scrooge is visited by Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future which all scare the living B'Jesus out of him.


In fact, this production delights in scaring the heck out of the audience too. Spooks appear and disappear at the rate of knots. The production is a bevy of (magic) illusions wrought by Paul Kieve, and other techno-theatrical feats thought up by director Christopher Henshaw. Actors fly, dissolve into thin air and vanish through walls and mirrors. Not only the kids squealed at explosive entrances.


This is a fairly traditional style of musical. Large and rousing London street chorus numbers are interspersed with scenes and solos. The songs are generally entertaining but not memorable. The exception is an old favourite, That's the Nicest Thing that Anyone's Ever Done for Me which is the vehicle for Rod McLennan to do his jaunty cockney bit.


One song provided a very moving moment. Scrooge's song of rebirth, I'll Begin Again, was sung by Michell with both vocal and emotional resonance. Scrooge's journey from miserliness and misery to benevolence and familial love is poignant and credible in the hands of this consummate performer.


Michell is more than ably supported by an impish and athletic William Zappa as Marley and by an ebullient Max Gillies who plays Christmas Present as a rather bemused old Santa who looks like a cross between Henry VIII and Nero.


The design by Paul Farnsworth is appropriately dark and Victorian. London street scapes fly away to reveal the dark splendour of Scrooge's lodgings or the dank interior of his offices. All is enhanced by a spectacular lighting design by Hugh Vanstone who creates hellfire, moonlight, warm interiors and a London chill through lighting.


Scrooge is terrific family entertainment with a message and Keith Michell should not be missed - in anything.

Kate Herbert    400 w

Sunday 2 January 1994

Icheka: Return of the Heathen AN Take Me as I Am (Musical) REVIEWS 2 Jan 1994

Icheka: Return of the Heathen by Bad Lot Theatre Company

Take Me as I Am (Musical), book by Patrick White, score by Marky Mark and Girlfriend.

Jan 1994

Reviewer: Kate Herbert around 2 Jan 1994

This review was published in The Melbourne Times after Jan 2, 1994.



 We are too often faced with politically incorrect theatre nowadays. Icheka: Return of the Heathen is a bi-lingual, bi-partisan, bisexual romp by Bad Lot Theatre Company who are renowned for their earnest commitment to devising sound political theatre in an avant-garde form.


Icheka is about a boy who runs away from his right-wing Canberra parents to join a circus. The narrative, by Faye Bunny (Binkata: Eyes of the Hunter) was written after exhaustive research into families of politicians and circus performers. It is authentic and demanding for an audience, weaving together themes of dislocation, migration, separation, feminism and witchcraft.


The direction is masterly, integrating enormous puppets, latex masks and Indonesian shadow puppets, fire-eating and acrobatics with a powerful text in an eclectic soup of theatrical genres.


"Theatre must transform and transport its audience," says director Ben Leather-Jacket in his Fitzroy studio; and transport people he does. The whole performance takes place on the express train from Melbourne to Geelong. The sense of desolation is heightened by the oil refinery background to the final scenes - and also by the fact that the audience is now stranded in Geelong ("City of Oil Refineries”) without a paddle or a return ticket.


Icheka is sensational theatrical experience. Take a blanket.


Take Me as I Am

Meanwhile in a major musical venue, is a "don't-miss" revamped musical: Take Me as I Am, with book by Patrick White and score by Marky Mark and Girlfriend. This is a playful look at disasters perpetrated by Australian Prime Ministers this century. You will recognise tunes like Take Me Back to the March Election, sung by John Hewson, the ever-popular Malcolm's Trousers, Heh Mama There's a War up North, Harold Forgot his Snorkel, and Paul Keating's new hit, I'll see your Queen and Raise You a Republic, plus more old faves.


Get amongst the revivals for summer before they go back to the dead.


KATE HERBERT 25.12.93      325 w