Thursday 23 June 1994

Mysteries by Tom Lindstrom, REVIEW, 23 June 1994

Venue unrecorded.

Reviewer: Kate Herbert, 23 June 1994

This review published in The Melbourne Times after 23 June1994


Mysteries is an exceptionally funny, twisted view of the world through the psyche of the solitary, desperate and alien Edwin Cowper; a peculiar man who is amazed when others think him peculiar.


Tom Lindstrom's latest play, directed by Tom Gutteridge, is based loosely on Knut Hamsun's novel of 1892. The protagonist arrives in a hick country town. Both he and the town are riddled with unsolved mysteries; dislikeable young man has suicided; hunchback dances for money; Cowper's family may be murdered, abandoned or non-existent.


David Wicks plays Cowper with a faintly amused, quizzical and almost rapturous quality. He calls himself, cynically, a "professor of moral philosophy". Wicks is an eccentric and absorbing actor. His joyful, dynamic and constantly surprising performance often left me gasping.


All Cowper's conversations are somehow perverse but poetic, fascinating but disquieting in their intensity. He is a truth-sayer and a psychic with nothing to lose. Lindstrom's delicate but dense language is moulded by Wicks into some strange other-worldly creature. The two are a hot combo.


The comedy is often ribald or grimly amusing. I found myself laughing at farts during a funeral, and then at a gruesome, but disconcertingly hilarious, buggery scene.  Bizarre attempts to cover excruciatingly slow scene changes with mumbling actors dressed in mourning, shattered the atmosphere and drove me to distraction.


Minor characters are as eccentric as Cowper (pronounced "Cooper", he insists). Peter, the annoyingly obsequious hunchback (Bob Pavlich), is the butt of the whole town's scorn and was a role with more dramatic potential. A forbidding chamber maid is played with an intense watchfulness by Carole Patullo.


Lindstrom's subtle weaving of language, his quirky vision of reality, his portrayal of an existential dilemma, the arresting beauty of his images, all create a captivating theatrical vision.


Buy Kate Herbert

Wednesday 22 June 1994

The Elocution of Benjamin Franklin by Steve J. Spears, REVIEW, MTC, 22 June 1994

At Russell Street Theatre, Melbourne, Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC)

From June to 23 July 1994

Reviewer: Kate Herbert around 22 June 1994.

This review published in The Melbourne Times after 22 June 1994


The Elocution of Benjamin Franklin leaves one with a sense of overwhelming sadness. It traces the later career of a homosexual elocution teacher and his decline at the hands of the Australian prejudice in the 70's. The play should be called The Execution Robert O'Brien.


Bob Hornery is charming and tragic as the ageing transvestite and homosexual who runs The Shakespeare Speech and Drama School. The opening scenes are witty and warm, quirky and high camp. He prances about naked, sings along to Skyhooks, talks to his bust of Shakespeare and brushes his teeth. It feels intensely intimate to speak inside someone's life. We all have peculiar solitary habits and writer Steve J. Spears highlights these.


O'Brien closes the luxaflex venetian blinds in his Toorak flat and applies the Helena Rubenstein rouge and lippy and dons some appalling matronly gowns. His daily clandestine ritual is funny and poignant.


There may be only one actor, but Spears peoples the stage with characters: innumerable speech students with stammers, lisps, accents, and bad acting. Bruce, a transvestite stock broker, makes regular appearances escaping from his wife and spotty children into his fantasy world of drag with his friend, O'Brien. Apart from his confidante Shakespeare, Bruce is the only person who sticks by O'Brien through the dreadful trials which beset him.


The rigid morality of the time, and the high-handed attitude of the surrounding conservative Toorak society which comprised his neighbours and clients, are comic until they destroy the man. Their nasty voyeurism and accusations are counterpointed by O'Brien's concern and altruism. He is no pederast, and he advises Benjamin to try girls. "You might like them. They're soft - and they have breasts." His lust for schoolboys is strictly fantasy.


Spears script is a witty, detailed and deeply moving tale. The first two acts are a collage of swiftly shifting scenes with only the odd slow moment. At the start, many of the MTC audience tittered at the homosexual, transvestism and lewd references as if it were a drag show, but the stillness and profound pain of the final moments make this a bitter-sweet commentary on our treatment of "outsiders".


There is something of The Guildford Four in this story. While O'Brien is incarcerated, a bevy of supporters and legal eagles pursue justice for him outside, but this has no impact on his daily life.


This production, 20 years after the original, international hit starring Gordon Chater, has stood the test of time. Charm, wit and tragedy do not date.


Tuesday 21 June 1994

Simon Palomares as Dali, Hysteria, MTC, June 21, 1994


Interview with Simon Palomares (1994) 

Playing Salvador Dali in Hysteria, by Terry Johnson 

Melbourne Theatre Company  

Article by Kate Herbert for The Melbourne Times

This article published after June 21, 1994

"Salvador Dali is not just another ethnic," says Simon Palomares. "He's Spanish." Palomares, a Spanish-Australian who has recently been living between Madrid and Melbourne, plays the provocative master of surrealism in an upcoming Melbourne Theatre Company production of Terry Johnston's Hysteria.
Simon Palomares as  Dali in Hysteria, MTC, 1994
Hysteria is not a play about the mad Spaniard (I mean Dali, not Palomares), but Dali's meeting with psychoanalyst and patron saint of the surrealists, Sigmund Freud. Dali, says Palomares, visited Vienna three times to meet his idol.

"While he (Dali) was sitting in a cafe eating snails he heard that Freud had gone to London and when he walked into the house in Hampstead, the first thing he saw was a trail of snails leading to the bicycle." Very surreal and spooky according to Dali.

Rebecca S. was a famous case history of Freud's. In the play, Jessica, the daughter of Rebecca S, invades Freud's study late one wet London night to confront him about his incorrect diagnosis and treatment of her mother as an hysteric and victim of incest. Rebecca's mental deteriorated severely after treatment and her memories of abuse by her father were revealed to be inaccurate.

Johnston is reflecting the recent world-wide outcry, started in the US, against therapists who have uncovered, through hypnosis, deep memories of incest in disturbed patients. Sceptics suggest that such memory may be manufactured and therefore inaccurate. The argument rages still about therapists whose every client has the same memories of abuse. The problem arises when the experience of all incest victims is doubted.

Letters from Freud denouncing his own theory, were found in a closet in his Hampstead home after his death. They suggested that the "hysterics" may fantasise about fathers' attentions and therefore manufacture memories. These letters were used in a book by a former member of the Freudian Foundation and Terry Johnston has used Freud's last-ditch recanting as the basis of his narrative.

"Freud thought the surrealists were a pack of wankers.... He didn't believe you could put the subconscious on canvas." The meeting between the two masters was ten minutes only, but Freud, who was dying with mouth and throat cancer, was quite taken with Dali and allowed himself to be sketched.

The title of the play has its origin in the Freudian theory of hysteria. Freud posited that hysteria, an exclusively female condition according to him, was a direct result of childhood sexual abuse by the girl's father. "When Freud's theories came out pre-World War II, he was a Jew in Vienna suggesting that "the proper men of society were molesting their daughters."

He took a rapid about face when his sister, Anna, manifested symptoms of hysteria in later life and he was confronted with the impossibility of his own father's misdeeds.
Johnston is walking on fragile ice here, but his intention is not to write a dark tragic expose' on Freud's misdemeanours. The play dances blithely between broad comedy and dark surrealistic drama and the one feeds and highlights the other.

"There are parts of the play that are pure farce," says Palomares. "Doors slamming, knocking, 'Ooh, somebody's coming', getting caught in embarrassing positions. You lull the audience into a sense of 'this is what we're watching', then suddenly you start talking about child molestation and incest." Comedy and tragedy are all too close in our lives.
In Spain, he made a French-Spanish feature film, ˜Shooting Elizabeth, with Jeff Goldblum and Mimi Rogers. He played an Anglo-Saxon American. Ironically, in Spain, he always auditions for the British and American roles.

He went back to Madrid recently to write a pilot for a comedy show. The Spanish television comedy scene is evidently differs little from ours. "TV executives are the same everywhere. They think they know what people want to watch."

Given the comic elements of the script, it is obvious why director, Simon Phillips, has cast Palomares as Dali. He has worked in comedy for many years and was one of the original team which created Acropolis Now.

He has recently been in an ABC documentary about the recent development of ethnic humour in Australia, but he had reservations about being involved. "I'm sick of the subject. It doesn't mean every time you do a character who is not Australian or Anglo-Saxon that you are saying anything about Australian ethnicity."

He has separated himself from the image of "wog comic" he had a few years ago, by living overseas and doing more theatre and film work. It takes courage and creative ambition to leave such a lucrative and popular area in an industry riddle with unemployment and Palomares has gone ahead in leaps and bounds.

Choosing Dali as a character in a play about Freud is not based exclusively on his artwork and public persona. Dali was a psychotherapist's dream case; a veritable can of psychological worms.  His parents, rather morbidly, named him after a sibling who died at 18 months and the second young Salvador was regularly taken to visit a grave bearing his own name. No wonder he was a wacko!

He had been molested by a male teacher as a child. "He had a problem with intimacy," says Palomares. "Although he was a very sexually active person he never touched." In the 60's he became the guru of the hippies who lives near his Spanish home. He invited young people to his studio for orgies. "He would stand behind his canvas and masturbate rather than paint" - a charming mentor for the young.

Palomares says that if he played Dali as Dali he would be "too over-the-top" because, let's face it, the guy came across as pretty potty. Ironically, Palomares met, in Spain, people who knew Dali and who described him as " a very average person. But as soon as the camera went on or the tape recorder went on the he was off flying." He made himself a phenomenon. He could turn "Dali" on and off at will.  "He and Gala had one of the best publicity stunts of this century," quips Palomares.

He actively pursued the role of Dali in Hysteria.  "This is not playing another ethnic. I'm playing a character. It's got nothing to do with us in Australia. Salvador Dali is not ethnic. He's Spanish." In fact, he is the quintessential Spaniard. Palomares believes that Dali is almost single-handedly responsible for the Spanish stereotype: the sweeping moustachios, the beret, the arrogance and bravado, the sexually overt behaviour.

"Dali represents ego (in the play). Even when Freud tells Dali his work is rubbish, Dali says 'The world's a whore and you sell it shit.' "

He also epitomises animal impulse and vanity. "When there's a naked woman in the closet, Dali is the one who walks straight in." In fact, all the characters in the play are manifestations of Freudian theory. Jessica is the instinct, Freud's Id. Yahuda, Freud's doctor in the play, is a composite character based on a real Rabbi and Freud's physician, represents the social conscience, the Superego.

After reading Dali's biography, Palomares is convinced that Dali and Gala "were ruthless with people they met. They only talked to the people who would benefit them."

Dali was a big old show-off, a shameless self-promoter, a marketing expert before it became fashionable, and a relentless opportunist. With his formidable talent and personality, he is the ultimate representation of Ego in 20th century culture.


Wednesday 15 June 1994

To Pave by Ecorche Theatre, REVIEW, 15 June 1994

At Courthouse Theatre, Carlton

Until June 25, 1994

Reviewer: Kate Herbert around 15  June 1994.

This review published in The Melbourne Times after 15 June 1994


To Pave, directed by dancer-choreographer Alison Halit, constructs some witty and evocative physical images involving bricks and people. The three actor-dancers perform with, and are often upstaged by, a proliferation of white bricks. "Never do a show with children, animals or bricks."


The performers pile bricks on themselves and each other, construct cairns, pillars, walls, sculptures, cars, supermarkets. They prance, dance, leap and balance precariously on piles of bricks. My favourite image was of a woman trying to relax on a random pile of bricks. The danger of moving through and tossing (yes, tossing) bricks, becomes part of the drama.


In fact, it is the dramatic content. When the performers spoke, the piece lost all its impact. The dialogue was trite, repetitive and the acting pedestrian. The bricks generally had more weight than the performers.


To Pave feels like a workshop script. The unintegrated collage of styles is at its most successful without speech but with action choreographed over a dynamic and professional musical backing by Benedict Deane-Johns. The movement is generally clever, abstract and lyrical and the dancers competent, but there are a couple of crashingly melodramatic and romantic dance sequences.


Although this is a non-narrative piece, the three performers play two-dimensional characters. Sylvia (Vivenne Lucas), a self-centred artist, prepares an installation. Track (Adrian Nunes) studies medicine and cheats on his exams. Tracey, (Corinne Larkins) a working mother, supports the other two. They juggle their lives and each other just as they symbolically juggle bricks. All the naturalistic stuff is extraneous. It is great when it sticks to the action.

by Kate Herbert


The Sisters Rosensweig by Wendy Wasserstein, MTC, REVIEW, 15 June 1994

The Sisters Rosensweig by Wendy Wasserstein

By Melbourne Theatre Company

Reviewer: Kate Herbert around 15 June 1994.

This review published in The Melbourne Times after15b June 1994


“Very funny. Some great lines." This comment I heard from all quarters whilst eavesdropping during the interval of The Sisters Rosensweig.


US writer, Wendy Wasserstein, writes a great gag. " Gender is mainly spare parts," quips the waggish bisexual theatre director, and there are plenty more one-liners to come.


Wasserstein's script is no masterpiece and is too long, but it is light and gently amusing and, yet again, director Roger Hodgman has done some inspired casting.


Sarah, (Judy Farr) an expatriate American Jew living in London, invites her two sisters (Genevieve Picot, Jackie Weaver) to her birthday dinner. In the first act the three seem disconnected, dissimilar and discordant (to use a few "d" words) but, by the second half, their bond is palpable. The trio is based on Wasserstein and her own successful sisters.


Picot is vulnerable and brittle as youngest sister Pfeni, a journalistic wandering Jew who is in love with an errant gentile bisexual, Geoffrey, played energetically and with wicked humour, by Tony Sheldon. Weaver is wonderfully brazen as Gorgeous, the loud, gushy, overdressed middle sister who is completely shameless about her role as a radio psychologist with no qualifications. Only in America.


There are strong support performances from Rachel Griffiths as Sarah's daughter and Gerard Lepkowski as her boyfriend Tom, the Lithuanian Liverpool Jew.


Farr exudes a regal melancholy as Sarah. Her dislocation and self-inflicted exile are pivotal. She prefers a country "where feelings are openly repressed." The play seems to be about expatriatism but emerges as a story of the struggle of these three women to deal with separation: from each other, from their country, culture, family and their dead but ever-present mother.  Eventually it is clear that the notion of Jewishness and identity is less important than their search for love and security.


Through pure snobbishness, Sarah resists the persistent advances of Mervyn, (Max Gillies) the furrier who came in from the cold London night. She prefers the snotty Nicholas Pym (Ron Challinor) to the effervescent and warm Merv. The play began slowly but paced up when the highly-charged Sheldon appeared, followed by an irrepressible Weaver.


The production has tempered even the most stridently New York-Jewish of the characters. This has somehow lessened its impact. The humour is New York Jewish and loses something without the associated throw away, self-deprecating style. Wasserstein satirises her own community. To paraphrase, "What? Another Jew who raises the holocaust 30 seconds into the conversation?"

By Kate Herbert

Friday 10 June 1994

Taming of the Shrew, Bell Shakespeare, June 1994

Taming of the Shrew
By Bell Shakespeare 
Comedy Theatre till June, 1994
Reviewed by KATE HERBERT
Published in The Melbourne Times, June 1994

I am compelled to love John Bell's production of The Taming of the Shrew, not merely because the Shrew in question is named Kate. It is a brazen, bawdy and hilarious interpretation with more front than Daimaru.

Bell has grabbed the comedy baton and run with it. All the personages are broad clowns accentuated by Stephen Curtis's bold costumes. Kate and Petruchio are Brunswick Street groovers in black leather and grunge gear, Grumio,
Petruchio's servant is a cunning and cheeky punk, his other servants are a bunch of thugs, pimps and hippies.

The most courageous and wonderful choice is to play the sweet chaste and ever boring Bianca as a cheap bimbo. Of course! She gets all the suitors because she's the town bike!

This is a strong ensemble. Christopher Stollery is a very inviting and modern Petruchio. Essie Davis plays a spunky, spitfire Kate. Darren Gilshennen as Grumio is a wild low-life and with Stollery makes a great double act doing Three Stooges slapstick.  The comic detail is a delight. Petruchio carries his dad's ashes around in an urn.

Of course everybody wonders about the feminist politics of The Shrew in 1994. Davis's Kate relinquishes her stroppiness to participate in her husband's taunting of others. Stollery is relieved when she finally catches on to the game. The earnestness of Kate's final speech about the dutious wife has none of the sense of mockery and becomes a bit schmaltzy. Kate's shrewishness, rather than being tamed, has turned to lustiness but there is little sexual tension when Petruchio says admiringly, "What a wench. Kiss me Kate."

The style's derivation is clearly Vaudeville. The pre-show entertainment is a (purposely) bad Russian psychic and a terribly earnest tap dancer (unintentionally?). Musician David King is on stage in a rising gold painted rostrum playing trashy musak. The cheap and tacky quality continues with Michael Scott-Mitchell's set of nasty pink reception tables at the wedding, and kitsch pile of chintzy furniture and car parts which passes as Petruchio's pad.

Bell's  Shrew is really in your face. This is exhilarating, knee slappin', belly laughin' theatre you must see - even if you hate Shakespeare.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 8 June 1994

The Yellow Wallpaper by Amanda Armstrong , La Mama, REVIEW, 8 June 1994


The Yellow Wallpaper by Amanda Armstrong

At La Mama till June 19, 1994

Reviewer: Kate Herbert around 8 June 1994

This review was published in The Melbourne Times after 8 June 1994


Temporary nervous depression, a slight hysterical tendency" describes the condition suffered by the woman in The Yellow Wallpaper. There is more hysteria in this production than depression.


The play is adapted by actor, Amanda Armstrong and director, Fille Dusseljee from a story by early feminist, Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It attempts to abstract and physicalise the mental state of the woman.


Armstrong is alone in the La Mama space just as the woman is in her wallpapered room. She obsesses about her wallpaper design which is peopled with "creeping women" trying to escape. The symbolism is obvious: the woman is incarcerated in her own mind, in her own room by her husband, in her illness.


The story has great potential for exploring mental illness, compulsive behaviour and disorientation, but the performance remains unintentionally unsympathetic. Dusseljee has created a very physical style with some interesting moments but it is disconnected from the text and often feels uncomfortable and arbitrary.


Sound features strongly. There is a haunting and evocative soundscape by Guy Hancock and Armstrong's singing voice is moving and resonant in a way which is lacking in the dialogue.


The play, however, has a rather contrived and jarring dynamic. It seems to use either accelerator or brake, mute button or full volume. The final ten minutes seemed to find a balance, to surprise and disturb whereas the rest was too obvious. The symbolism is overstated where mental illness is much more subtle.


Madness is timeless. People suffer now as they always have. Perhaps we now have too sophisticated an understanding of it from pop psychology to tolerate a simplistic interpretation.



Thursday 2 June 1994

Shadowboxing by James Gaddas, REVIEW, 2 June 1994



At Napier Street Theatre till 12 June, 1994

Reviewer: Kate Herbert around 2 June 1994

This review was published in The Melbourne Times after 2 June 1994


Witnessing male violence on stage can feel like a personal assault. It makes women particularly, feel unsafe. The extraordinary thing about Shadowboxing, James Gaddas' witty and well-observed play about a young pugilist, is that the boxer is almost palpably the victim of his own violence.


The play is very intimate. Robert Morgan is on stage alone as "Erroll" Flynn, the boxer. We are his confidantes and voyeurs who watch his personal struggle to overcome his father's failure as a fighter, to find dignity and a clear identity in both the boxing arena and the world at large. Discovering you're gay in the macho world of fighters is dangerous.


The production is wildly, frenetically physical. Morgan, a former boxer himself, is on his feet "dancing", skipping, and punching words at us from go to whoa. Bruce Myles direction is inspiring and dynamic, using the rhythm of the fight and lighting by Glenn Hughes is simple and dramatic.


 This poor bastard is seeking some tenderness from the world, knowing there is a softness somewhere beneath his violent exterior - but the world will not allow him to soften.


Shadowboxing is emotionally and physically exhausting, but it is under an hour. The journey is like a rocket launch; starts slow and then blows the top off your head. Go see!


By Kate Herbert

Warriors by Peter Murphy, REVIEW, 2 June 1994


At Napier Street until 12 June 1994

Reviewer: Kate Herbert around 2 June 1994

This review was published in The Melbourne Times after 2 June 1994


Men are having a personal growth spurt, there's no doubt about it. Some elements of the Men's Movement are simply Backlashing against Feminism, but others are just trying to overcome their emotional bankruptcy by getting in touch - with everything.


Peter Murphy's reworked solo play, Warriors, is one man's deep and personal probings into his own psyche as he prepares for the funeral of his son. It is an intense, touching and, at times very funny, e, although at times the performance lacks attack.


Murphy rattles around Napier Street Theatre with just one chair as a prop. The hollow space makes the character more vulnerable, glazed and fragile in his profound grief. He talks about the practical affairs of parenting and tells anecdotes about his son to distract himself from his pain. These remind him of his own childhood: his drunken father, his mother's sudden abandonment of the family, being caught masturbating.


He reminisces about missing his son's birth because he was in a drunken stupor in a motel room. He recalls trying to have sex for the first time after the birth and his wife falling asleep, so he watched Diehard on TV and clattered around the house pissed off.


What is so charming about this show is the directness and honesty of the character. He is an ordinary bloke who is bemused and confused by his own life and the mystery of humanity but wants to understand.