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.



Sunday 2 October 1994

Rigoletto by Theatreworks, 2 Oct 1994


Reviewer: Kate Herbert around 2 October 1994

This review was published in the Melbourne Times after 2 October 1994


Theatreworks’ Rigoletto is an adaptation of Victor Hugo's Amusing the King, the precursor to Verdi's opera. Director, Robert Draffin, has stirred a hotpot of performance and musical styles together.


There are stretches of Verdi's Rigoletto, particularly La Donna e’ Mobile which becomes almost a tragic signature tune for Rigoletto's skateboard ride downhill, and chunks of hilarious club comedy, slapstick and black Berlin cabaret which has echoes of the darkness of Franz Wedekind's Lulu plays.


There is something amiss in the world of Rigoletto. He inhabits a world of darkness and deformity, being a hunchback in a hostile environment but he also lives as Jester to the King and is invested with the questionable role of amusing His Majesty with entertaining quips and women to be violated.


Strangely, in spite of the dreadful train of events facing Rigoletto and his virginal daughter (Antoinette Halloran) it was the two outsiders to the action who seemed to generate the greatest emotional impact. Heather Bolton's club singer reeked of failure and angst while her every facial twitch commented upon the fate of Rigoletto. Hugh Wayland as the musician and hired killer provided an amoral eye and a wry, critical presence on the sidelines.


The classical arias are counterpointed against piano accordion, intoning, clamorous dialogue and modern torch songs sung by Maddalena, (Heather Bolton) a dissolute, dejected and drunken club singer. There is an appropriate desperation and anguish in the at times near-cacophonous soundscape.


The content is eclectic and Draffin has employed a style which relies heavily on held moments, silences and intense gazes to heighten the dramatic tension. Characters step in and out of spotlights like rabbits in headlights. While one character is in focus, others cruise the perimeter of the space, disappear behind swathes of red velvet curtaining, tinkle at the piano or sit drinking and smoking a nightclub table drinking. There is always an observer of the action.


 Merfyn Owen is a delightfully eccentric, bitter and pained Rigoletto who can carry the classical singing as well as the stand-up comedy routines which he does in his anachronistic nightclub context. Ian Scott has a resonance and power as the immoral and indulged King who parades about his kingdom.


Considering the actual horror of the moment, I found the tragic ending surprisingly unmoving. Theatrically and visually it was powerful, but the production leaves us somehow emotionally disconnected from Rigoletto. The emphasis on the music leaves little space for development of the characters and their relationships. In an opera with a full orchestra the thinness of the narrative is compensated by the swell of the orchestral score. This Rigoletto rests somewhere between the two forms of opera and theatre and has yet to successfully blend the two.


This work is very new, exciting and has some extraordinary theatrical moments which will certainly develop as the season progresses. It's worth seeing.


By Kate Herbert