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.