Thursday 14 December 1995

Script review of No Strings Attached by Hilary Beaton- Review by Kate Herbert 14 Dec 1995


Script review

No Strings Attached by Hilary Beaton

Playlab Press Brisbane 1994

Reviewer: Kate Herbert


Hilary Beaton is well-known for her scripts for young people's theatre in both New Zealand and Australia.

No Strings Attached reverberates with 80's community and youth productions which had an almost formulaic structure. Take an issue, simplify it, draw an analogy, limit characters for small company budgets, make it physical.


The play is neither clearly character-driven nor plot-driven. Being based in the imagery of skydiving, it is inevitably very physical. The text relies heavily on the direction and performances for its ultimate success or failure on stage. Its style moves between the naturalistic and the dream state of Clare's memory or reverie, between past adn present. This is not a literary script but rather a vehicle for physicality on stage which makes it is nigh impossible to assess on paper.


 Clare, Maxine and Joycie, members of a champion sky-diving team in their youth, reunite to train for a spectacular one-off dive to celebrate the marriage of Desiree, their fourth team-member. The three meet at intervals for the weeks before the wedding, deciding on moves, costumes, publicity, sponsorship, discuss old times, old jumps. They haggle and bicker, returning to much worn behaviour patterns as soon as they meet. Essentially, nobody has changed.


Beaton draws parrallels between the evolution of the women's movement and team free-falling. Some comparisons effectively elaborate on issues, but many connections are tenuous, brittle or thin. As a result of feminism and its demands on the New Woman, women in the 60's and 70's had to throw themselves headlong into their new roles, taking enormous risks with work and personal lives.


 This is Beaton's initial parallel. Women were forced, during "those heady days of sisterhood", into what could now be seen to be artificial bonding. They were expected to be a community, to band together and support each other despite radical differences in interests, temperament, education and social status. Here we encounter Beaton's second parallel. These three vastly differing women came together to dive, stayed to be the first team of women to win a National Championship then fell apart when one member abandoned them to go in search of herself in India.


The play deals with middle-class feminism which is a composite of corporate and alternative culture. The diving metaphor applies to risk- taking, to trying new challenges. Here lies the third parallel. These women dived into difficult terrain in the 70's. Clare leapt into writing self-help books, made enormous amounts of cash and became "supermarket famous". She is not, however, in control of her emotional life. The hard-nosed Joycie, gabbles about money and sex in the same breath, started her own sporting wear design label but has no personal life. These two are examples of the women who concentrated on work and abandoned the personal working through sisterhood but never grappled effectively with relationships with men. It becomes clear that they did not succeed with women either. The play almost celebrates bad behaviour and proves that feminism did not necessarily produce women  who were more mature. These women have not even overcome the childish and sometimes offensive "tampon joke" style of women's comedy in the 80's. The team stil calls itself "The Carefrees".


The three seem to have maintained the more unpleasant characteristics of the 70's movement. Joycie is ambitious, ruthless, selfish, devious, untrustworthy, demanding, loud and funny, volatile and temperamental. Her generally unexpurgated language is sometimes automatic, at others it is a childish ploy to shock. She is brassy, defensive, outwardly independent but innately needy and dependent on others' advice and care.  She is unable to form lasting relationships, is sexually dysfunctional or confused; her grief at the loss of the friendship when Max became a lesbian could herald a latent homosexuality or it may simply indicate neediness.


Maxine is simple, dogged, organised to a fault, reliable, annoying in her need for routine, unadventurous except in her diving, conservative even in her lesbianism and suburban in her lifestyle described by Joycie as being like "cows with full udders". She could be a leader, a motivator if she were not so tactless, unadventurous, persistent, demanding and over-sensitive.


Clare is the central character. She has achieved in business the success she could not achieve in diving. She is superior, articulate, cool and business-like, reserved with her emotions, versed in the New Age language of communication about which she writes in her self-help manual. Ironically, writing  in her ivory tower has left her ill-equipped to deal with her irrational  and demanding friends and unable to cope with the real world. She is personally powerful but not a risk -taker which belies her role as advisor to the cowardly.


The structure of the play and its reliance on flashbacks to demonstrate the original relationships between the three, leaves them unsatisfyingly shallow and two-dimensional. Each character seems to have a very limited repertoire of personal traits and dialogue. They never develop. No depth is revealed, no layers peeled away. There is a repetitive quality to their interactions. They seem to say the same things over and over. Nobody breaks role. Nobody is changed. What they were in the 70's they remain.


Their common past is revealed in a slow drip of information. Beaton weaves details of their present lives into the narrative at each of their intermittent meetings. These women are unscrupulous and, without the charm of villainy, they become eminently dislikeable. Joycie, seeking international recognition for her women's sporting outfit designs, visits New York to meet a major designer.


In a too-lengthy monologue, Joyce tells a barely credible tale of woe about how she made a fatal error in using Carl Wasserstein's name to wriggle out of a shop-lifting charge. He calls her "full of shit!" and all her dreams of international success are shattered. It seemed well-deserved. Maxine lobbies and manipulates Clare for $10,000 ostensibly for sponsorship but actually to rescue her poverty-stricken relationship. Clare, famous for diving analogies in titles: Pull the Ripcord on Anger and Canopy of Love, is now writing a book exploiting their reunion and her return to sky-diving.



The dialogue seems to undercut any serious intention of this play. It is oddly placed and uncomfortable as if it had been constructed then slotted into scenes. When covering character names on the left of the page I expect to differentiate voices. These become a single voice, often glib and predictable, riddled with platitudes. It smacks of arch, smart-arse women.


Joycie Is it lonely at the top?

Clare    I've become bitter and twisted - a bit like expensive marmalade.

Joycie  C.mon. You're holding out on me. Are you bonking?

Clare    Just the same!

Joycie Are you in love?

Clare    Not so much in love as in limbo.

Joycie I'm like that. I have to keeep a man in my head so I remember to   change my underwear. No-one special?

Clare    I am a happily unmarried woman.

Joycie  Moi aussi. Remember when sex was safe and sky diving was dangerous? These days, sky diving is very very safe.ˇ


Clare owed her life to Desiree who saved her when she knocked herself unconscious on a jump. This accident was the downfall of the group the team the friendships. It is a parallel to the kind of crisis which tears people apart socially. One sleeps with another's lover, one borrows money, betrays a secret or trust. The relationships never recover. Clare remembered only the positive when she decided to bring the team together for the wedding. She wanted a ritual ending a re-joining, "a linked exit".


 Here is the final parallel between diving and the intense and fraught relationships of these three women.  There is much more to be confronted about the condition of the post-feminist women nearing middle-age. The complexity of their predicament is dealt with superficially and the diving metaphor becomes laboured and obscured.


Although the first act of the play had a run in first in Auckland in September 1988, the play, directed by Sue Rider, premiered at La Boite in Brisbane on September 8, 1994. Rider describes a lengthy collaborative process with the writer which included script development workshops with several Brisbane companies: Playworks, National Playwrights' Centre, Playlab, Brisbane Theatre Company. Grants from the Literature Board of the Australia Council and New Zealand Literary Fund also fed the re-drafting process. This was not a play written in isolation. Its evolution echoes the teamwork involved in its topic: the art of formation skydiving.


These women have abandoned all relationship to the community, sharing ethic of early third wave feminism and have degenerated into the "me" ethic of the 80's and 90's.  They exploit their friends, betray their lovers, demand financial and emotional support rather than earn it. They are a singularly dislikeable group of ego-centric users who represent few positive feminist values. Maxine was the only one who stayed with diving, its associated teamwork and analogous feminism. Max chose to dive into sisterhood, demanded high standards of her teammates and stayed to run the organisation and be the champion of feminism. She stuck with women and became a lesbian. Her lover, Chris, is named but remains archly ungendered for most of the play.



Playwright, director, theatre critic, lecturer in Drama at Northern Melbourne College of TAFE.


1975 words



La Maladie de la Mort and The Atlantic Man, Duras, 14 Dec 1996


La Maladie de la Mort (L'amour) and The Atlantic Man, by Marguerite Duras

At La Mama until March 19, 1996

Reviewer: Kate Herbert, reviewed around 14 Dec 1995 for The Melbourne Times


Marguerite Duras' prose has a way of penetrating to the very bone by an unobtrusive and mysterious path. In Laurence Strangio's production of La Maladie de la Mort (The Malady of Death), a Man (Robert Meldrum) pays a prostitute (Margaret Mills) for several consecutive nights of sex.


There is a gasping pain in the sterile emotional isolation of the Man who pays for the woman's body only, for the woman as object. He is confused and terrified to discover it coming to life and perhaps love? before his previously unfeeling, unobservant eyes.  She, the potential victim, sees that he suffers from the maladie de la mort / l'amour. The French pun has a dreadful, poignant quality.  When he begins to feel, he wants to kill her.


It is the story of his brush with intimacy. "The marvellous impossibility of reaching her through the difference that separates you." There is a delicacy in rendering this piece. It's beauty resides in its use of paradox: the two characters are icy but sexual, vulnerable and yet hard. It is a study in passionate passionlessness. She is vulnerable physically, he emotionally.


Both performers have a chilling and unpredictable quality. Meldrum is warm in his coldness, his rich, sensual, mellow tones blending with the seascape-soundscape. Mills is enigmatic and magnetic.


Strangio has taken the undramatised prose (which Duras herself had failed to dramatise) and has heightened the dramatic tension by treating almost as a simultaneous self-narration. Meldrum reads his text which adds to the character's detachment. The characters' physical distance and frozen communication and the cool blandness of wall-to-wall sand, all exaggerate the man's alienation.


The second shorter Duras, The Atlantic Man, is less successful as a dramatic text which is no fault of the director nor the actor, Brenda Palmer. It's prose is more fragmented and less clear with little intrinsic dramatic tension. It looks at both the failures of cinema to touch humanity and parallel images of the end of a romance and the detachment. The use of an empty film projector running in the background and Phil McLeod's accompanying improvised cello music are both simple and effective but the text (not the production) is unimpressive theatre.





Monday 11 December 1995

The Best of 1995 Theatre in Melbourne

The Best of 1995: Theatre
Kate Herbert Dec 11, 1995
Published in The Melbourne Times, December 1995

The beauty of non-mainstream theatre in Melbourne is that it does what mainstream does not. Much of our best is new work. It is always visually exciting, physical and somehow luscious and sensual. 

Al Andalus by Hildegarde celebrated a Jewish-Arabic community in mediaeval Spain with erotic flamenco-inspired movement, exotic jewel-coloured design and mesmerising a' capella song.

Jump! devised by the wonderful women of  Crying in Public Places, also integrates unaccompanied songs. It is cheeky, warm and adorable and relies on the physicality of its performers. They jump literally and metaphorically, telling with ease and passion, charming, funny and moving stories from their lives.

In Stephen Berkoff's Decadence Alison Whyte and Rhyss Muldoon were sexy, lewd, savage and provocative. Their comic timing in this dense verse text was faultless.

Sarah Cathcart with her chameleon-like solo performance, Tiger Country,  has successfully made the shift from fringe to mainstage. Her whimsical, wry characters and physical transformations are mesmerising.

The Melbourne Theatre Company has my award for best damn batch of shows. Hamlet, directed by the inimitable Neil Armfield, had a powerful vision of Elsinore as a totalitarian regime. An impeccable cast was lead by a compelling Richard Roxborough with his subtle and dynamic portrayal of the Prince.

Simon Phillips production of Tom Stoppard's perfectly crafted script, Arcadia was moving, passionate analytical, inspiring the audience to think, judge and feel. 
Scenes from a Separation,( MTC) was seamlessly directed by Robin Nevin with an achingly hilarious and anguished script Andrew Bovell and Hannie Rayson.

From Britain, we were privileged to witness Stephen Daldry's production of An Inspector Calls with its inspired staging and design, humanist commentary and exceptional performances of a family facing its crumbling world under a drenched sky.

The Three Lives of Lucy Cabrol (Theatre de Complicite') was a profoundly evocative, poignant and lyrical epic tale of love and death, which pulsated with energy, skill and vision. It reeked of passion, and metaphorical imagery.


Wednesday 29 November 1995

A Quiet Life, La Mama, 29 November 1995


by Belinda Bradley

At a Mama at Courthouse until Sat Dec 16, 1995

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on 29 November 1995 for The Melbourne Times


There were titters rather than guffaws during Belinda Bradley's A Quiet Life.


The language is witty with an alliterative, staccato, almost percussive rhythm. Characters are broad and clown-like drawing on stereotypes without being too predictable or simplistic. There is tragedy in their banal predicament.


George Chapman is doomed from the beginning.  He and his wife Mary - dull drudges who run a scruffy boarding house - have a quiet life - until pretty Polly Blue arrives. Enter the unwittingly seductive third party! So much for the quiet life. In the dregs of her lavender-scented bath, George fantasises about his bird-like new tenant. Ah, tender romance! Sam, Ruth and Harry, other tenants, eavesdrop and comment on the action. Cynics! There is almost a Victorian melodrama in this.


Director, Rosalie Zycher, has kept the action and staging simple and abstract. Characters never speak directly to each other. The tenants perch on scaffolding acting as a chorus, peering and gossiping with alliterative wacky and perverted commentary. I wanted them to misbehave more, to be more physical, more dangerous. Their gabbling and antics raise the energy level and reflect the emotional dynamic of our vague and romantic George as he careers inexorably down the mountain to his inevitable suicide.


 The lyrical, pastel, almost cartoon-like, design by Zycher and Lisa Thomas heightens the simplicity of the narrative. Actors hang out painted washing, pack two dimensional suitcases and eat lamb chops painted onto plates painted onto a table.

 Their lives are not quite real.


Performances are sound and the season will tighten up the brisk pace required for Bradley's rapid dialogue. There are echoes of dialogue. There are echoes of  Under Milkwood in this text but the concentration on alliteration becomes repetitive and tiring. I can't help thinking that this would make a strong radio play.



Friday 24 November 1995

Leaping the Wire, Women's Circus, 24 November 1995



 by The Women's Circus

At Nubrik Factory Dawson St. Brunswick until December 1995

Reviewed by Kate Herbert on 24 November 1995 for The Melbourne Times



One woman who went with the Circus to the Beijing Conference on Women remembers, " the diversity of experience, emotion, culture.... and toilets." This image of the meaningful meeting the ordinary and ridiculous epitomises the company's new production, Leaping the Wire.

 Donna Jackson has directed fifty-odd performers of varying skill levels in a physical narrative about eight women's stories of abuse, terror and, occasionally, survival. The tales leap from Tibetan nuns to Gypsies, aboriginal deaths in custody, Brazilain women seeking their disappeared sons, an Algerian girl killed for not wearing the veil and the revenge killing of a girl wearing the veil.


In Burma, a supporter of Oong Sun Soo Chee is gaoled for "endangering public tranquillity." If it were not so violent and oppressive it would be hilarious. The cops cop it in every country.


Musical director Paula Dowse accompanies the action with music creatively derivative of the countries depicted.


There are some beautiful images created through the opportunity to mass fifty women onstage and the use of acrobatic / circus physicality. The Brazilian "tree-hangers" with their accompanying lyrical music were superb.


The murders of the Algerian girls (veiled and unveiled) were simple and dramatic as they tumbled into the arms of their supporters and company member Linda Wilson's bald statement about her childhood sexual abuse and subsequent recovery were very moving and immediate. This oppression doesn't only happen "out there."


The finale was a joyful clamour of women in pyramids – a happy relief from the torrid painful images of terror and death.




Tuesday 21 November 1995

Eugene Onegin, Victoria State Opera, 21 November 1995


by Petr Tchaikovsky

By Victoria State Opera

At  State Theatre Nov 18, 21, 24, 27, 30 Dec 2, 6, 9, 1995

Followed by Ruddigore

Reviewed by Kate Herbert on 21 November 1995 for The Melbourne Times


God sent us habit instead of happiness and love," sings Larina (Jeannie Marsh) in the opening of Eugene Onegin.


Tchaikovsky agonises over the common choice of familiarity and convention rather than the heightened experience of a prolonged and genuine passion. Herein lies the tragedy of the opera and of our so many of our little lives.


Tchaikovsky has adapted Pushkin's witty verse novel about a young country girl who in a nanosecond falls in love with the cool and arrogant Onegin, a jaded, foppish young St. Petersburg aristocrat. He rejects her overtures only to regret his foolish and hasty decision years later. She opts for comfort and we all wince.


Tchaikovsky's form is closer to that of a Chekhov play rather than a Verdi opera. It comprises intimate scenes from country life with personal, rather than political or global, themes. The score heightens the poignancy of this hapless group of Russians, delicate single woodwind lines accentuate the pathos and anguish. Richard Divall, with orchestra, captures the delicacy and pathos of the score.


Cheryl Barker's voice is sweet and warm for the role of Tatyana. Peter Coleman-Wright's rich baritone sustains the role of Onegin. The star in this production is Gregory Tomlinson as Lensky. His fine tenor and resonant performance capture the ardour of the truly passionate character in the story. Lensky risks his life for love. Attaboy! His lament before the duel and his subsequent death were profoundly moving.


An icy wind blows though Michael Edwards' production and it is accentuated by the flat, wooden walls and leafless trees of Dale Ferguson's set. This relentless dullness is relieved finally by the more opulent costumes (Hugh Coleman) and design in the ballroom in Act Three when Onegin encounters Tatyana, the woman.


By Kate Herbert 21 Nov 1995

Thursday 16 November 1995

Scenes from a Separation , 16 November, 1995




by Hannie Rayson & Andrew Bovell

MTC. Fairfax Studio until December 16

Reviewed by Kate Herbert on 16 November 1995 for The Melbourne Times

It is an unfamiliar but gloriously welcome sensation to have experienced Scenes from a Separation, a perfect piece of theatre. 

 The resources of a major theatre company should produce this quality every time.

It has an exceptional script by Hannie Rayson and Andrew Bovell, seamless direction (Robin Nevin), deceptively simple design (Dale Ferguson), dramatic lighting (Jamieson Lewis), resonant music (Paul Grabowsky) and inspired performances particularly from leads, Robert Menzies and Heather Mitchell.


We feel the texture of two voices but see one play. The styles, vision and gender of these gifted writers dovetail impeccably, feeding each other's strengths in an achingly beautiful and anguished story of a marriage breakdown. Rayson's naturalism, cheeky characterisation and hilarious dialogue meld imperceptibly with Bovell's acerbic, fractured, frantic conversations, chiselled abstract style and impeccable plotting.  One plus one equal infinity.


Matthew's story by Bovell precedes Nina's perspective by Rayson. The individual points of view, highlight, distort and colour each other as details of the tragedy are filled. Robin Nevin's cunning (and stunning) direction is, by turn, invisible then blatant. Action moves swiftly, seamlessly or is punctuated by a stylised theatricality.


Matt's story is brisk and business-like but reveals the vulnerability of the complex, overbearing, tortured publisher Matthew Molyneux played with almost supernatural finesse, dynamism and tragic wit by Robert Menzies.


Heather Mitchell is luminous in her pain as Nina, disappointed and desperate. People stay in relationships because of "complacency, fear and habit", history, familiarity, that "deep need to be known". But "You can't conquer time" (W. H. Auden). Everything changes. Even love is a victim of gravity. People stay through fear not fidelity. How has it transpired that emotional cowardice is hailed as a virtue?


There is a bevy of magnificent characters. All are flawed, all fear change, seeing the truth, letting go. Beverley Dunn is positively regal as the wine-soaked matriarch. Darcy (Tiriel Mora) numbs his bored lovelessness in alcohol and young women. Shane Porteous is oddly paternal as the object of Nina's biography and lust. Fiona Todd is vigorous as the brisk young editor. Sarah, (Marg Downey) the only confirmed single, craves the boredom and familiarity the others have begun to despise.


This play is reflective, challenging, hilarious, informed and adult, rich with allusions. This is new work which has, with editing and sound dramaturgy, got it right on the page so it will be right on the stage. I cannot do it justice in these few words. Just go!




Wednesday 8 November 1995

The Head of Mary, Playbox, Melbourne Festival 1995



Melbourne Festival 1995


The Head of Mary by Tanaka Chikao

At Playbox until Nov 1995

Reviewed by Kate Herbert on 8 November 1995 for The Melbourne Times


If you are interested in an English language version of a 20th century Japanese play by master playwright, Tanaka Chikao, see The Head of Mary, directed by Aubrey Mellor at Playbox.


It is a poetic view of the Catholic population of Nagasaki after the bomb. Written by the Japanese master, Tanaka Chikao, it brings together the Japanese abstract and poetic form with Western Christian values. Director, Aubrey Mellor, who studied Japanese theatre in the 70's, has employed a minimalist style in staging this English language version with many European accents amongst its actors.


Kate Herbert

To Traverse Water by IHOS, Melbourne Festival 8 November 1995



Melbourne Festival 1995

To Traverse Water by IHOS Opera

At Victoria Dock until Nov 1995

Reviewed by Kate Herbert on 8 November 1995 for The Melbourne Times


To Traverse Water, the contemporary opera by IHOS, is a veritable show bag of extraordinary theatrical images. It is like eating all four courses simultaneously over and over. It becomes impossible to differentiate individual elements.


The ambience of Victoria Dock Shed is stunning: ships at dock, a glowing sunset over water. In the spotlit "foyer" the audience's anticipation was tangible. This "location theatre" arrived with trumpeted hype. Unfortunately, the work fell short of expectations.


Part one augured well, combining some eclectic musical composition (Indian, Irish, Bazouki) with startling lighting, stark staging, simple physicality and chilling chanting and song. Spectacular machinery, pyrotechnics and technology are incorporated: floating rowing boats, a weird bicycle, a huge mobile Catherine Wheel and a suspended percussionist (a' la Stomp.)


But migrant displacement was oddly romanticised in a filmy, vaseline-lense representation of a Greece populated with mystical, saintly figures.


Part Two lost me. When they traverse the water to Oz, migrants evidently transform into complete dodos with no taste, indulging in hysteria and unneighbourly feuds. The Orthodox icons are replaced by the stereotypical Hills hoist, barbecue, concrete and back yard.  Didn't they argue, eat, grow vegies and wash clothes in Greece?


We have defied this simplistic, false image of Australia, the culture-free zone. We have a more sophisticated, less sentimentalised view of migrant experience now. Surely Tasmanians did not find this so new that they accepted it unquestioningly?


The message was preachy, and the whole lacked subtlety, suffering sensory overload with overstated, cluttered imagery. It allowed me no room for individual thoughts or emotional response, leaving me oddly unmoved. In the end, I did not care, which was, surely, the intention.




The Duchess of Malfi , Melbourne Festival, 8 Nov 1995



Melbourne Festival 1995


The Duchess of Malfi written by John Webster

By,Cheek by Jowl Athenaeum I until Nov 1995

Reviewed by Kate Herbert on 8 November 1995 for The Melbourne Times


If there is one element which singularly applies to a Jacobean Revenge Tragedy (the period after Lizzy 1), it is palpable vengeance. It may be bloody, conspiratorial or seductive, but it is pervasive and intrinsic to the plot and performance.


The Duchess of Malfi, by the renowned Cheek by Jowl, has some extraordinary theatrical moments, integrates Latin hymns and takes enormous risks with silence. However, it seems to falter intermittently as it takes a running jump, hiccups then has to build the dynamic all over again. The Italianate passion which inspired these plays full of betrayal, corruption, hypocrisy and violence, is diluted. If some of the cast were not Irish, I'd rudely suggest it suffered from English restraint.


This is not to deny that there is some fine direction with a number of exceptional performances. Anastasia Hille was riveting as the Duchess driven by love, confusion and secrecy. As her hypocritical, poisonous brother, the Cardinal, Paul Brennan is seductive and terrifying.


Kate Herbert

The Beatification of Sal Paradise, 8 November 1995


(Based on Jack Kerouac)

At Continental Cafe Nov 15 & 16, 1995

Reviewed by Kate Herbert on 8 November 1995 for The Melbourne Times


The Beatification of Sal Paradise (aka Kerouac) has managed to successfully transfer Kerouac's words from the page.  We see his maleness, his ego, his stream of consciousness, his inability to communicate in the real world, his collection of lunatics and post-war misfits, with or without talent.


The abiding tragedy in Kerouac's On the Road was the credo that a life of booze, drugs and whores was romantic. It made a psychotic of Neal Cassady, and an alcoholic misogynist of Kerouac. (AKA Sal Paradise)


But could Jack's extraordinary words have been so bitter and beautiful if he'd written about daffodils? (Tip-tap of Remington). His language is all. We can feel his "end of the continent sadness" and see his "puffy-eyed motel blondes".


"What's your road?" asks wild boy, Dean (bass line), whose drugged jittering and deluded ramblings pulsate with the New York he loved. Kerouac's outward silence and inner monologues reflect the mists of San Francisco where he later spent so much time with the other Beats.  (Click fingers).


The simplicity of the production and sparseness of its staging were extremely successful. Three chairs provide every stage setting and the actors almost dance amongst them. Additionally, Lawrence Ricks provides a persistent background presence with live bass.


My main criticism is its lack of weight and dynamic range. It moves at much the same pace for over an hour. These guys lived hard and fast with time out for unconsciousness. My second is the numerous false endings, particularly if you don't know the novel.


Paul Bonet makes a good fist of Sal and Simon-Peter Fahey is suitably wired, albeit less substantial, than the real Dean. Other cast members were strong, but I was most impressed (always am) by Richard Neale who was subtle, laconic and perfectly underplayed as William Burroughs.


Kate Herbert

Wednesday 25 October 1995

The Three Lives of Lucy Cabrol, 25 October 1995 *****

By Theatre de Complicite

At The Playhouse, Melbourne Arts Centre until Nov 4, 1995

Melbourne Arts Festival

Reviewer: Kate Herbert 25 October 1995 for The Melbourne Times

Stars: *****

Lilo Baur as Lucy

By the final spectacular image of The Three Lives of Lucy Cabrol, I was spellbound. The sheer beauty and magnitude of both the visuals and the message left me gasping, open-mouthed.


The delicacy and finesse of this production, developed by the multi-lingual Theatre de Complicite, is counterpoised against its rough-as-gutsiness. It is gloriously wild, seamlessly weaving together the twin comic and tragic.


The ensemble pulsates with energy, skill and vision. Its delicacy and finesse is counterpoised against a contrary rough-as-gutsiness. It is gloriously wild, seamlessly weaving together those tetchy twins, the comic and the tragic.


These actors are clowns and tragedians, employing elaborate and exciting physicality with some profoundly moving self-narrated text.


It is a poignant and epic love story. It is Mother Courage or Bertollucci's 1900. It is a fable of the life-death-life cycle. It follows the life, other life and after-life of Lucy Cabrol, a tiny bird-like peasant child-adult. She is cruelly dubbed "The Cocadrille" (witch) and abused by her brothers until they hound her off their family land.

 Lucy is played by Lilo Baur who is ,herself, a miniature human dynamo, an unstoppable spinning top on stage. Even in the darkest moments the whole company sparkles with energy and playfulness, driven by muscle, adrenalin and their arresting vision.


The style has the lyrical, mythic quality of a tale told around the village fire by an elder. It reeks of history, passion, commitment and metaphorical imagery. The actors create with only their bodies and odd bits of wood and furniture, every part of the village, the forest, chooks, pigs, cows and even both world wars.


The design is deceptively simple and the lighting is dramatic and at times we peer into the light, the half-life to catch a glimpse of the lives of Lucy, the Cocadrille.




Saturday 21 October 1995

Tiger Country by Sarah Cathcart, 21 October, 1995

 At Fairfax Studio, Melbourne Arts Centre, until October 28, 1995

Reviewer: Kate Herbert around 21 Oct, for The Melbourne Times


It is magical to watch an actor transform before your eyes and Sarah Cathcart, in her new work Tiger Country, is a veritable chameleon.


On stage, Cathcart is mesmerising as she embodies four women from different eras but the same landscape, moving effortlessly between the roles by a shift in her frame, attitude and accent, without a costume. With Andrea Lemon's seamless direction, she has filled the space with an abstract physicality combined with a continual self-narration.


Trina Parker's stage design has a glorious cream and dusty azure floor pattern of a sundial backed by a geometric hill. Slides of the landscape are projected on a skewed backdrop totally transforming the space with every step in each character's journey.


The design captures the misty heat of the Marilinga, Woomera, Coober Pedy region which is the base of the research for the play. It is matched perfectly by a soundscape which shifts from Doris Day in the 60's to an eerie clicking evoking alien landscapes and capturing the weird isolation of the desert hinterland.


Cathcart portrays with wry humour, the rustic, laconic wit of Iris the roadhouse keeper who confides in a Japanese tourist (she dubs him "Martin") that she was taken by aliens. Barb, the city bird dragged out of her urban environment, suffers the rural life. The most poignant character is Louisa, fresh off the boat from England in 1830, facing a decline into poverty in the desert.


It is, however, the whimsical philosophical observations of the child, Stella, upon the nature of humanity and the universe which are at the heart of the piece: our displacement and existential uncertainty. As the old aboriginal woman says, "I know why the trees are here. I know why I'm here. I just don't know why you're here."


We are all visitors here.


By Kate Herbert


Wednesday 18 October 1995

In the Belly of the Whale, 18 Oct 1995


Devised by Luke Elliot and Damien Richardson

La Mama until Oct 29, 1995

Reviewer: Kate Herbert for The Melbourne Times around 18 Oct 1995


I had to block my ears and hum at any mention of baiting hooks, during In the Belly of the Whale, being childishly phobic about the innocuous earth worm. The rest of the time I was charmed by this neatly crafted, warm and funny piece about fishing, devised by Luke Elliot and Damien Richardson.


Fishing is perfect for Buddhists or the somnolent. To fill time while waiting - and waiting for a bite, the two spin fishing yarns garnered from anglers, fishmongers and their personal experience. They brandish fishing facts like swords and engage in home spun philosophy about father/ son relationships and contemplation while attending the rod.


This is very smart physical storytelling with a base in well-observed characters and research. There are tall fish tales and the painful irony of the rank amateur (who wouldn't know a trevally from his grandmother) catching every fish within coo-ee.


The piece is alive with inspired comic timing and sharp pacing. It is episodic, intercutting scenes with full-frontal fact lists and a final fishy version of "That's Amore" (A moray?). The format becomes a little tired towards the end, but the energy of the performers sustains interest.


There are scenes of the warm, the matey and the cosy as well as the unpleasantness of the rain, the cold and that old shark terror. We see the ritual of the baiting, casting, securing rods, settling into fold-up stools, opening beers, or the more cultured anglers savouring wine.


When one says suddenly," I love you," the ensuing silence is filled with discomfort and astonishment. Men do stuff together. If these were two women they would be swapping nightmare relationship stories before the first hook was baited.


But the very blokiness of this work is its charm.


By Kate Herbert


Wednesday 11 October 1995

Ashes , La Mama 11 Oct 1995


Written by Ella Filar

At La Mama, Carlton until Oct 29, 1995

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on (or about) 11 Oct 1995 for The Melbourne Times


In Ashes, a woman starves and withers away with grief for her murdered lover. She craves comfort, warmth and sex but the angel of suffering offers her only his soul.


Ashes takes its form from Berlin cabaret with its dark political and poetic style. The black and blood red of the design and the live jazz ensemble reek of smoky basement clubs in the 30's. Songs by Ella Filar are very Kurt Weill and are sung by an odd non-blend of discordant voices including a soprano and Filar's own rusty Marlene Dietrich strains.


This production is at its best when not taking itself too seriously. The writing contains some darkly sensuous language in dialogue, lyrics and narrative although there are moments when it slips into some indulgent old hippy-speak.


There were some delightful elements. The song, Angel Love (...How will you find me?) was one. Scenes between the woman-child and her fascist father were well-written realistic dialogue with stylised staging.


The performances were patchy, but this very roughness was half the charm of "Ashes". I loved Iris Walshe-Howling's powerful eye contact and Mick Trembeth's representation of father and other characters.


This piece seemed to tire and lose its way about twenty minutes from the end.  It would benefit from some ruthless editing and possibly an outside eye to clarify its through-line.


Filar writes some memorable lines. "If believers can slaughter, Unbelievers can pray." And, speaking for all women who feel insubstantial in this violent world, Lisa says as she breaks her fast, "I need a big body to get a handle on this hate".



280 wds


Thursday 5 October 1995

Slingshot by Nikolai Kolyada, 5 Oct 1995

 At Napier Street Theatre, South Melbourne

Wed to Sat 8pm Sun 6pm until October 22, 1995

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on (or about) 5 October 1995 for The Melboune Times


The message is simple in Slingshot: people are careless with each other's affections. They fly into other lives like a stone from a slingshot, shattering them like glass. We should be more careful.


Directed by expatriate Russian director, Leonid Verzub, Slingshot is an exciting and well-observed contemporary Russian play by Nikolai Kolyada about three crippled lives.


Ilya (Greg Ulfan) is a drunken, disabled beggar who is legless in both senses of the word. His new relationship with the young sedate student, Anton (Grisha Dolgopolov) reveals both men's need for love and friendship. The outcome of their confusing sexual encounter is tragic.


Kolyada inverts the status of the two men. Ilya discovers his humanity, love and purity, Anton his animality, fear and degradation. Their shared loneliness brings them closer but Anton's paranoia about being "normal" in the eyes of society tears them apart. Love and hate are confused. Sexuality is confusing. Ilya's tattered street wisdom is riddled with paradoxes: "The main thing is not to make them suffer," but "Cruelty must be punished."


Ulfan as Ilya has a strong presence and quick, witty delivery. Elly Varrenti, appearing briefly as his slatternly neighbour, provides a vital and dynamic cameo.


Although this is Verzub's directorial debut in Australia he has twenty years of experience in Russia. His style is based in Stanislavski's method. which provides some compelling moments and the colloquial translation gives the text a fluid, flexible feel.


The naturalism, however, slows the pace, particularly in the opening leaving the quality uneven. The production screams for tightening and could easily lose twenty minutes of pauses and business.


Linley Kensit's design effectively captures the decaying Moscow apartment. The lighting by Daniel Zika provides interesting but at times overstated effects.




Thursday 28 September 1995

Baby, Honey- Thirteen Studies in Exile, REVIEW, 28Sept 1995


Baby, Honey- Thirteen Studies in Exile by Deborah Levy

At  La Mama Wed - Sun pm until Sunday October 8, 1995

Reviewer: Kate Herbert (end Sept 1995)


Baby, Honey is 45 minutes of quirky, poetic absurdity. Deborah Levy's script is crisp, witty and fractured and is skilfully handled by director, Suzanne Chaundy and a delightfully playful ensemble of five.


The piece is subtitled Thirteen Studies in Exile. These cheeky actors tease us, holding up numbers to indicate parts one to thirteen. They taunt us with direct comments, glances and their very proximity at the infamously in-your-face La Mama space.


The work scuttles about amongst themes of abandonment, modern romantic love, alienation in relationships and loss and yet the writing remains intense and dense without becoming heavy.


Yes, there are characters. The obsessive and intuitive customs officer (Ian Scott) checks passengers' emotional baggage and asks, "Are you my mummy?" The alienated housewife (Victoria Eagger) wants to be like Marilyn Monroe: "Take sleeping pills and die."  Her husband (Carlos Sanchez) is a manic Spanish-speaking monarchist.


An inner-urban, groovy couple (Susannah Gregan, Grant Mouldey) ask interminable, esoteric questions, call each other "Honey" and "Baby" and fantasise their partner is someone else.


This production is both stylish and stylised.  It is beautifully paced and it's rhythms and mood are accented by a cunning musical selection and the ideas are elaborated in accompanying footage.


The twin TV sets read "Arrivals" and "Departures". We may choose either, we may travel from one to the other, but nothing ever stays the same.


Deborah Levy is visiting from the UK. She writes fiction and writes and directs her own theatre work, often collaborating with visual artists dancers and composers. There is also a reading of a second piece of hers at La Mama.


Wednesday 20 September 1995

Hamlet, REVIEW, 20 Sept 1995 *****

Hamlet by William Shakespeare, by STC and MTC 

At Playhouse Theatre, Melbourne Arts Centre until October, 1995

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on around 20 Sep 1995

Stars: 5

NB: With hindsight from 2021, I know this was an exceptional 1995 production with an extraordinarily talented cast. Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Richard Roxburgh, Peter Carroll, and directed by Neil Armfield. This was a treat! KH


Nothing shatters the spirit like grief and Shakespeare's Hamlet is saturated with souls grieving for death, abandonment or betrayal. Richard Roxborough's Hamlet is a copybook study of grief: shock, sadness, disconnection from his body and environment, fear, disbelief, self-doubt followed by unbridled rage.


Roxborough has earned his Sydney Critic's Award for his idiosyncratic, compelling and prismatic characterisation which glints in the light as he turns it. His prince has a subtlety and dynamic range which resonates, shifting easily from underplayed youthful carping and melancholia, through physical incapacitation to cynicism, physical comedy then full-blown anguish. 


How easily we forget the effect of grief on we frail humans. Hamlet loses a father, a lover then a mother. Ophelia her lover then father and Laertes father and sister. Their grief is palpable, almost unbearable to behold. The men turn their aching anguish outward to revenge a wronged loved one. Ophelia turns her pain inward.


There is a delicacy and reality in Neil Armfield's finely tuned, rhythmic production which plays the actors like instruments which weep and wail with torrents of emotion. He gives them their heads, never overstating either comedy or pathos. It is an ensemble piece with many of this exceptional cast playing multiple roles.


Peter Carroll as the donnish "prating old fool", Polonius, almost steals the first half of the play. Geoffrey Rush commendably underplays Horatio, the loyal, ever-watchful eye of objectivity.


 Jacek Koman has a still and regal composure which makes Claudius all the more insidious. Cate Blanchett's mad scene as Ophelia was profoundly distressing yet lyrical. Her pale muddied skin and clothing heightened the fragility of her physical and spiritual self.


The whole piece is served perfectly by the soundscape (Paul Charlier) and the design (Dan Potra) with distressed warehouse walls and cold tiling create a chill, grey, discomfiting palace for this greatest of all tragedies. The tiny shrine lights and flowers on the wall remind us constantly of the dead who will be remembered.



Tuesday 29 August 1995

1995 Reviews by or about Kate Herbert, Herald Sun

1995 Reviews, by or About Kate Herbert, Herald Sun

 SNAKE PIT NEEDS MORE BITE   Herald Sun, 29-08-1995, Ed: 2, Pg: 043, 448 words , ENTERTAINMENT
The Snake Pit Where and when: La Mama, Carlton, until September 3 DECADES before Ariel Dorfman wrote Death and the Maiden, an Australian dramatist was writing her own version of "turn the tables on the torturer" set on the Gold Coast (of all places) ...

    TRIP ON WAY TO CLIMAX   Herald Sun, 29-07-1995, Ed: 2, Pg: 034, 110 words , ENTERTAINMENT
TRIPTYCH is not just a whodunit, it is a "who-did-what?" A woman (Nikki Coghill) brings home a bookshop owner (Sarah Chadwick) to her writer husband (Joseph Spano). The two women met only that day, but the guest seems to know Mr Wrong rather too well...

    CUB SITE PLANS   Herald Sun, 17-07-1995, Ed: 2, Pg: 061, 526 words , ENTERTAINMENT
CUB site plans RMIT University has got the site, it's got the plan and all it needs now is the money. The site is the old CUB headquarters at the top of Swanston St, which it wants to develop into a media centre and student housing. Architectural fir...

Sunday 6 August 1995

Pearl Fishers, Victoria State Opera, 6 August 1995


By Georges Bizet

By Victoria State Opera

At State Theatre, Aug 5, 8,10, 12. 14, 17, 18, 26, 1995

Review by Kate Herbert: 6 August for The Melbourne Times

Georges Bizet was 24 when The Pearl Fishers hit the stage in Paris in 1853 and it smacks of the kind of love story a young man would write. It is a melodrama, almost a soap opera reliant on characters and emotions painted in broad strokes. Two men fall for the same goddess-like woman who sings like an angel and walks like a dream in the night. The resulting jealousy tears apart their friendship.


This is a co-production for Victoria State Opera with the Australian Opera and was first performed in November 1988 with Deborah Riedel in the role of Leila. Riedel has a full-bodied soprano, smoothly modulated through all registers perhaps a result of her early training as a mezzo.


Patrick Power as Leila's lover, Nadir, has a sweet, pastel tenor and their two voices are delightfully matched for duets. Baritone, Lucas de Jong's Zurga was creditable and bass, Gary Rowley, was appropriately wicked as the villainous High Priest, Nourabad.


Tony Bartuccio's choreography incorporated an interesting melange of jazz and contemporary dance with eastern images. Their physicality enhances the alluring tableaux which director, Jamie Hayes uses to such great effect to open and close each act. Some of the performance and direction is too melodramatic and "old opera" in style but it is difficult to work against the tone of both the music and libretto.


French conductor, Emmanuel Joel and the Victoria State Orchestra were superb. Joel will conduct this production in London later this year. The chorus strengthened after act one where it seemed a little thin. Stage design by Kenneth Rowell was imposing and effective in its grand simplicity. George Kulikovskis' lighting design added a powerful dimension to the stormy, oceanic night scenes.



Tuesday 1 August 1995

Tosca , Victoria State Opera, 1 August 1995



by Giacomo Puccini

Victoria State Opera, At State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne,

 August 1, 4, 9, 17, 21, 26 1995

Reviewed by Kate Herbert on 1 August for The Melbourne Times.


Tosca was first performed in 1900 when melodrama was at its height in the theatre. In fact, he took his scenario from Sardou's original stage play with the title role performed by none other than the queen of histrionics, Sarah Bernhardt.


It is Puccini's extraordinary score and its combination of delicacy, vigour and tragedy which allows the tale of lovers lost to avoid the schmaltz which is so un-1990's. It reverberates with themes of judgement and danger, love and death.


The Victoria State Orchestra is conducted with subtlety by Roderick Brydon. The set design, the lofty grandeur which echoes the ruthlessness of Fascist architecture, serves to underscore the sense of portentousness but, during Act One, the double proscenium allows the orchestra to almost drown the powerful voices of the singers.


The direction was, at times, a little unimaginative and seemed to lack the obvious passion and sex intrinsic to Tosca. However, Acts Two and Three were dramatically most successful. The love story between Tosca (Joan Carden) and Caravadossi (Edmund Barham) is finally palpable.


Barham's final aria was inspiring. His voice is magnificent and his performance is more flexible and credible in Act Three. Carden's second Act lament as she pines for her lover then offers herself to Scarpia (John Wegner) was inspiring.


Which brings me to the star of the production for me. John Wegner, as the villainous, lusty and majestic tyrant, Scarpia, was sinister, sexy and dangerous. We believe him when he quips, "There are so many wines and so many women and I want to sample them all". He combines a superb, rich and vivid baritone with a riveting stage presence. How sad we have lost him to German Opera these days.