Sunday 26 February 1995

The Supper, Stable Productions, 26 Feb 1995


Written by Peter Sichrovsky

By Stable Productions

At Beckett Theatre, Malthouse Melbourne until March 18 1995

This review was published in The Melbourne Times after 26 Feb 1995. KH


The Supper may be a play about the children of Jews and Nazis in Austria, but it does, surprisingly, have quite a few laughs to temper the traumatic recollections.


Erika (Julie Nihill) is daughter to a Nazi. Robert, (David Roberts) her husband-to-be and father of her baby, is son of concentration camp survivors. Having refused to meet during the four years of Erika and Robert's relationship, both paretal couples are coming for an obviously doomed dinner.


Sichrovsky's script is dense with ideas and the dialogue is fraught with traumatic references to the holocaust and the emotional games played by the couple. It is essentially an argument in which the two confront their differences instead of ignoring them.


This drama of words with a dark and strange comic edge, is not quite resolved by either of the two alternative endings. It does, however, weave into the preparations for "the arrival" (Act One) and into the "aftermath" (Act Two), an interesting debate on the risky issue of cross-cultural marriage and releasing past pain. It takes a circuitous path through persecution complex and victim mentality, reconciliation and revenge.  This reverberates incessantly in their relationship which almost recreates oppressive Nazi versus oppressed Jew.


The argument is powerful but somehow hamstrung by Erika being so dislikeable in her bitter, incoherent and, finally, violently abusive behaviour. It appears, at the very end, that their appalling behaviour may even be a regular pattern.




Saturday 25 February 1995

Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, MTC, Feb 1995

By Melbourne Theatre Company

At The Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne until 25 March, 1995

Reviewer: Kate Herbert for The Melbourne Times. Reviewed late Feb 1995


We make of history what suits our politics and philosophy, even an earthly paradise – Arcady. Tom Stoppard's play, Arcadia, is impeccably crafted, perfectly structured, intelligent, witty and challenging. I cannot fault script, Simon Phillips production nor any individual performance.


In inimitable Stoppard fashion, Arcadia unravels a superb biographical-historical plot not unrelated to A.S. Byatt's novel, Possession.


He interweaves an aristocratic family of the late 18th century Romantic period of literature, painting, gardens and classical mathematics with the 20th century's literary criticism, computer technology and chaos theory.  The result is a mind-bending intersection of worlds charged with sex and conflict.


Two modern literary academics from polarised schools of academia meet at Sidley Hall. Lewis Fiander plays conservative, priggish snob, Bernard Nightingale in pursuit of Lord Byron while Helen Morse is the cool feminist, Hannah Jarvis, hunting for the more obscure Hermit of Sidley Hall.


History always eludes us. It is unscientific, as are natural phenomena and human nature. We cannot quantify it. The unpredictability is the rule, unlike quantum physics and relativity.


Under the mathematical tutelage of Byron's friend, Septimus Hodge (stylish, wickedly rakish Peter O'Brien), an inspired 18th century teenager (zesty Sarah Walker) stumbles upon a pre-computer version of Chaos Theory. Meanwhile various sexual liaisons are being played out and the 20th century theorists struggle to piece the jigsaw together.


In this story, as says twitty aristocrat Chloe (hilarious Sally Cooper) sex is the variable, the interferon. All the 20th century theory falls apart without knowledge of the personal details to which we are privy in the Romantic era flashbacks.


The play captures the "decline from thinking to feeling" which was the social norm after the Age of Reason. The Romantics created their own chaos as have the Chaos Theorists today. We discover that "everything you thought you knew, was wrong" both in life and in the drama.


The play is moving, passionate, analytical and inspired. It forces an audience to think, judge and feel. I could give you no greater recommendation.




Wednesday 22 February 1995

The Taking of Tiger Mountain by Strategy, NYID, 22 Feb 1995


By Not Yet It's Difficult- part of  series

At Theatreworks Wed - Sun until Feb 26, 1995

This review was published in The Melbourne Times after 22 Feb 1995. KH


The Taking of Tiger Mountain by Strategy did not give us a chair. It shuffled us around the open Theatreworks space and we figured out where to sit on the floor for the best vantage point. This challenges the audience / performer relationship which needs a bit of rattling every now and then.


Director, David Pledger, is accessible in the space, talking to us, instructing. He is almost reading program notes at the beginning about the physical, mobile and participatory nature of the show and the Peking Opera tale which is the basis for this adaptation.  Meanwhile, the performers enact a series of exercises in Chinese mode.


The consciously self-conscious opening sequences give way to a more coherent and substantial dramatic form in the second half of this one-hour performance. (It is not a play.) The actors own commentaries are interpolated between fragments of the Tiger Mountain story with its Maoist propaganda.


Actors give a treatise on American Imperialism, the regimentation of classical ballet, gymnastic and military training, the repetitive process of which causes rigidity of thought. All these references, plus the witty representation of the Tiger Mountain battle, indirectly criticise the Maoist ideology, its violence and its propaganda machine. Taped snippets of the Chairman Mao exercises reverberate over the final scene, suggesting an insidious presence.


The vignettes from the deconstructed narrative are the strongest components of the production. Maud Davey, as always, is magnetic as a grieving mother, a chanting military leader, an interrogator. Kha Viet Tran's superbly controlled physicality and natural presence make him charismatic on stage. His Maoist soldier single-handedly attacking Tiger Mountain and its insurgents was a highlight.


Of course having no seating makes it, by force, theatre for the young, nimble and energetic. You wouldn't want to be disabled, old, sick or have a bad back - but it's only an hour.





Al Andulus, by Hildegarde, Feb 1995


At Theatreworks 14 Acland St., St Kilda until March 1995

Reviewer: Kate Herbert for The Melbourne Times.

Reviewed Feb 1995


Amazing as it may sound, in the 10th century, a Jewish-Arabic community thrived in harmony in Spain until that Catholic red-neck racist, Queen Isabella, ejected them as heretics.


Al Andulus, devised by Hildegarde with David Wicks as director, celebrates this phenomenon with an "animated narrative". Three tragic love stories from the period are performed with flamenco-inspired movement and mediaeval songs which give an added emotional layer to the fragmented text. It is enhanced by an exotic floor design (Peter Long) in gold and jewel colours seems inspired by Byzantine mosaics and Persian rugs.


The atmosphere is charged with sexual and violent energy. The pulsating flamenco beat, the intense gaze (Angela Campbell's Scottish ancestors must have seen Spanish invaders!) the beating of sticks and feet on floor, hand on hand, and the interspersed songs from Spanish, Arabic and Sephardic Jewish origins, create an almost elemental atmosphere.


There were moments when, mesmerised by the rhythms, I lost the narrative which mattered little, the focus of the piece being on form rather than story or structure. The composite of vocal and percussive sound with symbolic and abstract storytelling is the core of Al-Andalus. The vocal canon with all five voices was memorable, but accolades go to the seraphic voice of countertenor, Hartley Newnham.


The cast demand our attention, demolishing the fourth wall with a full-frontal and sensual performance style. The men (Wade Beed, Charlie Powells) exude both power and vulnerability, the women (Angela Campbell , Bagryana Popov) are rare, wild and sensual figures with flashing eyes and swinging skirts.


The most powerful and evocative images were fluid sculptures such as the very erotic seduction and the horse-riding abduction. The piece could have used more of these imagistic representations, particularly in the third story, which lost some momentum. The form was in place by then and there were no surprises left.


Kate Herbert


Monday 13 February 1995

Napier Street 1995, Article, 13 Feb 1995

Article about the evolving programme at Napier Street Theatre, South Melbourne in 1995.

 By Kate Herbert

 This article published in The Melbourne Times in Feb 1995.


"You can't just make a theatre. it's something that grows. It's organic," says Roderick Poole, Venue Manager for Napier Street Theatre. The South Melbourne venue has shed skins like a chameleon and its several lives echo through its present incarnation.


Lavish and grungy productions of European plays by Anthill Theatre resonate in every corner and colour our experience when we enter the space now. "There is a certain continuity," says Poole.


Each season is programmed by a committee comprising people from independent theatre organisations such as La Mama, $5 Theatre Company and the Fringe Network. There is definitely a style / taste factor governing selection.


Poole says, "There is a bias toward Australian work - not necessarily Australian-written but interpretations of European or other works".  Marriage Blanc is a Polish play in English with a lapsed-Anthill style.


In the upcoming program is, amongst other shows, new local scripts by Chameleon Theatre and Julie-Anne O'Brian and, in March, the long-awaited return of Crying in Public Places.


"Napier Street is a sacred space" he says", " like La Mama. Purpose-built theatres never have that feeling." These spaces have evolved after years of experimentation, countless layers of paint on walls, makeshift dressing rooms and innovative use of a non-traditional venue.


It is this very evolutionary process, the time-space continuum of theatres if you like,

which has brought Napier Street to where it is in 1995. This is its sixth six-month season since Anthill left to hasten its demise at The Gasworks two and a half years ago.


Poole describes the aims of the venue as essentially being "about giving a home to independent groups around Melbourne. There are a huge number of them, and the vast majority are not funded."


It is doing something which Fringe Network, with its open-door policy, does not do; it provides both quality control through its selection procedures and a well-equipped venue to artists.


"The number of people practising in the field has gone up," says Poole " and the level of funding in real terms has gone down. People have either been left high and dry or driven underground."


Poole describes Napier Street as "cheap, high profile, with a unique funding arrangement."

Unfunded independent groups pay $500 a week rental. for a 90-seat theatre, flexible seating, equipment and a couple of personnel.


"It means they can virtually do a show which costs them no money. Funded groups, which are in the minority, pay a larger amount." Poole calls it "a sort of cross-subsidy."


Of course, the venue also houses Arena Theatre which performs mostly in schools but programs 12 weeks in the theatre per year.  Arena had been managing the venue through its own Administrator but in 1994 the roles of company and venue were split.


"It has been a pattern," says Poole, " for theatre companies to separate themselves from their venues", as did Anthill and as Theatreworks has now done. "The venue can take energy from the work".


Certainly the quality of the Napier Street product has lifted since its inception. The program looks interesting, the public profile of the venue is excellent and nobody else is doing it. Vive l'Independence!


By Kate Herbert

Saturday 11 February 1995

Slick, Gry Day, 11 Feb 1995

Written & performed by Gary Day

At Beckett Theatre, Malthouse – Feb 1995 extended

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

This review published in The Melbourne Times after 11 Feb 1995


Go and see Slick. It is worth it. It opens with Gary Day jogging on the spot and the pace barely lets up for 70 minutes of this self-written monodrama. It leaves one breathless.


 Tim Burns is locked in the ugly embrace of his partner for life, The Demon Drink, or "Slick", as Tim ambivalently names the grog. He jogs to escape his wretched lot and to "click in" those fabulous endorphins to save his arse from snitching another drink.


Slick is everybody's addiction: alcohol, heroin. Slick's wife, Cigarette, completes the menage a' trois and Tim "goes down on her forty times a day." Slick is anthropomorphised, hiding in corners, jumping on Tim's back without warning. Slick is a sly and plausible rogue who convinced Tim at an early age that he made his life rosier, which he did - for a while.


 Day gives a muscular and riveting performance. His jittering, frenetic withdrawals are disturbing, his pain palpable. His reminiscences about childhood, to distract himself and to make some sense of his adult self, are hilarious and witty. Day's writing is pungent, permeated by the stench of weakness and loss. Even most of the poo jokes were funny.


Bruce Myles' vigorous and stylish direction enhances Day's muscular performance. Day's jittering, frenetic withdrawals are disturbing, his pain palpable. Day's writing is witty, pungent, permeated by the stench of weakness and loss. Even most of the poo jokes were funny.


The character's evolution felt truncated at the end. He finds some peace with his abandoned child, but we have not seen enough of the adult to know how far down the tube he has travelled. I wanted to know more of this tortured soul. I loved him by the end. I would have held his hand like Jenny, his childhood sweetheart did.



Friday 10 February 1995

Homage, 10 Feb 1995


 by Daniel Lillford

At La Mama at the Carlton Courthouse

Wednesday to Saturday 8.15pm Sunday 6pm until Feb 5, 1995

Reviewer: Kate Herbert 10 Feb 1995

For some unknown reason, I didn't write a review of this show but kept a short note. KH 


Homage is a fractured fairy-tale about tragic love and obsession.

With Nick Crawford-Smith and Simon McGuiness.

Wednesday 8 February 1995

Mariage Blanc, Napier St Theatre, 8 Feb 1995

Written by Tadeusz Rozewicz

By The Mission

At Napier Street Theatre, South Melbourne

Until Feb 19, 1995 8pm Tuesday -Saturday

Reviewer: Kate Herbert early Feb 1995

This review published in The Melbourne Times after 8 Feb 1995. KH


The tail-end of Anthill meeting most of the $5 Theatre Company in new company, The Mission, was an exciting prospect for Melbourne Theatre.


The company's first production, Mariage Blanc (a Polish play, French name), has a strong cast and some striking ideas from director, Suzanne Chaundy, all of which augurs well for future projects.


The play is a product of the 70's "sexual revolution" as well as the political oppression and theatrical daring in Poland over recent decades. It is abstract, absurd and dark in its handling of sexual repression and awakening. Perhaps writer Tadeusz Rozewicz had read too much Freud or too much Timothy Leary.


It somehow felt too much like "Benny Hill goes to Poland." I have never been able to understand the European idea that incest and child / teenage sex is funny. Call me old-fashioned but Grandaddy (a wonderful cameo from Ian Scott) craving the adolescent's smelly stockings caused me to ponder the idiosyncrasies of humour and cultural perversity.


The second half tapped into something much darker and more challenging than the earlier sexual innuendo and childish sex play between the two juvenile sisters (Alice Garner, Nadia Coreno) one of whom is about to marry a complete stranger. Napier Street resounded with the clash of naivete against sexual robustness, of chastity with goaty old lust.


Suzanne Chaundy has come up with some terrific ideas which have, in part, been realised. Susan Bamford's resonant chanting gave an operatic richness and emotional texture to the play. It did, however, become a little predictable.


Symbols abounded: the lusty father in a bull's head, old buckets representing the bride's dowry, a toadstool shaped like a phallus, distressingly blood red walls and floor, tattered furniture. In fact there was such an overload of symbology they often seem unfulfilled, incoherent or unnecessary.


The production in the end has some very funny and challenging moments but its style feels fragmented as it flits from abstraction to near-naturalism to broad farce - and I got sick of the innuendo whatever its intention might be.


by Kate Herbert