Saturday 29 April 1995

An Inspector Calls by J B Priestley, April-May 1995

 At The Comedy Theatre 

Tues- Sat 8pm Until May 20, 1995

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


The most extraordinary thing about J B Priestley's An Inspector Calls is director Stephen Daldry's inspired staging. An elevated doll's house, home of the nasty, superior Birling family, teeters on stilts above a blasted war-time London streetscape.


 In the first scene our view is restricted. We peer through windows just as do the working class on the street.  Even the staircase is disconnected from the outside world. The building and the family appear inaccessible, impenetrable and invincible from their privileged upper- class position.


Not so. An inspector arrives to bring them to task about the suicide of a working-class girl they have all known in some capacity. He blows their world and their house wide open to his piercing eye and the torrential rain which pours onto the stage.


The script written in 1946 and set in 1912, is a humanist / socialist commentary on the invidious class system of Edwardian Britain and it remains pertinent today. Daldry's production for the National Theatre has revamped it for the London, New York, Tokyo and Australian stage.


There are moments of Brechtian political diatribe such as Inspector Goole's departing speech and director Stephen Daldry has accentuated the alienation through stark lighting effects, addressing the audience directly and by adding roving, inquisitive children and a silent majority of adult observers.


The maid, (Georgina Beer) who is unheard and invisible for most of the script, remains on stage constantly, tipping rubbish, carrying chairs, even rolling out a red carpet for the terrifying matriarch, Mrs. Birling, (Helen Lindsay) all as a reminder of the class distinction.


Barry Foster as the Inspector / Confessor gives an impeccable performance, both passionate and vigorous. The other performances are all exceptional as the characters face their judgement day in a crumbling world under a drenched sky.


Buy Kate Herbert

Friday 28 April 1995

Nil, Cat and Buried, Stephen Sewell, 28 April 1995


Nil, Cat and Buried by Stephen Sewell

At La Mama at Courthouse until May 13, 1995

Reviewed by Kate Herbert around 28 April 1995 for The Melbourne Times


There are two stars in Nil, Cat and Buried by Stephen Sewell: David Pledger's crisp, vigorous direction is the first and he is evidently also responsible for suggesting to Stephen Sewell that he combine three short pieces into this one script.


Pledger has developed a powerful kinetic style which relies heavily on the ensemble. As in his Taking of Tiger Mountain, he has created an economical and often witty physical language of repeated gesture and movement which is concentrated in the three-person chorus. (Danielle Long, Paul Bongiovanni, Greg Ulfan) who comment, quip, mimic and abuse.


They make broad, simple statements which translate as a chorus of breakdown underlying the fraught and often violent communication of a man and woman (Leon Teague, Tamara Saulwick) dealing with being stranded in an isolated house together as their relationship collapses.


Shane Feeny-Connor is the second star. His intense and strange persona as Cat is riveting. His presence draws the eye and his words shock, lull and reverberate in the unadorned Courthouse space. Sewell's words in his hands are like poison darts, his imagery of "the unnameable horror" of which we are all capable, is relentless.  His extraordinarily powerful role as Mal Hennessy in Janus was no fluke.


The whole piece leaves one shell-shocked. I was less concerned with the content and the actual words, which are pungent but not particularly new, than with the mode of delivery. The actors confront and challenge us directly. Feeny-Connor climbs onto the scaffold seating and gets right in your face. It is a very fine exercise in style executed with great finesse by Pledger and his cast.

 By Kate Herbert

Monday 24 April 1995

Rigoletto, Verdi, Australian Opera, 24 April 1995


By Giuseppe Verdi

By Australian Opera (Now Opera Australia)

At State Theatre, at  Melbourne Arts Centre

On May 4, 6, 9, 13, 16 1995. Followed by Peter Grimes

 This review published in The Melbourne Times in April 1995.  KH

Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto is an operatic novelty, having a baritone as the title role. Of course, he is a hunchback with a sharp tongue and no friends who loses his daughter, Gilda, to his Duke's lusty tastes while the Duke - the tenor - is the romantic lead who gets the girl, in fact all the girls and lives to get some more.


Director Elijah Moshinsky's production is reminiscent of Mussolini's vengeful Italy with Michael Yeargan's designs of opulent palazzi and back street bars in conjunction with some colourful choreography for a sycophantic male chorus. The Victorian State Orchestra is conducted with flair by Richard Gill.


Gregory Tomlinson's flavoursome, muscular tenor gives the ideal passionate tone to the promiscuous Duke. His stage presence was relaxed, credible and pretty damned sexy and his "La donna e' mobile" exhilarating.


Rosamund Illing's bell-like, crystal soprano is perfect for the ingenue Gilda and gives a light joyousness to "Caro nome." Bass baritone Arend Baumann's Mafioso-like Sparafucile has a wicked, lackadaisical quality, particularly in Act Three.


Accolades go to Barry Anderson as the jester, Rigoletto. His warm, velvet baritone captures both the jovial and despairing, the teasing and pain. His aria "Cortigiana, vil razza damnata" after Gilda's rape, is ripe with pathos and his duets with Illing were inspiring and well-matched. In fact, Rigoletto is unusual in being intentionally composed by Verdi as virtually a string of duets rather than virtuoso arias.


The drama hurtles toward its magnificently tragic third act, fulfilling "La Maledizione" (Curse) laid upon Rigoletto by  Monterone. All Rigoletto's sardonic humour has vanished, replaced by vengeance and shame. This act is perfectly constructed dramatically, musically and vocally.  It finishes poignantly, without finale, on Rigoletto's lone despairing cry, "La Maledizione.


See it and weep.



Wednesday 19 April 1995

Turandot, Pucccini, Australian Opera, 19 April 1995


By Giiacomo Puccini by Australian Opera.

At State Theatre until May 10, 1995

This review was published in The Melbourne Times in April 1995


Turandot, the icy Chinese Princess and first self-declared Radical Celibate, has vowed to take her revenge on all men for the abduction, millennia earlier, of her beautiful ancestor. A grudge grandissimo!


The story of Turandot, Puccini's final masterpiece, is man's perennial pursuit of the inaccessible, resistant beauty. Unfinished at the time of his death in 1924, the opera was adapted from the fairy tale by 18th century playwright, Carlo Gozzi.


Puccini's score is both playful and regal. It shifts from heraldic trumpetry and weighty drama of impending execution to the delicate emotional unrequited love aria of Liu'. Carlo Felice Cillario conducts the VSO with grandeur, ease and fluidity.


Ruth Falcon in the title role has a powerful and imposing voice in its upper register but rather stilted acting. As her masochistic suitor, Calaf, Kenneth Collins's tenor is warm and rich but perhaps not sufficiently full-blooded for this demanding role.


It has always been a mystery to me why Calaf marries the nasty baggage, Turandot, instead of the loving, loyal and passionate Liu' but he didn't have the mesmerising Arax Mansourian singing Liu'. In addition to having a haunting, delicate and perfectly controlled voice, she is an exceptional beauty.


John Pringle, Graeme Ewer and Christopher Dawes (Ping, Pang , Pong) cleverly walked the edge of comic-dramatic and Donald Shanks as Calaf's father has a voice with great heart.


John Montgomery's lighting enhances Graham Murphy's dramatic staging and carefully composed stage picture. An uncluttered stage accommodates the enormous, rippling chorus but fills the upper reaches with Kristian Fredrikson's emblematic design of Chinese filagree dragons, Peking Opera masks and a huge, symbolic moon.


The Emperor (Robert Gard) appears as a spectacular 10 metre mountain swathed in golden ottoman. Turandot emerges from beneath his robes, equally impressive and lofty, her initial massive height highlighting her later disempowerment at the hands of Calaf.


This really is a lavish production well worth seeing.



Friday 7 April 1995

Julius Caesar, , Australian Opera (Opera Australia), April 1995

 State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne

Closed April 10, 1995

Followed by Turandot and Rigoletto

until May 1995

Reviewer: Kate Herbert for The Melbourne Times. Reviewed in April, 1995


Julius Caesar is epic entertainment. It has one of history's great love stories: Cleopatra and Caesar, (to be topped only by Cleo’s next great love), a series of exceptional arias designed to showcase the eight principals' vocal gymnastics, and an extraordinary design.


Its story is both moral and hedonistic and has more action than the usual, late baroque "opera seria". Handel's orchestration is more restricted more than modern opera scores so that a single flute or bassoon over the strings is striking. It resonates with what we recognise of Handel's religious music. The Victorian State Orchestra is impeccably conducted by Graham Abbott and includes an instrument called a "Theorbo". Heard of it?


Francisco Negrin's spectacular direction is riddled with fascinating paradox. The set is minimalistic yet enormous, colourless and vivid, it dwarfs the actors and emphasises them, the battle fields are peopled with superb dancers, its potentate is a countertenor.


The design is magnificent with echoes of Egyptian hieroglyphics, weaponry, statues, temples and palaces. It has the dark brooding quality of stone surfaces with flashes of a single colour shattering the monotone. It all works to create an hypnotic, ageless atmosphere which hovers in space and time.


Yvonne Kenny's effortless, warm honey voice with its humming-bird tones, lingers in the air. Graham Pushee's phenomenal countertenor is at once delicate and powerful. He is comfortable on stage and manages to be both cheeky and stately.


The other principals are all fine voices. Rosemary Gunn (Cornelia) has a rich mezzo and Stephen Bennett (Achilla) a resonant baritone. Rodney Gilchrist (Nerino) must be unique in being both a countertenor and a dancer. Solo violinist Tony Gault makes a perky appearance on stage as Cleopatra's musician.


The A.O. looks like having a string of hits this season.


Kate Herbert

Monday 3 April 1995

Melbourne Comedy Festvial short reviews, April 1995

 5 short reviews of some of my favoruite shows in 1995 Melbiurene Comedy Festival.  KH

Curtains by Lano & Woodley

At Athenaeum Theatre 2. Tues-Sat 8.45pm & Sun 5pm until April 23, 1995

Lano and Woodley do my favourite brand of slapstick: dangerous and hilarious. I laughed till I wept. Frank (dare-devil with rubber bones) and Colin ( bent-est straight man ever), do totally sshtooopid knockabout, unforgivably silly songs and ad-lib with ingenuous and wicked charm.

Big, unadulterated "Haa! Haa!"


Totally Wicked by Flying Fruit Flie

Big Top City Square 3. Tues -Sat 7.30pm  matinees 2pm (Check days). Until April 2, 1995

Fruit Flies show, Totally Wicked, is full of cute and very skilful kids from Albury who are so totally unaffected and un-wicked it's adorable. Take the family and thank God it's not your kid up there without a net!

It is more "Ooh! Aah!" than "Ha! Ha!"


Decadence, by Steven Berkoff

 Reception Room Melbourne Town Hall Tues-Sun 9.30 pm, Sat & Sun also 5pm (No show April 8), 1995


Decadence is everything its name prophesies and more. Berkoff's lewd, erotic and outrageously funny verse play, is a scarifying indictment of London's Sloane Rangers and the obscenity of over-indulgence in sex, food, alcohol and violence. Rhyss Muldoon and Alison Whyte are masters of the complex text, giving it a vigorous physicality and impeccable comic timing. The sex romp during the Fox Hunt and the ensuing Tequila drinking rave are stupendous.

Both "Mmmm! Mmm!" and "Ha! Ha!"


Judith Lucy in King of the Road

At Lower Melbourne Town Hall Tue, Wed, Thurs, Sun 8.30pm, Fri & Sat 10pm

 until April 22, 1995

Judith Lucy’s new show, King of the Road, still has the hilarious laconic laid-back style we know and love but it also has a new level of theatricality. Accompanied by a very silly selection of slides, she spills her guts with poignant, truthful and funny and appalling tales of bonking and drinking her way unsuccessfully across several continents. A big "Ha! Ha!" and some "Oh, my God!'s".


Glynn Nicholas in Crossing the Line

At Comedy Theatre Tues-Sun 9pm Mon April 10 9.30pm  (no show Sun April 9 or Fri 14)

until April 22, 1995