Friday 9 June 1995

Lilies by Michel Marc Bouchard, 9 June 1995

By Hoy Polloy

At North Melbourne Town Hall, Tues - Sat until July 1995

Reviewed by Kate Herbert for The Melbourne Times on June 9, 1995


Lilies by Michel Marc Bouchard is an interesting play that moves between Canada of 1912 and 1952. In '52, Simon Doucet confronts Bishop Bilodeau with his dirty secrets from their youth. The 1912 narrative deals with Doucet's youthful, illicit romance with the young French Count Vallier, or "Lilywhite" as Bilodeau dubs him. The story of secret love and suppressed sexuality is tragic and romantic.


The text has potential, and director Wayne Pearn has found most success in the more intimate scenes between Doucet and Vallier or Vallier and his mad mother.  Larger scenes are often too static. Justin Fowler's performance as Vallier shows great potential. Much of the acting was uninspiring, unfortunately.


In the manner of Genet, all roles are played by male actors. This treads a thin line between avant-garde and drag.  There are moments when the campery works and others where it tends toward histrionics.  It seems to thin the emotional layering of potentially moving scenes in which the surface of passion and madness is only skimmed.




Sunday 4 June 1995

Pericles, Bell Shakespear, 4 June 1995

by William Shakespeare

By Bell Shakespeare Company

At Athenaeum Theatre 1, Melbourne, until June 10, 1995

Reviewed by kate Herbert around 4 June, 1995, for The Melbourne Times


Pericles was one of the 17th centuries most popular plays, but it fell out of favour later. John Bell captures its entertainment potential and bawdiness in this rollicking production which has a coherent vision and tight physical direction.


The story tumbles on like waves echoing the inclement sea, and Neptune's fury which propels the series of events.  It concentrates on narrative not character. Theories that Shakespeares wrote Act One at an early age or that he didn't write it at all, could explain the flaws in the text: too-obvious dialogue and lack of subtlety in the verse in the early scenes.


It feels like the precursor to The Tempest with the silliness of Twelfth Night, too. It is really entertaining and quite light until the emotional reunion scene.


Whatever the reason, the text remains a bit flabby. It is not quite a history, nor a tragedy happy ending) nor a comedy (too much pain). It is, rather, a romantic saga, a quest, a hero's journey as Pericles escapes evil, seeks mentors, searches for spiritual fulfilment and love which is very popular in cinema these days (Star Wars, Raiders,). Tragedy is a good man facing disaster at the hands of the gods.


Bell takes advantage of the comic potential in the text, making it accessible and funny in the most unexpected places. The tacky, "Persian" brothel utilises very funny caricatures. There is great generosity in the ensemble work and performances are generally very strong, particularly from Vic Rooney (Narrator), Duncan Wass (Helicanos) and Lucy Bell as Pericles daughter, Marina.


Jeremy Sims is magnetic, passionate and unpredictable as Pericles. As the young man, he is light and joyful, but he is potent as the grieving, near-catatonic older king, bearing the weight of a life gone awry. His reunion with his lost daughter is a delicate and moving scene with great control and no melodrama.


The most telling moment was the satisfied audience's sigh of approval as the Narrator says, "Here our play has ending."




Oh My God I'm Black! June 4 1995


by Mary-Anne Sam

By Melbourne Workers' Theatre

At Budinski's Wed-Sat 8pm until June 10, 1995

Reviewed by Kate Herbert around June 4, 1995 for The Melbourne Times


We eavesdrop happily on other people's lives because others' loves are interesting and we are, by nature, sticky-beaks. Oh My God I'm Black! is a biographical narration with songs performed by Mary-Anne Sam and her life has been a doozy. I mean, tough!


Sam is one of two children of a Torres Strait Island woman and a white Melbourne lad who nicked off early in Sam's life and was eventually discovered to have three families. Sam gives us snatches of her life from early childhood, the death of her mother, homelessness, life and death with her white Nana, school, love, the Aboriginal network. And the moment when she recognises in the mirror "Oh my God, I'm black!"


Her love of singing is her major link with her dead mother and songs, mostly American or Carribean-influenced, pepper her personal story. The story is interesting but the script screams for a tough dramaturgical hand. It flits from moment to moment without any focus or dramatic content.


Theatre needs a dramatic structure to give dynamic energy to a life. The issues of belonging, acceptance, family and colour are complex and a clearer focus on specific moments might have served this piece better.


A solo show is a tough call demanding of the performer a strong stage presence and theatrical range. This piece was more effective when it physicalised scenes and attempted to bring secondary characters to life.


 Otherwise it remained too static with Sam attached to the microphone. It swerves too close to melodrama and indulgence with too obvious songs selected for their relevance.




Twelfth Night, Bell Shakespeare, 4 June 1995


 by William Shakespeare.

By Bell Shakespeare Company

At Athenaeum Theatre until May 27, 1995

Reviewed by Kate Herbert around 4 June 1995 for The Melbourne Times


In addition to wanton revelries, melancholy is undoubtedly a component of Twelfth Night It dominates David Fenton's production for Bell Shakespeare. The dark brooding of the grief-stricken Olivia (Jennifer Kent) spills over in large splashes into Feste, the jester (Darren Gilshenan) whose "Hey Ho, the wind and the rain" and final song are profoundly bleak.


There is little of the usual revelry of Twelfth Night carnival celebrations. Even Andrew Aguecheek (Sean O'Shea) and Sir Toby Belch (Vic Rooney) are somewhat restrained in their witty repartee and Belch almost victimises his compadre in drunkenness. O'Shea plays an hilariously goofy Sir Andrew and the two gambol about playfully but there is an over-weaning sadness in them which is moving but not wholly successful.


Darren Gilshenan as Feste is an intense, intelligent, taunting fool who watches the whole debacle with a modern cynical eye. With his red lame' vest and languidly sexy style, he is a Johnny Lonely cabaret singer with a bitter wisdom.


John Bell plays the smug, dull civil-servant-ish Malvolio in an inspired piece of campery. His performance is, as ever, the most complete and satisfying. Lucy Bell is vivacious and energetic as Viola and as her twin, Jeremy Sims was a terrific cameo.


The backdrop of an outsize face of Botticelli's Venus is an interesting representation of love and idealism. The second darker version symbolises the degradation of romanticism but is somehow more intrusive than effective.


There is some problem with the coherence of the whole of the production. There being no overall vision or concept.  The modernisation is fine but it lacks clarity or overview. The characters work as individuals and particular performances work as cameos but they seem to all be in isolation.  It is valiant effort to alter the dynamic of a usually light play, but unfortunately there is little sense of ensemble work.




305 wd

Dead White Males by David Williamson, MTC/STC, 4 June 1995


Dead White Males by David Williamson


At Playhouse, Melbourne Arts Centre until July 8, 1995

Reviewed by Kate Herbert round June 4, 1995 for The Melbourne Times


David Williamson's brand of social satire sits adjacent to Frontline and Fast Forward. Dead White Males is a marriage of literary theory and sketch comedy.


From the outset Williamson is determined to prove his particular premise that humans do not need ideologies to live.  This is obvious because all the visible ideologues are complete dickheads, albeit very funny dickheads.


The literary theory professor, played with uncannily accurate smarmery by John Howard, is a post-structuralist, feminist, multiculturalist philanderer who despises the strictures of Liberal Humanism. This smug hippie manipulates his students, demanding tacitly that they toe his particular "ism" line and seducing them if they successfully mirror him: absolute narcissism.


The malleable undergraduate mind of Angela (the dynamic Michelle Doake) undergoes a great transformation as she realises that people's lives are more fluid and less doctrinaire than theory.


Wayne Harrison's direction is crisp and intelligent. The production gallops along and is really very funny if you can tolerate your sacred cows being dashed to the ground.


Now everybody gets an hilarious, metaphorical bashing in this play but radical feminists fair worst. Most characters remain fairly two-dimensional with the only truly sympathetic character being Angela's warm, slightly badgered, almost "reconstructed male" dad, played by an adorable Henry Szeps.


The women are unremittingly oppressive, shallow harridans. Even pithy, racist Grandpa (the exceptional Simon Chilvers) gets a soft and squishy scene. And Shakespeare, the most prominent "dead white male" writer in the western world, is played as a charming fellow, well-met by Patrick Dickson.


There is a sort of glib arrogance about everybody. The rather didactic argument about male/female differences is divvied up between characters but there seems to be a single narrative voice. The often-academic language may alienate some people but there are enough gags and wacky characters to satisfy everybody.