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