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.