Tuesday 30 April 1996

Miss Bosnia, April 30, 1996

Miss Bosnia by Louis Nowra,
Budinski’s Brunswick St Fizroy
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around April 30, 1996

Try to remember the precise moment that Louis Nowra became a gag-meister and not a creator of poetry.

Sure, there were jokes and wacky characters in Louis Nowra's early works, but try to pin-point the precise moment that he became a gag-meister rather than a poetic dramatist. Whenever it was, he seems to have peaked in Miss Bosnia, which is a three-hour, eight-handed stand-up routine set in a war zone.

This is a grotesquely and grossly funny play with exceptional performances. The faultless cast includes a tour-de-force by Genevieve Picot as Mira, the Former Miss Former-Yugoslavia. She brings together six women and - Oops! - one man for a beauty pageant: first prize a trip out of Sarajevo on a U. N. truck with Mira as chaperone.

But war being what it is nothing goes to plan. The generator fails, the band plays Prince medleys, bombs hit the theatre, the general falls in love with a bloke and nobody has leg-wax strips.

The contestants are: a bitter dentist, an exotic sniper (female), a sexy soldier (male), a drunken zookeeper who has a love affair with a lion, a fundamentalist Muslim who wants to be in a Broadway musical, and a beauty has-been whose career has been following the beauty pageant trial.

The gross, often offensively sexist humour is somehow poignant set amongst the ruins of these tragic lives. The tits and bum, dick and fanny jokes are tiring and adolescent but, in some perverse way only Nowra is capable of, the whole remains entertaining - silly and outrageous but hilarious.

It is worth seeing just for the insane talent quest: Peter O'Brien doing a drag dance routine to "Xanadu", Deborah Robertson doing tacky Marilyn, Jane Borghese, a one woman Waiting for Godot. But most gut- wrenchingly absurd and shriekingly funny was Kaarin Fairfax doing crappy ventriloquism with a purple sock. Nikki Wendt's song was the singular moment of real beauty and delicacy.

There are fleeting moments of political commentary but essentially the piece rollicks along relentlessly with little respect for - well really for anything.

The most intense reminder of our mortality and was when Andruszko recklessly waved a rifle only 24 hours after the Port Arthur siege.


Sunday 28 April 1996

Pursuing Passion, April 28, 1996

 by Evan Watts
At La Mama until May 12, 1996
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around April 28, 1996

Some would say a finite number of stories exist which are told generation after generation by innumerable artists in infinite formats. Count the myriad "boy meets girl" scenarios.

 Evan Watts' play, Pursuing Passion, would suggest that there are infinite potential permutations of dramatis personae. A young journalist visits an ex-psychiatrist turned forensic psychiatrist. They have a common past. A photographer visits and takes pictures.

Passion has four discrete plays within the piece, which Watts calls  "a play in series". Each time the scenario restarts the general description of personae remains the same but the story and specific characters alter radically.

Watts has created an interesting dynamic which works best in the final scenario when the dramatic tension is at its peak. It has a more complex and multi-layered plot, is more intensely emotional with more finely drawn characters. All scenes involve violence, voyeurism, obsession and this experimental theatrical device which works in part.

The play is part of a popular fascination with serial killers and victims. References to particular killers and their gruesome crimes seem gratuitous to one who has nightmares after The X Files.

It is all set amidst a compelling design by Paul Jackson with a claustrophobic office-mortuary feeling.

Director, Marcia Ferguson, has a fine cast. Tammy McCarthy plays four distinct young journos, Kevin Hopkins an array of psychiatrists all hooked on Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs or its writer. David Tredinnick is a bevy of peculiar and familiar photographers.

Somehow, finally, the structure interferes with the drama. It is an interesting idea but not always successful. The repetition of scene and dialogue within scenes becomes a little laboured. Many responded, " I didn't understand" but the intention seems to be not to define but to draw the real and the unreal into alignment.


300 wds

Sunday 21 April 1996

The 8.16 Vodka Syndrome, April 21, 1996

Adapted by Jim Daly & Grisha Dolgopolov from novel Moskva-Petushki by Venedickt Erofeev
At La Mama at Carlton Courthouse Theatre
8.15 Wed-Sat 6.15 Sun until May 11, 1996
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around April 21, 1996

The 8.16 Vodka Syndrome is 2.5 hours of Russian boozing, delusion and mayhem set on the Moscow to Petushki train. On opening night, Anzac Day, several drunken Anzacs reeled onstage from Drummond Street, to actor, Jim Daly's astonishment and our confusion.

Vodka  is a vigorous, entertaining show, epic in both length and style.  The thirty-odd characters are played by Jim Daly, who has multiple personalities and oodles of energy.

The script was adapted by Daly and Melbourne-based Russian scholar, Grisha Dolgopolov from the novel Moskva-Petushki by Venedickt Erofeev who died in 1990; should we assume from alcoholism, as the lead dipsomaniac bears his name?

Erofeev is a much-quoted  hero of Moscow's intellectual boozers. To quote him: "'Drink more, eat less' is the best protection against hubris and artificial atheism" and "Unrefined vodka replaced Veuve Cliquot. That was the beginning of classlessness."

It is difficult to resist using such impeccable dialogue as, "Women are different - because they have a waist - and they killed Marat with a pen-knife." However, theatre tolerates fewer words than prose and this adaptation has retained too many. The show could be sensational with twenty minutes nipped from both top and tail, making it tighter without losing its rich language and myriad characters.

And they are myriad. The inimical Daly scuttles about the stage, transforming body, voice and face in a split second. The train scene with Erofeev, "Black Moustache", "The Decembrist" and "Old and Young Mitrich" was a tour-de-force of comic timing, characterisation and philosophy. Throughout the play, he reels from misery to joy, delusion to stark sobriety.

Dolgopolov has taken artistic risks, many of which succeed. Nina Danko's  blasted urban landscape design clutters the stage with travellers' detritus, echoing the chaos of Erofeev's alcoholic stupor.  Absurd slides flash onto corrugated iron, depicting Russian images. The lighting, effectively tawdry at moments, at others leaves Daly in frustrating near-darkness.

Live music by Faye and Dan Bendrups supports the action evocatively, although a little too loudly early. Daly's sonorous songs in Brechtian style, were an inspired addition.

One cannot but be fascinated and astounded by the Russian's see-saw affair with both melancholy and ecstasy which seems, in turn, to be married to their continuing obsession with vodka and an ability to write exceptional prose.


Verona by Magpie Theatre, April 21, 1996

 At Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around 20 April 1996

How do you make Romeo and Juliet a clown show?

Ask Neill Gladwin, Artistic Director of Magpie, Adelaide's young people's theatre company. He brings his own clown history (Los Trios Ringbarkus) and a cavalcade of multi-skilled performers together to create a delightful slapstick, acrobatic, visual and often poignant show.

Few words are spoken in the 90 minutes and two of these are "Romeo" and "Juliet". Actors walk on fence tops, scale Verona's walls (design Shaun Gurton), slide down poles and dive through windows and they play instruments.

Teresa Blake and Daniel Witton as R and J employ their exceptional acrobatic skills, honed in Circus Oz and their own duo, De Soxy, to create  the sexiest love scene for teenagers.

 In the opening vignette, the ensemble, as one, approach the audience, picking up on any nuance, sneeze, cough, flutter or late arrival and using it to tease and play.  The whole company is outstanding but Nick Newbold was a standout for me, playing Mercutio as a genuine French school clown.

What stands out in this re-telling of the tragic young romance is children being victims of family feuds. It is the young who die as a pay-back for the battles of their elders. The stripping away of language heightens the poignant moments as much as the comic and reveals the bare bones of rivalry, bitterness and irrational hatred.

Love and death always provide great copy for theatre.

Verona is here for a few performances during the Comedy Festival.


Lucia di Lammermoor, April 21, 1996

By Giuseppe Verdi, by Australian Opera (Opera Australia)
 State Theatre April 27, 30, May 3, 6, 9, 1996
Reviewed by Kate Herbert round April 21, 1996

Funny that I should see, in one week, two such different renditions of doomed children of political conflict.

Verdi's Lucia di Lammermoor weeps over the clandestine Romeo and Juliet-esque romance of Lucia and her consort Edgardo from the wrong side of the Scottish political fence.

Unrequited love crosses cultural boundaries. Lucia is based on an English novel, set in Scotland and written in Italian. R and J is set in Italy written in Elizabethan English. Love knows no language. Lucia with her passionate immediate love, betrayal, abandonment, madness and suicide, echoes Ophelia, Karenin, Lady Macbeth. The terrifying thing is that this story of "violent love" is based on a true story. Beware love! One can die from it.

Gregory Tomlinson as Edgardo, is an impassioned romantic lead with a sublime tenor. Jennifer McGregor's coloratura is delicate and expressive, sending a frisson down the spine during her mad scene. In Il dolce suono mi colpi she virtually sings a duet with the piccolo. It is this scene which has made Lucia the "touch-stone of the bel canto repertoire".

The excellent cast surpassed itself in the six part Chi mi frena at the wedding contract scene. Bruce Martin was a powerful subtle presence and voice as Lucia's tutor, Raimondo and Michael Lewis as her brother Enrico was a dark force.

Conductor Richard Gill and the VSO were, as ever, excellent. Henry Bardon's stage design of a dank, grand Scottish castle was made atmospheric by Donn Byrnes' lighting.

This is a conservative production by John Copley and we travelled from the ridiculous to the sublime after Nabucco the previous night. However, such a production concentrates on the music and voices which is not a bad thing for opera.


Tuesday 16 April 1996

Nabucco, Australian Opera, April 16, 1996

Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi, by Australian Opera
 State Theatre Arts Centre Melbourne
April 16, 19, 22, 24, 27, May 1, 4, 7, 1996
Reviewed by Kate Herbert on April 16, 1996

Sydney must be sniffy about its Verdi. It booed Barrie Kosky's Nabucco last year. The production is a hoot - not that I've ever thought of Nabucco as a hoot before but it makes Verdi accessible to a new, funkier audience - if they could afford the $96 tickets.

It takes enormous risks, some complete clanger, others gems.  The Babylonians are represented by the bestial and the Israelites by the Word of God. Hence the Assyrians worship giant idols (A lime green Mighty Mouse with orange earrings and video screen eyes??) and are decked with dead animals ( a stuffed monkey, three tiger heads, a coat is riddled with scorpions) The Israelites tote words from biblical sentences or wear them as captives' yokes.

The stage picture is derivative of a 19th century melodrama blended with pop iconography. Peter Corrigan's design and Jane Hyland's costumes are striking and at times hilarious. The chorus is enhanced by a corps of extras who are suspended like hanged men, shovel piles of slaves' abandoned shoes and move in militaristic formation.

Carlo Felice Cillaurio conducts the VSO impeccably. Jonathon Summers as Nabucco, with his velvet-smooth and rich delivery, is delightfully playful and sympathetic, managing the vagaries of both role and style.  Elizabeth Connell entered the comic spirit of Kosky's style with zest and sang Abigaille, adopted slave daughter of Nabucco, with passion and skill. They were supported by a strong group of leads.

Accolades went to Bruce Martin who replaced an ailing Donald Shanks as Zaccaria at the eleventh hour. His fine voice, humility and effortless performance were charming.

It would not be a review of Nabucco without a comment on the Slaves' chorus, "Va pensiero" which seems to send audiences (particularly in Italy) into paroxysms of ecstasy or anger depending on its quality. This rendition was fine enough but somehow lacked the delicate dynamic range which is possible in this superb piece.

Go see this if you've got the bucks.


Sunday 14 April 1996

SPITFIRE 123 APRIL 14,1996

by Lyndal Jones
At The Power Station Lonsdale St until April 27, 1996

Spitfire: the remote miaou of a cat (Spitfire 1), the long auburn tresses of a woman talking seductively into a microphone (Spitfire 2) and a World War Two pilot dressing in leathers and goggles on camera (Spitfire 3). Rooms one, two and three.

Lyndal Jones' theatre is never obvious, always challenging and is sometimes gaspingly evocative. As we moved from room to icy room in the desolate old power station, images float in and out, some demand attention, others allow us to muse on the space, the concept, the artist.

 Room One has multiple video screens showing the remembrance poppies "in Flanders field". In Room Two there is a "noise concert" with vocalising, rock guitar and video all overlaid with film footage and a soundscape of flying. It is difficult to engage with, but interesting to watch.

Room Three was my favourite probably because it was more theatre than performance art and more emotionally engaging than observational. Here ten actors shift from couple to couple, following the ebb and flow of sexual attraction, relationships and alliances.

They speak about sex, they kiss, they touch, they walk in unison, move in canon, gaze and tease. It is titillating without being crass, sexual without being seamy, provocative not exhibitionistic.

The company works in ensemble but there were exceptional presences on stage (Milijana Cancar, Nadja Kostich, Boris Rotan) while Deanne Flatley's soprano is transporting.

The finale is in the lane. After waiting to escape through a cyclone wire gate, ten actors (plus extras) run up the lane, stop in tableau then return slowly for a curtain call. I was moved by the despair of their failed escape, perhaps influenced by the body of Slavic actors and audience members.

 It felt like a war zone in this desolate environment of the Power Station.


Monday 8 April 1996

Melbourne Comedy Festival 1996

Comedy Festival 3 reviews: 
Brian Lohmann, Debra Oswald, Luke Elliot

Johnny Lonely's Unhappy Hour by Brian Lohmann USA until April 21, 1996
Another solo where comedy meets theatre in a cleverly written, witty 70 minutes with the professionally love-lorn Johnny, terrific original jazz numbers  (eg Welcome to Lonelyville, Population One) and deeply self-indulgent stories about screwing up relationships.
Gary's House Debra Oswald Playbox until May 11, 1996
The comedy in this play is inversely related to the degree of relentless anger of the characters: all losers who crave some peace from their joyless, cruel world. It's comic-tragic. Particularly good first half in a well-crafted play with a wild performance from Shane Feeney-Connor.

In the Belly of the Whale by Luke Elliot, Damien Richardson until April 21, 1996
Delightful, devised two-hander about two blokes going fishin' an' that. It uses sharp physical comedy and crisp pacing and is utterly charming and very funny.