Sunday 29 September 1996

Because You Are Mine, Sept 29, 1996

Because You are Mine by Daniel Keene
Melbourne University Student Theatre until October 1996
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Sept 20, 1996

Invariably, before a war, there is a period of time during which there is the possibility, the hope that there will be no war. 

Before the horror and despair there is uncertainty, an atmosphere of unrest, political upheaval, military activity, societal confusion and a hint of impending inhumanity. People cannot comprehend the fact that they could become the ones to suffer. Catastrophe happens to others.

In Because You are  Mine, people whisper incredulously, "They say there is going to be a war." The extraordinary happens to these ordinary people: war. It is their pain which makes them exceptional.

Daniel Keene's play is an episodic representation of the Bosnian experience. It takes fragments of lives, snatches of conversations, voyeuristic glimpses through windows or into dark corners and secret places. Intercutting these with the monologues of the dead, the raped, the abused, he weaves these formerly disconnected lives into a bloody tapestry. We witness the war opportunists, the rapists and the raped, the physically unscathed and the permanently scarred as they creep helplessly and in ignorance across the landscape.

Kim Hanna has directed this student production with simplicity and compassion. He allows the emotion, the truth and power of the text to speak for themselves. Kathryn Sproul's design with huge sliding, crashing steel doors, provides an icily sterile environment for the atrocities.

At times, the emotional complexity is beyond some of these young actors but their level of commitment and compassion speaks volumes. There are several good performances but it is the actor playing the street-dwelling woman (name unknown), who brings an exceptional clarity of vision and delivery to her role. Her presence is magnetic. Hers is a lovely, idiosyncratic, warm and detailed performance which makes the poetic images of Keene's language live for us.

One character, trying to understand this senseless war, variously cites economics, politics, religion and history as the causes. Perhaps it is far simpler: power and hate rule.

Wednesday 25 September 1996

Not Dead Yet: The Romantic Story of Margaret Catchpole, Sept 25, 1996

By Sarah Vincent and Vanessa Pigram
At La Mama at The Courthouse until October 12, 1996
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Sept 25 1996

Lottie Lyell may not have had a movie house named after her as has her hubbie Raymond Longford but, according to Sarah Vincent and Vanessa Pigram, she's Not Dead Yet.

Vincent and Pigram have teamed up with Lottie to re-vamp her 1911 film, ˇThe Romantic Story of Margaret Catchpole. Only fragments of the Lyell-Longford original footage are extant so Vincent has created, in theatrical form, the missing story.

The style of the production is pure Victorian melodrama, complete with a villain’s, romance, danger, Sarah Bernhardt histrionics and wind machine sound effects.  Margaret's one true love is the smuggler, Will Long, alias Cut-throat Willy, for whom she rejects her other suitor, the law-abiding coastguard, Edward Barry. Both men come to no good as a result of their love for Margaret and Margaret in turn , resorts to crime and the poor wretch is transported to, you guessed it, Australia where, for her sins,  she cares for orphans.

The production, part of the Fringe Festival, is stylishly directed by Pigram and is light and funny with delightful performances from the cast of five. They prance about, mug at the camera, double-take, tear at their clothes and generally over-act in the best possible satire of the silent movie genre.

The black and white theme is echoed superbly in the costumes and set by Anna Tregloan and the style is supported by predominantly original music by Mark Pollard.

There are, however, moments when the narrative becomes confusing and difficult to follow particularly when it concentrates on short grabby scenes. Spoken dialogue interspersed with silent miming of text is amusing and clever but extremely taxing on the audience's concentration and the constant setting and re-setting of location and characters is exhausting.

All that said, it is a hoot and one of the most inventive concepts I have seen in some time.


Sunday 22 September 1996

Schnorky the Wave Puncher, Sept 22, 1996

Adapted by Sue-Anne Post from book by Jeff Raglus
Arena Theatre. Napier Street Theatre until October 5, 1996
Reviewed b y KH around Oct 22, 1996

There's no denying it. Kids' theatre can be great entertainment for adults too and Schnorky the Wave Puncher at Arena Theatre is a good example. The laughs rippled up from the shoreline of children seated on the mats and rose to a wave of hoots from the adults in privileged place on chairs.

Of course the laughs generally came in different places. The children, aged 4-10 years, giggled at the slapstick, acrobatics and cartoon-like characters. The grown-ups howled at the wry portrayals of conservative suburban values, the inverse mother-daughter relationship between "Bert" (Maria Theodorakis) and her husky mum, Audrey (Katrina Stowe) and mature love between single parent, Audrey and the crusty old sea captain (Bruce Gladwin).

When she's not chasing a wave, Bert organises her mother's life and health, governing her smoking habit and burgeoning sex life in a manner reminiscent of Saffie and Edina in ˇAbsolutely Fabulous.

The protagonist of this story, adapted by Sue-Anne Post from the popular book by Jeff Raglus, is Schnorky, the surfie boy (Katrina Stowe) who has become a legend in his own esky. He lives on the beach with his dog ("He's my friend not my owner"), watching the surf, riding the waves, testing the wind, fossicking, bartering and planting native trees, all to the chagrin of the neighbourhood puritans, the Tweets (Gladwin & Noel Jordan).  He speaks to nobody and, inevitably, Bert falls headlong in love with him.

Rosemary Myers has directed the piece in a roustabout, physical style with much poppy music, oodles of tumbling and balancing, and a kooky cast of broad caricatures, cartoon set design by Raglus and some clever, cute costuming by  Graham Long. The four actors pour energy onto the stage, singing, cavorting and generally have a great time.

Songs by Frank Wood support the whole lively populist form as does the garbled, bastardised surf lingo. There are some rough moments where the action needs clarification for both kids and adults but the show relies on the abstract representation of objects, mime and quick costume changes. My kiddie companions were particularly taken with Bruce Gladwin's Irish-Scottish- Lancashire captain and his silly Mrs. Tweet.


Thursday 12 September 1996

Aqua Profonda, Sept 12, 1996

by Circus Oz
 Mebourne Town Hall until September, 1996
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Sept 12, 1996

Ever seen a nearly naked man play eight squeezy horns with body parts? Well, go see Circus Oz. When circus meets the bizarre, the witty, the political there will always be Circus Oz. The company may have received ongoing funding from the Australia Council but this can never make it  "establishment. It's just too weird and naughty.

Australians really are good at physical theatre, particularly circus. We have Rock and Roll Circus, Women's Circus, Club Swing, Fruit Flies.  But when circus meets the bizarre, the witty, the political we will always have Circus Oz. 

The company which was always so radical, is now part of the cultural establishment, having received ongoing funding from the Australia Council as a major organisation, along with the opera, ballet and state theatres.

Oz seems to have really hit its straps again under the artistic direction of founding member (and ex-acrobat-musician-MC clown-muso etc.) Robin Laurie.  Her expertise and experience along with a finely tuned sense of the absurd, have provided a slick, seamless but still warm and homespun production. She composes spectacular, eccentric and colourful stage pictures using the equally spectacular bodies of the multi-skilled performers.

Gone are the halcyon (for this old hippy) days of perpetual onstage lefty patter and kitschy Australiana. Oz has acquired a newer, young and perky troupe of highly skilled and polished acrobats and clowns, some of whom have graduated from the Fruit Fly Circus.

As in previous shows, there is a loose narrative thread. A naive clown, played by the peppy and charming Nicci Wilks, falls to earth from her flyin' machine landing herself in the deep water of the title. She wanders lost in a land peopled with a mad masked clown race, chair balancers, a cluster of pole climbers, a golfer, a guy who lives upside down and a rogue clown who steals juggling clubs.

There are many wonderful acts but a few favourites were duo twin aerialists, Eleanor Davies and Nicci Wilks. Davies and Michael Ling do a great tightrope act set in a Hawaiian bar in which Ling walks on a burning rope. Just about everything Ling does is so exceptional it defies description.

Musical director Julie Mcinnes returns with another terrific set with the most hilarious act coming from one of the musos. Chris Lewis' near-naked horn playing is worth travelling through sleet and snow to see.


Thursday 5 September 1996

Love's Labour's Lost, VCA, Sept 5 1996

by William Shakespeare
Victorian College of the Arts, Drama School
Beckett Theatre Malthouse until September 14, 1996
Reviewed by Kate Hebert around Sep 5, 1996

Love's Labour's Lost is a barrel of monkeys. This is probably why it is rarely done. It is simple comic-romantic fluff with little substance. The Victorian College of the Arts production, directed by Darryl Wilkinson, is light, fun and warmly performed by a cast of its graduating students.

It appears as if Shakespeare, with his comedy pals, decided to write a vehicle for the thrust and parry of every form of comic word-play; just a little something to while away the weeks between the tragedies. It is a gag-fest.

In fact, it is firmly based in the Italian Commedia dell'Arte style complete with "boy meets girl, boy gets girl" or rather "four boys get girls". The young King of Navarre and his three mates have decided to close his court to the distractions of women so they can study and fast. Yes. Study. Read it and weep, parents of slack VCE students.

It uses the classic Commedia devices of switched identities, misdirected letters, wily servants, unrequited love and bawdiness. There is a Harlequin character in the servant, Costard, and his conquest, Jaquenetta, parallels Columbina. Her other suitor, the Spanish Don Armado, is a replica of the braggard, Capitano. Armado is played by the jewel in this particularly wacky crown, Rodney Afif, who has impeccable comic timing and physicality. 

Wilkinson's direction keeps up a cracking pace which bounces us gleefully through an essentially verbose text. The company enjoy the romp and, although the performances are uneven and the women, who shone in A Doll's House, have limited roles, there are a few notables. Kyle Wright was engaging as the barbed wit Berowne and Rodney Power gave a sterling cameo as the commedia style know-all Dottore, Holofernes.

There are echoes of later comedies in the language and narrative: Much Ado, As You Like It, and even the Mechanicals from Midsummer Night's Dream are presaged in a very silly interlude by four blokes. The story falls over at the end leaving the lovers unrequited and seems to beg for an epilogue. Perhaps Shakespeare was awaiting the Hollywood movie industry sequel: Love's Labours Two, Three and Four.


Wednesday 4 September 1996

Chay Vong Vong, Sept 4, 1996

Chay Vong Vong by Tony Le Nguyen
Napier Street Theatre until September 15, 1996
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Sept 4, 1996

We should despair that each cultural group which arrives in Australia as migrants suffers frighteningly similar troubles.

The Vietnamese characters in Tony Le Nguyen's play, Chay Vong Vong, echo the pain and loss of European refugees from the Second World War or those from the Middle East in the 70's or Bosnia in the 90's.

They do not simply escape oppressive regimes, war-torn homelands, decimated families, poverty and starvation. They arrive to the same cool reception of the "natives", the same soulless Housing Commission flats, the same language difficulties, racism and abuse.

But the likenesses do not end outside their walls. The families suffer similar internal explosiveness. The teenager’s battle against restrictive parents rules, culture clashes, the incompatible but twin desires to please the parents and to fit in to a new culture.

Nguyen's characters have dragged their bloodied lives from Vietnam into a new environment where father still plots with their cronies to bring down the Communist government, mother is abused and oppressed and a teenage girl is treated like a chattel by her boyfriend.

Khoi, played with great sensitivity and truth by Thanh Vu Nguyen, is a quiet, serious teenager whose parents died in Vietnam. This is a recipe for disaster. His intensity leads him not to studiousness as it might with another, but to isolation, depression and drugs which have become an enormous problem in this community.

Nguyen seems to have based his play firmly in the Community Theatre tradition of intensive research into the Vietnamese community. He intersperses naturalistic scenes with monologues telling often wrenchingly tragic personal stories. His direction is well supported by Jane Rafe's wonderful geometric design on floor and banners.

The play takes off about half way through its two hours when the family conflict intensifies suddenly and the dramatic temperature rises steeply. At the beginning, it seemed to be a series of unrelated vignettes. 

Although these are explained at the very end, the style is not quite coherent and the text could benefit from a vigorous edit of the dialogue. The level of performance varies. This is the charm of community-based projects.