Saturday 26 October 1996

The Mourning After, Oct 26,1996

The Mourning After by Verity Laughton
Playbox Beckett Theatre until Nov, 1996
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Oct 25, 1996

If you have never experienced the death of someone close, it is impossible to explain the very odd actions and reactions which grief may cause. For example, why would a woman whose husband has died the night before, spend Christmas Eve picnicking alone on a beach?

Well, she does not feel alone. Former singer and radio star, Belle Doyle, (Nancy Hayes) dines with the phantoms of her absent children and dead husband on the familiar beach by Aunt Luce's holiday home.

As she lays out the turkey and scoffs a bottle and a half of wine, she ambles about in her past, leading us gently through births and marriages, comings-out, conflicts, joys and pains. Mainly, she tries to fathom whether she killed hubbie, Harry by proposing to accept, against his wishes, the lead role in a new musical. Harry has controlled her world for too many years it seems.

The basic idea for the play is a good one. We listen to the unfolding of Belle's history, her fraught relationships with Harry, lesbian daughter Yvette and smug, pretty son "Magnus the Magnificent". The problem is that there is little dramatic tension in the text. The narrative and emotional journeys of the character are simplistic, lacking the layering which is essential for a solo piece. 

It relies on the stage being peopled with characters by one actor and this is not effectively realised. The other characters are not sufficiently significant and are left incomplete. There is too much explication in the dialogue which could be left to the action. The major conflict for Belle is whether she is betraying Harry by taking the role of Ned Kelly's mother but her final decision is so swiftly achieved, that the drama of the problem is obliterated.

Nancy Hayes was well received by the mainly older female audience at the Saturday matinee but her musical skills were wasted in this piece in which she sings only a single finale. Her performance and direction by another musical identity, Tony Sheldon, did not provide the dynamic range which might have invested this piece with some emotional texture.

The Mourning After is quite watchable but it does not even scratch the surface of the issue of grief and its associated guilt and nostalgia.


Thursday 24 October 1996

Aive At Williamstown Pier, Oct 24, 1996

Alive at Williamstown Pier Neil Cole
La Mama until November 11, 1996
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Oct 23, 1996

The combination of politician and mental illness is evidently a sure-fire entertainment drawcard. 

La Mama was stuffed to the rafters even on the second night, notoriously quiet night of Alive at Williamstown Pier written by Neil Cole (MLA Melbourne). One wonders whether Jeff Kennett's appearance on IMT had something to do with a psychotic episode.

As a playwright, Cole is a better politician. This is not to suggest that Williamstown does not have its merits. It boasts some sharp political satire, numerous snappy gags and a singular, interesting, well-shaped character in Mick, the manic-depressive.

The deficiencies reside in the fragmented structure of the script, its mixture of styles and in the clumsiness of the actual production. The script is at its best when it focuses on the relationship between Dave, the manic-depressive politician who is Cole's alter ego and his institutionalised pal, Mick. The naturalistic warmth and wit of their dialogue is a great strength.

The text would be enhanced by concentrating on this instead of the rather awkward stylised Vox Pop-come-cabaret interludes and unnecessary readings from a "Premier's award-winning" novel.

Cole, as playwright, has drawn on his own experience with bi-polar disorder, otherwise known as manic-depression, to create this narrative. The character's battle with the public airing of his dirty psychological linen is directly related to his own newsworthy illness. Not only is the play a courageous "outing" but it gives mental illness a high profile and a human face which can only be a positive move.

The direction is unwieldy and the production suffers from clunky scene changes, painfully slow pacing, a cluttered although interesting set design and unimaginative staging. The problems with performance arise from expecting stand-up comics to carry a play. At times, the lead actor was inaudible in the tiny venue and the emotional landscape of his character remained unexplored. Richard Heath, however, had some high points as the lively and tragic Mick.
Death in this play is somehow life affirming. Those who survive their illness carry on after losing friends to their psychic demons. It is chastening to remember that the wolf, psychosis, is never too far from the door.

Kate Herbert

Tuesday 22 October 1996

The North, William Yang, Oct 22, 1996

The North William Yang 
George Ballroom St KIlda Until Nov 2, 1996
Reviewed by KH around Oct 22, 1996

There is something harmonic in the tone of William Yang's The North which is not only due to its eccentric musical accompaniment. Yang's voice is not resonant but its unaffected un-actorly quality is refreshingly naive.

As he did in the deeply evocative and moving Sadness, Yang stands in a spotlight at the side of the stage in front of huge projections of his own photographs. The images are of his childhood home in Dimbula, North Queensland, his Chinese-Australian relatives and his visit to mainland China. Like Sadness, this is no mere holiday slide show. Although it lacks the anguish and pain of Sadness, Yang's attachment to people  and place is simply but intensely felt.

Through his monologue, we meet people from his family and his past, we encounter the arid North country, tobacco plantations and small town anecdotes. We travel to his parents' "home" in China and watch him discover Daoism and his deep-buried Chinese-ness.
The lyrical quality is enhanced by an exceptional live soundscape by Collin Offord who plays his invention, the Great Island Mouthbow which conjures sounds akin to a Chinese violin, wind through tunnels and a whole string section.

Yang explores the nature of cultural identity in a very personal way. the moment he stepped into the obviously topical and political, namely the Pauline Hanson racism debate, he lost his focus. His very circuitousness and dreamy delivery allows us to be surprised when ideas are suddenly woven together and we have an ' ah-ha" experience.

"Home is many places,” he says "-and one". Denying one's cultural heritage is a way of absorbing racism to the point where it becomes self-loathing.

The path is warm and easy for we, the audience, but it is evident that Yang's own path to self-awareness and acceptance has been more of a struggle. As he says, "It is easy to hate and blame but hard to understand another and change oneself."

Kate Herbert

Friday 18 October 1996

Corrugaton Road, Oct 18, 1996

Corrugation Road by Jimmy Chi
Black Swan Theatre. Fairfax Studio until October 26, 1996
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Oct 17, 1996

Sheer anarchy was loosed upon an unsuspecting audience on opening night of Corrugation Road. Writer, Jimmy Chi, who also wrote Bran Nue Dae, flies in the face of musical theatre convention, breaking every rule, avoiding narrative thread like the plague and dodging form. It left one gaping at the sheer gall of its being in the midst of the toffy old Melbourne Festival.

Chi writes peppy songs in a thousand divergent styles ranging from Gilbert and Sullivan rhyming silliness to Country and Western. The piece is more like a cabaret, a string of singable, completely unconnected tunes with quirky lyrics, than a piece of musical theatre. It is begging for a coherent storyline but, simultaneously, its very chaotic nature makes it entertainingly bizarre.

For the character of Bob Two Bob (Stephen "Baamba" Albert), Chi draws on his own schizophrenia, his prolonged institutionalisation and being drugged to the eyeballs. Bob's funeral begins the piece but what follows is a chequered journey through his dislocated, ambling mind. We visit his past, his friends and his psychotic episodes.

It becomes difficult to discern which are memories and which delusions. A few wild and goofy images leave one gob-smacked, the most memorable being a giant pink rooster shakin' its tail feather and the mental hospital is run by siamese-twin psychiatrists (Michael Turkic, Richard Mellick) and their slinky nurse (Becky Brown).

The story, what there is of it, is an anti-hero's journey from darkness into light. Bob's delusions allow him to revisit his past, come to some understanding of it and then to travel forward to the place he left long ago: sanity and Broome.

It is the joyful, energetic performances which carry this show, particularly Ningali Lawford who brings a freshness and magnetism to the role of Fiona. It brings aboriginal culture crashing into western musical form and the result is astonishing. In the end, it lacks an edge and is screaming for some moving moments.

 It slides over the surface of Bob's painful world and satirises his delusional state so that it has little emotional impact. It lacks polish and has some clunky direction, mediocre singing and predictable choreography but it remains engaging, warm and silly.


Sunday 6 October 1996

Cor Blimey It's Matt King, Oct 6, 1996

Cor Blimey It's Matt King
At Star & Garter Hotel Nelson & Dorcas Sts. Sth Melbourne, Wed-Sat until October 18, 1996
 Reviewed by KH around Oct 5, 1996

It's been a while since I was at a pub comedy gig. Aah! My misspent youth! The publican greeted me; "Are you the judge?"  Was I missing a wet T-shirt comp in the bar? I trailed upstairs, followed by the perfume of stale beer, to a windowless room with a kids' wacky alphabet doona cover/backdrop on a tiny stage.  Comedy still works on a low budget.

Matt King ambles onstage with a bad Geography-class map of England. He is a warm, mild-mannered, sweet-tempered stand-up with a Hertfordshire accent - or is it Essex? He started slowly but by the end this audient was laugh-weeping at frighteningly true, gruesome childhood stories about his militaristic dad's obsession with order and adventure holidays. King engenders a heap of sympathetic "Ohs!" and "poor sod" responses.

The word- gag picture of little Mattie painted by big Mattie is of a skinny, unsporty kid with attitude. He alienates his nightmare German exchange family, evades death by kayak in a France and finally escapes England for good for Oz, land of his favourite scary, lethal critters.

King is a great yarn-spinner and the longer the story the better. He re-incorporates snippets, appeals to our sympathies and our prejudices about the English, the Germans, the French, the military, the cub scouts - everything. The more excruciating the story, the funnier he is.

We squirm at his adoption story: " They did a bit of shopping on the way home and picked up a baby too." His father's homemade snake costume is every kid's embarrassing nightmare. The whole routine travels a path to dad getting his just deserts for being a total shit.


Saturday 5 October 1996

Jump! by Crying in Public Places, Oct 5, 1996

Jump! by Crying in Public Places
Beckett Theatre, Malthouse, until October 12, 1996
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Oct 5, 1996

When my mouth falls open I know I've seen a good show and I gaped all through Jump! Again!  Crying in Public Places grab you by the heart, lungs and soul from the top and don't let go.

This is a reprise of 1995's successful show but nothing is lost of the bright, joyful, fulsome core of the original season. There are a few new songs but the four (Anni Davey, Maud Davey, Karen Hadfield, Jane Bayly) still work with the conversational-naturalistic, a' cappella singing, quirky movement and a consistently wry view of the world, themselves and their foibles.

The personal snatches are fascinating and as their re-incorporation is assiduously handled to tantalise us with snippets of an unfolding story. "What is the worst thing that could happen?" gives us a sniff of Anni's danger to come. "I'm pregnant," develops into grabs of Jane's painful birthing. "Where the fuck is my future?" signposts Maud's chequered life as she keeps leaving behind the girl that she was and we root for Karen to overcome her "Don't rock the boat" pattern.

Jumping is represented literally but so is falling down, tripping up, on life's little problems or, sometimes, its big doozies. We take chances or avoid risks. We leap into the unknown, dive into new experiences or, perhaps, turn aside just at the crucial moment. We fall in love and can never get back to where we jumped. Its all a game of dice and if you never jump you'll never know what might have been in store for you: the good, bad or ugly.

The joy and near ecstasy of this group as it croons and chants, whimpers, howls and grooves its original songs is infectious. I grinned and gaped, basking in their warm glow, wanting to rush up and hug them. Again. I fell in love with them all. Again.  I can't wait for the next show so I can drop my jaw, let go and love them all over again.


Thursday 3 October 1996

Kaspar, Oct 3, 1996

by Theatr eTarquin
At Vaut Theatre, Banana Alley until late October 1996
Reviewed buy Kate Herbert around Oct 3, 1996

A "civilised" culture has always had a fascination with the barbaric and this romance with the "savage" has often manifested in his gross mistreatment. This may apply to whole racial groups and individuals.

Films, novels, poetry and theatre have all found such stories to transform into art. The Wild Boy of Aveyron, the Elephant Man and Kaspar Hauser who is the central character of Kasparˇ, by Theatre Tarquin

 Kaspar, directed by Nick Harrington, uses the narrative of Hauser's life as a springboard for a stark, stylised text and movement based performance with four actors and a live pianist. Kaspar's early undocumented life, incarcerated in a cellar, fed only bread and water, has left him unsocialised but, unlike the Wild Boy, not uneducable.

The process of his civilisation and his indoctrination in language and logic, social mores and religion is represented in bleak tableaux, faux-Berlin cabaret song and raw black and white lighting. The location is a disused railway vault on Banana Alley which provides a deep, narrow performance space and plenty of disturbingly thunderous overhead train noise to accompany Monique di Mattina's original acoustic piano composition which punctuates the action.

The process of his civilisation and his indocrination in language and logic, social mores and religion is represented in bleak tableaux, faux-Berlin cabaret song and raw black and white lighting. The location is a disused, railway vault on Banana Alley which provides a deep, narrow, claustrophobic performance space and plenty of disturbingly thunderous overhead train noise to accompany Monique di Mattina's original acoustic piano composition which punctuates the action.

The production employs the house style of Tarquin. The narrative is fragmented, the design based in grunge, and characters are non-representational. There are moments of intelligence and sharp irony and some strong theatrical images but others do not quite make the grade.

There was a dull patch in the middle of the hour. The circus freak show was predictable, and some long speeches were unnecessarily expository but Kaspar's ingenuous pleas were moving and the final death scene was a powerful and memorable tableau.

 It seems that these stories have been done so often that Tarquin needed to find something new, which it did not. I wanted to be touched in some way but came away surprisingly unmoved.

The Rape of Lucrecia, Oct 3, 1996

by William Shakespeare
Complete Works Theatre Company La Mama until October 20, 1996
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around 3 Oct, 1996

Pouring a play into the confines of La Mama Theatre in Carlton is no mean feat at the best of times but when it is a Shakespeare it is nigh on miraculous. Of course, performing a mythic poem by Will rather than, say, the Scottish play, is another matter.

The Rape of Lucrece is an epic verse about the violation of the chaste bride of Roman commander, Collatine by his friend, the lusting, saturnine Etruscan Prince Tarquin. With two others, (Wade Beed, Caroline Lee) actor-director, David Wicks has created a suitable companion piece for his previous superb solo, Venus and Adonis.

 Lucrece concentrates on Shakespeare's sweet, scented language and abandons the rampant physicality and dexterity of the earlier Venus. The delicate stillness of the portrayals with the simplicity and starkness of the production, heighten the fragility of the language. Wicks allows the words to speak for themselves and finds the dynamic range within them.

The horror of the rape is not lost in such underplaying. In fact it could be too intense or melodramatic to overstate it in such an intimate space. Being so close to the almost tableau effect of images, we might be swamped. Such intimacy in the playing highlights the focus of the text on the psychological minutiae of the characters and their detailed observations.

We crawl inside their heads and wander about in the rhythm of their thoughts and sensations. There were, however, moments when  I was craving an emotional outburst, a clutch at the heart or to be sent into tilt - but this is not the style of this piece.

This exceptional trio interpolate six dulcet and unaccompanied Renaissance songs to great effect. Wicks, as narrator, shifts skilfully in and out of focus, engaging us and colouring the canvas. Beed's Tarquin is sinister and salacious and his rich baritone a treat while Lee's frail, pale English-rose quality is perfect for the violated Lucrece.

This is a fine theatrical interpretation of a beautifully crafted text.