Saturday 26 April 1997

The Secret Death of Salvador Dali, April 26, 1997

By Stephen Sewell
Court of Miracles and Rooftop Productions At Budinski's April until May, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around April 25, 1997

There's no getting away from it. Salvador Dali was a real weirdo. This applies not only to his surrealist paintings, films and other design but also to his personal life and his family background: weird, weirder, weirdest.

His relationship with his mother was textbook Oedipus Complex and with his sister was sexually questionable to say the least. His father was a tyrant who put three year old Salvador's name on his brother's tombstone because he wished him dead instead.

He was renowned for his incessant masturbation and sexual disturbing imagery and conversation, his neurotic and hysterical behaviour and dependence on his wife Gala in later life. This was one weird bunny - but he was undoubtedly a genius.
Stephen Sewell's The Secret Death of Salvador Dali is an episodic, almost vaudevillian portrayal of Dali. Rory Walker and Kate Kendall play all characters, swapping roles, genders, costumes and a complete wardrobe of moustaches.

The piece is most successful when Walker exclusively plays Dali in the second half. Dali becomes a parody of himself, a grotesque, warped mirror image of his own narcissistic creation. Walker hits his stride and reveals himself as a fine comic actor. His timing is excellent and his Dali tirades do justice to Sewell's wild, esoteric and hilarious images and text.

Kendall is less effective in her multiple roles which demand a very broad range of character acting skills. Her portrayal of Ferdinand Lorca and the younger Dali are not credible.  She is better equipped for the ingenue, Dali's sister Anna-Maria and for his harridan wife. Director, Peter Dunn also seemed determined to keep Kendall nearly naked off-stage for an inordinate amount of time as she changed costumes.

Dunn cuts from scene to scene with actors dressing and undressing at side-stage. Scenes bleed into each other, dialogue runs off-stage or as voice-over. Generally the play moves swiftly but the innumerable costume changes seemed unnecessary in the first half.

Dali's was a long life. He outlived all his cronies: Louis Bunuel, Max Ernst, Breton and all his idols, namely the Marx Brothers (not Zeppo). He was an artistic slut painting anyone, even Hitler and Stalin, for money or for interest. In the final scene his long-dead hero, Renaissance painter Raphael, decries him from a celestial height for the prostitution of his art. He has served no purpose. He has become one of those he condemned in his youth, one of the "Putrefactos".


Don Giovanni by Mozart, April 26, 1997

 Opera Australia
State Theatre, late April to May, 9, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Hebert around 25 April, 1997

Mozart's Don Giovanni is an odd blend of the comic and tragic - but then so was Wolfgang himself.

Stephen Bennett, in the role of the grand seducer, relishes every sexy moment. It falls to the lot of Don Giovanni (you may know him as Don Juan) to ravish every single woman on the planet.

According to his servant Leporello's (John Pringle) little black book of names, the naughty Don is up to 1,800 seductions, 1,003 of who are in his native Spain. Chances of his running into "a woman scorned" at the milk bar are pretty high and, as we see from Donna Elvira's (Maria Pollicina) actions, hell really doth have no fury like...etc.

Revenge really is a dish best eaten cold, even if Elvira has second thoughts about him on the way to his come-uppance. He's a right bastard and he deserves every thing he gets in the line of Hell-fire.

Lindy Hume's production, based on that of Carl Friedrich Oberle, is staged quite traditionally on a single (economical?) set of a stony palazzo. But there is nothing plain about the leads' voices. Bennett's wonderfully rich baritone supports his rakish swagger throughout and particularly in "La ci darem la mano".

Pollicina's soprano has both sweetness and strength. As the nearly-violated Donna Anna, Rosamund Illing displays exceptional control and subtlety in her aria "or sai chi l'onore".

Tenor Yu Jixing as her fiance Don Ottavio has impeccable phrasing and a clear tone while Arend Baumann as the murdered father of Anna was suitably forbidding. Pringle's Leporello was a warm and light presence that might have gone further with the comic characterisation.

The sextets, typical of Mozart, were beautifully balanced with a fine interplay of voices and the orchestra, conducted by Roderick Brydon, was in excellent form. This is a delightful production of the Don.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 22 April 1997

Big Hair in America, April 22, 1997

by Peter Anthony Ryan
Universal Theatre 1, April to May 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around April 21, 1997

Everything's bigger, badder and weirder in America - and that includes revenge. So don't y'all even think about crossing a Texas Momma with big hair 'cos she'll shore ‘nuff wanna snuff y'all out like a little ol' candle.

And so goes the plot of Peter Anthony Ryan's hilarious new play, Big Hair in America. It would be totally unbelievable if it were not true. Remember? Texas, a few years ago? Hopeful cheerleader's mum tries literally to eliminate the competition by putting a contract out on daughter's rival and her mother. 

Wanda (Gina Riley) has pinned her own faded hopes and lost dreams on her 16-year old daughter, Alana (Kristy Andruszko) becoming the new Freshman cheer-leader. In Malcolm Robertson's stylish, snappily directed production, the bizarre small-town behaviour is heightened by broad cartoonish characterisations, a lurid, hot-pink set (Victus Hobday) and fabulously trashy costumes (Jenny Bannister).

But most significantly it features a set of wigs that win gold in the big hair stakes. This is "hair to withstand harsh criticism and high winds"; hair with a "blondeness ratio" to make your roots curl. Wanda's worst punishment is flat hair.

Ryan's dialogue is slick and witty, peppered with scathing social observations of hick Americana and lots of "white trash" gags.

Supporting Ryan’s script is a cast with some exceptional comic talent. Gina Riley, as the increasingly unhinged and deluded Wanda, has impeccable delivery and perfect comic timing rivalled only by her comrade-in- comedy, Jane Turner.

Turner dashes on and off stage switching characters, wigs and costumes in a wink of an eye. Her cheerleader is the epitome of the sparkling-toothed American high-kicker and Reba the hairdresser is the tackiest tart in town. Kristy Andruszko is adorably cute as Wanda's squeaky-clean daughter and Jane Badler as the rival's naive Yankee mum is a good foil for Riley.

This is not an in-depth study of the socio-economic conditions that gave rise to such a warped crime but I did want more about what actually happened, the court case and Wanda's conviction. A final scene contriving a present day meeting between the two girls seemed extraneous - but perhaps I'm quibbling.

Ryan saves the biggest gag for his finale. Only in America could the psychotic mother, Wanda become a –  but that'd be tellin' now, wouldn't it honey?


Wednesday 9 April 1997

Steven Wright, Comedian, April 8, 1997

 Melbourne Concert Hall from April 8, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert on April 8, 1997
Published in The Melbourne Times in April 1997 (editor, Robin Usher)

Edward de Bono may write books about lateral thinking but Steven Wright lives them. In fact, he lives it on a planet far from ours. He inhabits the Planet Tangent that is populated by missing verbal links, living dreams, lost thoughts and ideas which turn your brain inside out.

"Don't think about it too much, " he quips after a particularly obtuse reference. "Even I don't know what I'm talking about." His one-liners are mind-bendingly funny. They come thick and fast with no let-up.

Even the pauses are hilarious. His timing is impeccable. Wright instinctively knows the answer to what might be one of his own rhetorical questions. "How long is the perfect comedy pause?"

He is "a peripheral visionary", a comic conceptual artist who despises "primitive linear thinking." His show is like an hour and a half of those mind-teasers on the funny pages - only better - and weirder.

Much of the material was in his 1996 show but it is funny the second third and probably every time. Nothing connects. There is no through-line, no narrative, no hooks to hold one's sanity together. It is dizzying, like being over-medicated on a very hot day.  Ninety minutes is almost too much funniness.

When he walks off-stage saying, "I just remembered my mother told me not to talk to strangers," we are left alone, all 2,000 of us, laughing at the space where he stood.

He says he was mentally tortured as a child by a weird grandfather and a witty but cruel father who "tried to make me go insane."

He now values only obscure thought processes and tortures the rest of the human race with convoluted yet somehow obvious concepts. He is the child who made the teacher's head explode and the adult who drives every victim to distraction - and weeping.

KATE HERBERT           

Sunday 6 April 1997

Abroad with Two Men by Biggins,Scott, Nagle, April 6, 1997

Abroad with Two Men by Jonathon Biggins, Phil Scott, Linda Nagle
Melbourne Comedy Festival
Capitol Theatre Tues to Sun 7pm until April 20, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around April 5, 1998

The best of comic songs and scathing satire: that's Abroad with Two Men.

If you think Arts Festivals are over-priced, over-funded and overly-artsy, you'll love this biting send-up of the bizarre, the eccentric and just plain weird acts that make it to our shores.

Jonathon Biggins plays host as an assimilation of every big-shot festival director for the single remaining Festival that amalgamates all our festivals. He introduces The Agnostic Gospel Choir - who are "wholly unconvinced" about God - and the Three Clansmen, singing Scots thugs.

The Royal National Theatre Company of Lord Howe Island who do an "original" version of Fiddler on the Roof with local references. It is an impeccable musical send-up.

Imagine the "official stand-up comedian for the Liberal Party".  Biggins portrays him as a tetchy Peter Costello with terrifyingly accurate anti-dole-bludger gags vowing that "one in four punch-lines has got to go". Biggins impersonations are uncannily real. He does Barry Otto and Julian Clary to a tee.

 Linda Nagle does a droll satire of Tap Dogs called "Tap Slobs" and Phil Scott's John Michael Howson reading Snowy River is sublimely accurate. Scott's song lyrics and piano-man skills have been a feature of numerous ABC television comedy shows.

The talent of this trio is awesome. They keep appearing with new characters, another instrument or musical style for three excellent voices.

The finale is the icing on the cake. Funding for the Sydney Olympic opening ceremony has been cut to $115 so the Scouts have been enlisted to perform it on two recorders and a cheap Cassio.

Biggins as a Queen Scout in lime green leotard, does a dance version of  every sport in the Olympiad. His Pommel Horse gymnastics is so funny I still hurt.

It goes on. I can't tell you everything but it one of the skilful and hilarious shows I've seen in the Festival. If you're sick of stand-ups, see it.


Saturday 5 April 1997

Peter Pan, April 5, 1997

by Arena Theatre & Back to Back
Fairfax Studio until April 16, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around April 3, 1997

Peter Pan thinks that being a man has whiskers on it. He wants to play, fight, dream and stay a boy forever. However, he does want a mother for himself and the Lost Boys in Never Never Land so he seduces Wendy into flying away with him. Psychologists could have a field day with this allegory.

Arena and Back to Back Theatres have joined forces to create Peter Pan on stage for 8 to 13 year olds. Pam Laversha's adaptation of J.M. Barrie with Rosemary Myers' direction and an interesting design by John Bennett, is an eccentric, visual rock music spectacle. Much of it works with some less successful moments interspersed.
The narrative is bumpy and some obvious omissions are problematic. The Crocodile and its ticking are never explained properly, Peter is  not seeking his shadow but a Game Boy video game. This may be an up-date but it dilutes the mystery and magic of the boy who never grows up. The story rushes too hastily to a conclusion.

Peter Farnan's music elevates the terror of Captain Hook (Ian Scott) and the romance of the flying, kissing and fantasy scenes. The abstract flying was more effective than Peter and Wendy's harnesses which were clumsy and gratuitous. There was also too much unnecessary set moving.

Sue Giles gives a delightfully ironic edge to Wendy, satirising the role of mums. Ian Pidd is a engaging, wicked and manipulative Peter. Ian Scott's Hook is suitably terrifying but admirably vulnerable and needy while Sonia Teuben from Back to Back has impeccable timing as his clownish, obsequious side-kick, Smee.

 Tinkerbell (Rita Halaberec) is an hilarious, moody and vengeful purple fairy, "much bigger than I expected." It is a problem that her dialogue is often incomprehensible but the message gets through.

Back to Back has generally worked with fairy tales about outsiders highlighting issues arising for its performers who have varying degrees of intellectual disability. Peter Pan is an appropriate forum but there are some problems with its execution here. However, the kids, even tots, seemed to enjoy it and despite the odd confusion or flat spot, I had a hoot.


Allison's Rub by Terry Norris, April 5, 1997

Allison's Rub by Terry Norris
La Mama at the Courthouse Wed to Sun 8.15 pm until April 12, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around April 3, 1997

Toss away your valium, lacex and prozac. Allison's rub is the answer to all your tension-releasing dreams.

Allison's Rub, the first play written by actor and ex-M.L.A. Terry Norris, is a tale of coming of age in a strange way. Beryl (Paulene Terry-Beitz) advertises in the wool shop window for a border: enter Allison (Kate Gorman), a student of massage therapy who has a magic touch.

The play, directed by Gary Files, is a traditional narrative comedy with broad characterisation. The writing is a series of clever puns, witty dialogues, and old vaudeville silly business with a sound premise for a comic narrative. Constant references to 40's and-50's Australiana raise a giggle by their sheer nostalgia value. Do Bex powders, blue bags and kisses under the quince tree ring a bell?

Beryl's  harridan real estate agent daughter, Dawn (Tatyana des Fontaine-Burns) wants mum's house to seal a deal with a dodgy property developer. She tries to enlist the help of Beryl's transvestite son, Walter (Marcus Eyre) who, at 39, has finally left mum for a special accommodation home after his breakdown. He dressed up as Streisand at a high school concert. Silly man!

All four performances are strong with a sterling job by Terry-Beitz as the sweet but tough old Beryl. Marcus Eyre is hilarious and just avoids going too far as the "gender-confused" Walter.

There are a couple of problems in an essentially funny show. The script could benefit from some dialogue tightening, stripping out some over-writing. The interpolation of monologues by three of the characters seemed unnecessary, as did the use of naturalistic sound effects for door openings and slammings.

The play has a happy resolution. The household is reunited and everybody gets their healing massage including a large chunk of the greater community. But to find out about that you'll need to see the show!


When A Man Comes To A Woman, April 5, 1997

When a Man comes to a Woman by Semen Zlotnik 
La Mama, until April 20, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around April 3, 1997

If you were to toss melancholy and absurdity into a blender, you would have something resembling Russian comedy. When a Man comes to a Woman by Semen Zlotnik, is no exception.

This play, directed by the Melbourne-based, Russian-born Leonid Verzub, is wild. It feels like a Russian comic romance seen through the bottom of an empty vodka glass at four in the morning.

Dina (Annekathrin Wetzel) is set up by a mutual friend with an unsolicited blind date. Victor (Greg Ulfan) is an under-confident pharmacist, arrives 25 minutes early. He is accused of being too stooped, too short, too early, too muscular so he apologises. "My height fluctuates."

Ulfan plays a classic low-status clown to Wetzel's manipulative seductress. They are a great double act working a very demanding script with zest. Dina changes female roles so fast it makes Victor's hair thin. She is the ingenue, the seductress, the wife, the witch. He is the naive suitor, intoxicated with love.

In a couple of hours they play out a ten-year relationship from meeting through courtship, marriage to tedious domesticity and entrapment. Victor is literally "tied down". This production boasts the funniest kissing scene I have ever seen - in the theatre.

It is set in a striking design by Adrienne Chisholm of a livid pink monochromatic wallpaper which is all over floor and walls. Variations on the sugary "A Man and a Woman" theme are a witty accompaniment.

The show is stylishly directed by the highly experienced Verzub who trained in Russia. The piece begins a little self-consciously but the energy and weirdness of the narrative take over and it takes flight like a wild bird eventually.


Thursday 3 April 1997

Falstaff (Opera Australia), April 3, 1997

Falstaff (Opera)
by Giueseppe Verdi with libretto by Arrigo Boito
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
April 3, 5, 8, 11, 16, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around April 1, 1997

Giuseppe Verdi turned 80 and decided that fifty years of tragedy was enough. He needed to write a comedy. He borrowed Sir John Falstaff from Shakespeare's Henry 1V and The Merry Wives of Windsor and made this "king of paunches", a jovial, carousing and lusty old lord, the central character of his experiment in Comedy.

He is better at tragedy, but Falstaff has its moments. Poor old self-deceiving Falstaff believes he is the heartthrob of two widows (Joan Carden & Rosemary Gunn) and proceeds to be humiliated by the pair and their cohorts.

Director, Simon Phillips production plays with the slapstick with some funny business from Jonathon Summers as Falstaff, Arend Baumann as Pistola and Christopher Dawes as a very funny Bardolfo.

Summers is a warm and colourful Falstaff with a fine baritone. The romantic sub-plot concerning the secret romance of Nanetta and Fenton, is sung extremely well by Emma Lysons and Anthony Elek.

The staging and design (Iain Aitken) are very traditional with an Elizabethan inn and houses and period costumes. The final fairy dell scene in which Falstaff is terrorised by fairies and goblins is a shift into a more mystical setting which breaks the pattern effectively.

The Victorian State Orchestra is once again in fine form with one of my favourite conductors, Carlo Felice Cilauro, keeping the peppy pace of this light and fluffy opera. It's all a bit of fun.

250 wds

Rhona Cameron, April 3, 1997

Rhona Cameron
Melbourne International Comedy Festival
Melbourne Town Hall 7pm until April 20, 1997
Review3ed by Kate Herbert around 2 April 1997

Rhona Cameron is as cute as a button. She bobs about on stage gently joking about being short, being drunk, being teased about being Scottish, being jet-lagged in Melbourne.

Cameron is not a belly-laugh comic, which is a great relief after twelve shows in a week. Her material has broad appeal. She jabs at stuck up shop assistants and her new obsession with the gym, which followed giving up drinking.

Much of her material is about what a strange child she was, which it is evident in her "haunting eyes".

Her relationship with her mother and her miserable, lonely childhood going to caravan camp both take a beating.

She muses over drunken males who flash their genitalia about at parties and wonders why it's not the done thing for women to do the same to celebrate a big night out.

At the end of her set, she slips in the fact that she's a lesbian. It is a terrific trick for an audience who might think, "That's not like my life. I refuse to relate."  She has them on side already and it is a delightful strategy for levelling the audience and interrupting the silly prejudice of the ill informed.

We're all the same, she wants to say. Lesbians are just other people with other partners.

Cameron is a charming and engaging comic with some sweet material. I liked her a lot.


Tuesday 1 April 1997

Candide - Voltaire, April 1, 1997

Candide by Voltaire
By Melbourne Maskworks
Melbourne International Comedy Festival
7pm Trades Hall until April 20, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert on April 1, 1997

Melbourne has only one exclusively mask-based theatre company. Ironically, it is called Melbourne Maskworks. Their newest work is based on Voltaire's novel , Candide, and is performed in the style of the Italian Commedia dell'Arte, ancestor of our European clown tradition.

Mask designer, Sylvia Rech, has created a superb collection of characters. The masks define the characters' tone, mood and class. In conjunction with the slapstick of the Commedia, these broad stock characters come to life.

The front-stage has a waist-high curtain allowing director, Peter Donohue (also mask-maker) to create comic illusions. Actors roll on, floating in a ship and make surprise appearances from below curtain level.

There are some hilarious moments, particularly from the impeccable timed of Russell Fletcher, Genevieve Morris and Paul Bongiovannni in multiple roles. Fletcher's know-all Professor Pangloss blusters and pontificates, Morris is hilarious as the long-suffering maid and Bongiovanni's Spanish sailor, Cacombo, is a wonderfully deadpan recurring cameo.

The hapless Candide (Bruce Gladwin) scours the world for his love, Cunegonde (Maria Theodorakis) encountering violent armies, the cheery king of Eldorado, and a Spanish Inquisitor resembling a Ku Klux Klan leader.

The story is told by a side-stage Narrator (Donohue) which, unhappily, was a major flaw. The problem may have been that I saw a final preview, but the narration was so low-key, unanimated and, at times, inaudible that it was more a distraction than an enhancement. The accompanying live guitarist (Anne McCue) was an atmospheric addition and the whole piece is fun.


Greg Proops (US Comic), April 1, 1997

Melbourne International Comedy Festival
Melbourne Town Hall until April 20, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around April 1, 1997

What a novelty! An American who hasn't had his irony gland removed. Greg Proops' stand-up is intelligent, politically informed and extremely silly. He works to the highest common denominator, which is a great relief.

Nobody can faze Proops. This is one confident gagmeister. Even the most obscure heckle, "Squeal Piggy, Squeal" was an appetiser for such an accomplished and witty comic. My face hurt from laughing too hard after an hour. Well actually after about ten minutes.

Proops prowls to and fro across the front of the stage like a caged leopard, firing razor sharp gags at an awe-struck crowd. He is slick. He likes England-bashing. "I like to visit a place where I'm the best looking person," and "I realised Fawlty Towers was a serious documentary."

But he does not rest with Brit-knocking. Any anti-freedom dodos are targets. To the delight of the obviously mostly left-of-centre crowd, he dumped all over Jeff Kennett. He wants to send him to Amsterdam for some free-choice therapy along with his whole country's red-neck, right wing, fundamentalist, elite morons. "Intolerance is the precept of modern Christianity, " he quips. Too true Greg my man.

Proops is a word machine, a walkin'-talkin' comedy thesaurus. His material is a relentless thrust and parry of esoteric and ordinary references, jibes and japes. My biggest belly laughs came with his version of Dutch, the world's most unpronouncable and guttural language and his impression of Kevin Costner, the most wooden actor in the known universe- after Brian Brown of course.

He demands attention from an audience. He keeps you on your toes. "Don't pretend you're shocked." He imitates the voice in your audient head as you question his taste.  We "vaulted over the wall of irony" with Proops a million times in this hour of shriekingly funny smart humour. Just go see him.


Frank Skinner, April 1, 1997

Melbourne Comedy Festival
Melbourne Town Hall until April 20, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert April 1 1997

Frank Skinner's a funny and charming English comic but it seems he does too many gigs which have forced him to cater for the lowest common denominator.

He opened with some great, obviously fresh material about the Collingwood versus Adelaide game at the MCG. He had been busy adjusting his material for Melbourne and it had paid off. It was hilarious and he has a warm, engaging and unthreatening manner with an audience. We were eating out of his hand.

Then something happened and Ooh! Naughty old Frankie, does a few bottom jokes and, more specifically, a few too many male genitalia jokes. Unfortunately, although some were funny, they got a bit wearing and bloke oriented. My face was hurting from laughing for the first half but later that night... However he remains warm and nice and there were still some big laughs. 

Skinner is best when he's improvising with the crowd, jamming on an idea. He's sort of a jazz comic. Let go the dick jokes Frank and I'd come back with me grannie -even if you do old people jokes.


The Flying Dutchman, Opera Australian, April 1, 1997

The Flying Dutchman by Richard Wagner
Opera Australia
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne, April 1, 4, 10, 12, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert on April 1 1997.
For The Melbourne Times April 1997 (Palz Vaughan Editor)

Much of Wagner is notoriously long and difficult to sing but The Flying Dutchman is an exception with its odd eminently singable tunes akin to a cheeky Mozart. (Oh! Sacrilege!)

A pale, Nordic girl awaits the return of her sea-captain father and the materialisation of her fantasy-man, the mythical Dutchman. He is doomed to sail the seas eternally but every seven years, according to prophesy, he is allowed ashore to seek a faithful wife willing to die for his salvation.

The stuff of melodrama? Director Barrie Kosky has integrated all the best Sarah Bernhardt devices to accompany imposing horns and percussion during the tempest and the later romantic strings.

Kosky's Dutchman runs successfully sans interval and emphasises the menace of both ocean and myth and accentuates the sexual obsession of both Madchen and Dutchman. Both seek salvation from the frustration of a life and immediately recognise each other. She goes willingly to her destiny and he, nobly, tries to divert.

Michael Anderson's design indulges Kosky's loathing for naturalism by disintegrating and transforming an Ibsenesque living room. The seaport is an industrial set design and the stage is a picture-frame echoing the Dutchman's portrait adored by Senta.

John Wegner's velvet baritone and magnetic presence as the Dutchman are riveting and his monologue "Der Frist ist um" (Time is up) is moving. The superbly-voiced Elizabeth Whitehouse plays pallid virgin Senta passionately and bass, Donald Shanks, as her father Daland, is an enriching presence.

The State Orchestra of Victoria is tight, dynamic and perfectly in-tune, conducted by visitor, Gabor Otvos, with exceptional subtlety and control and obvious years of experience.

270 wds