Tuesday 26 August 1997

Camille by Vault Theatre, Aug 26, 1997

Camille by Vault Theatre
at The Herbarium Botanical Gardens until Sept 20, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Aug 26, 1997

Transposing a novel to film is difficult and requires editing. Transporting that screenplay to stage is a further artistic risk. Doing this sixty years after the original Hollywood movie Camille was made is taking a leap of faith with regard to the modern audience. Doing all of this to a movie starring Greta Garbo, a legend on screen and in life, is near madness.

Wayne Pearn, director of Vault Theatre, has done just this with his production of Camille which uses almost word for word the 1936 screenplay of the movie with a couple of additional speeches from the novel La Dame aux Camellias by Alexander Dumas jnr., from which the film is derived.

The movie is a lavish period romance starring a gorgeous Garbo as Marguerite, the consumptive Parisian courtesan and a very youthful Robert Taylor as Armand. It is difficult to compete with such exotica and, furthermore, such a budget.

The movie's pretty, sanitised version of decadent Parisian society is inappropriate for the 1990's, so Pearn adds some gritty realism in monologues by a prostitute, a misogynistic priest and Gaston's (Jeff Keogh) grubby jokes and story of a dead whore.

Marguerite (Reece Adams) has expensive habits and a rich Count to pay. She is 'neither respectable nor a virgin'. However, the under-funded Armand (Alan King) falls passionately in love with her and, finally, love conquers her; poor choice for a consumptive with no prospects and almost past her prime.

As the program suggests in its quote from Darwin, 'The forms, which stand in closest competition with those undergoing modification and improvement, will naturally suffer most.' Theatre cannot and should not attempt to compete with film on its own ground. The rhythms of a film are not transferrable to stage, particularly a promenade space with poor sight lines, spine-twisting angles and split focus staging.

The production has a narrow dynamic range and most of the performances are very mannered, self-conscious and on a single emotional note apart from some yelling from Armand Duval late in the piece.

Adams as Marguerite struggles with the difficult task of recreating Garbo's role. It was valiant to even attempt it. Louise Du Val (no relation) has authenticity as the insensitive costumiere, Prudence.

Music of the period enhances the piece but it cannot compete with Verdi's version of the story, La Traviata. Really, it was all just too hard.


The Way of the World, by William Congreve, VCA, Aug 26 1997

The Way of the World, by William Congreve
Victorian College of the Arts, School of Drama, until Sep 6, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around 25 Aug, 1997

After Charles II returned from France post-Cromwell, London was one big party. The latter part of the 17th century heralded a new era in entertainment during which theatres were reopened and plays became bawdy and satirical again and women performed.

Audience members could sit on stage and wreak havoc: heckling, smooching with their paramours and tossing tomatoes. Some even participated extemporaneously.

The VCA production of William Congreve's The Way of the World, directed by Robert Draffin, designed by Libby O'Brien, draws on these conventions but cunningly blends 17th Restoration Comedy and 20th century styles.

Congreve's characters are named for their follies. Lady Wishfor't (Rachael Tidd) plays the adolescent coquette at fifty and wishes for love. Her niece Millamant, or 'thousand lovers' (Miria Kostiuk) tantalises her retinue of lovers while Petulant is sullen and silent and Witwoud (Oscar Reding) a foppish wit.

The audience surrounds the performing space and is invited to dance to the live band prior to the show and is served champagne between acts. One witty inclusion is Petulant being a ventriloquist doll.

The ensemble of graduating students tackles a difficult period piece with relish under Draffin's capable direction. Some of the men just missıng the raw comic potential in the characters but the women are particularly strong.

Tidd is the highlight in a gem of a portrayal of Lady Wishfor't that is like Joanna Lumley meets Lady Diana. Kostiuk has 'Va-Va-Va-Voom!' as Millamant and Sophie Gregg prowls like as cat as Mrs. Fainall. Justin Smith is a great comic presence as the yokel nephew, Wilfull, and in a cameo as the maidservant Mrs. Mincing.

Draffin has injected a couple of modern songs into this Club Lounge environment that reeks of gaming dens and the superficial, delusory glamour of nearby Crown Casino. Actors engage directly with the audience in a way that was a convention of the period.

The world of the Restoration was decadent. England reacted like naughty children to its newfound freedom and the Restoration comedies revel in the conflict between intellect and desire. Congreve's Comedy of Manners deals with adultery, cuckoldry and plays with deception and affectation in his characters.

All present a false self to the world and are revealed to be duplicitous either for gain or as protection against their sneering aristocratic 'friends'.

Kate Herbert

Visions of Poe by Michel David Treloar, Aug 26, 1997

Visions of Poe by Michel David Treloar
 Christ Church St. Kilda until Sept 20, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Aug 25, 1997

 The master of Horror long before Stephen King was American poet and short-story writer, Edgar Allen Poe. His style was Gothic, spine-chilling imagery provoked by sublimely colourful and evocative language.

Michael David Treloar, a graduate of the VCA Drama School, has leapt, polished boots and all, into Poe with a solo performance integrating his writings. Treloar locates the piece in a church that provides an immediate design concept and other-worldliness impossible to achieve with a theatre set.

The design elements he does introduce are effective. Ceiling-high scarlet velvet curtains, a bolt of red taffeta, a heavy Victorian chair, table and candles all enhance the sense of impending doom inherent in Poe. The delicate life-size doll adds a surreal edge to images of loves lost or murdered.

Treloar selects two poems, a ballad 'Annabelle Lee' and 'The Black Cat', a horror story of the drunken husband who entombs his wife's murdered body in the wall of his house with the couple’s tell tale cat.

He punctuates the performance with verses of 'The Bells', accentuating the onomatopoeic language that reverberates with the increasingly tormenting bells. His least successful selection was the story of a masquerade ball but he follows with the skin-creeping gruesomeness of 'The Black Cat'.

Poe's rhythmic form and percussive rhyming style is never more insistent and successful than in 'The Raven', that infamous bird of doom "which quoth 'never more' " as it perched on the door of the narrator, mad with grief for his lost love.

Treloar has excellent technique that supports his performance in the not inconsequential task of creating a solo show without the aid of a director - or a net.

He creates compelling images with his body in conjunction with Kathryn Anderson's dramatic lighting and has almost flawlessly mastered Poe's blindingly difficult Virginian accent and uses his resonant voice to great melodramatic effect with Poe's language.

Treloar takes his performance seriously. His playing is relentlessly fraught, intense and tortured which sometimes tilts into the earnest and indulgent. There is little irony in his use of Victorian histrionics and posturing and, particularly early, the focus is on his technique leaving one strangely unmoved by the horror and preoccupied with his method as an actor.

However, it is a commendable and generally absorbing production from a talented young artist with some spectacular text by Poe.


Saturday 23 August 1997

Mass by Arena Theatre , Aug 23, 1997

Mass by Arena Theatre 
Universal Theatre 1 until Aug 30, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Aug 22, 1997

 If Mass were on TV, it would be preceded by warnings, 'Some violence, Sex scenes, Language, Adult themes.'

It is titillation for teenagers. Director, Rosemary Myers, in the second of Arena Theatre's anthroPOP trilogy, stimulates the senses with huge screen video projection, amplified live techno-music, verbatim Vox-Pops and snap-shot characterisations.

 All elements are designed to key into the sensory and social context of the 90's teenager. One can hear the echo of teenage voices: 'The videos were grouse.' 'A giant inflatable baby. Cool!' 'Excellent techno-music.'  'Sex in a photo booth. That's gross!'

The narrative, thin as it is in a production that focuses on other dynamics, derives from an interviewee's answer to the random survey question, 'When have you most felt like an animal?' She describes a casual sexual encounter with a complete stranger in a photo booth on a railway station.

What follows, we must presume, is intended to demonstrate that random actions have far-reaching consequences. In this case, pregnancy, fraught relationships and a custody battle over an unborn child.

 Daniel Crooks video is a potent, frenetic collage of images, data and text that parallel the dialogue.  Stylish visuals by Myers and funny dialogue from characters portrayed by Fiona Todd and Bruce Gladwin are effective and Band of Hope's music provides an edgy background.

Mass runs at breakneck pace but reaches no clear destination. It proposes to investigate mass communication and conformity but inadvertently celebrates the juvenile communication of two adults behaving like tantrum-throwing children. Perhaps other survey questions, "What is the most important relationship in your life?' and 'When have you felt most alone?' might have provided more substantial content. 

This hack may be hooked on old Theatre-in-Education philosophy but what message is this sending? Younger teens might miss the metaphoric and ironic. Older youth could handle more complex analysis of character and theme.

They may simply hear, "Greed is good. Casual sex is hilarious.  Anything and anyone can be bought.' This is not Arena's intended statement but the primary message is blurred. "What happened?" said the 8-year-old behind me at the end.  I didn't know either.


Thursday 21 August 1997

The Three Sisters, Hildegard, Aug 21, 1997

The Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov
Hildegard at Theatreworks until Sept 7, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Aug 20, 1997

Oh happy days for Chekhov lovers! This week Melbourne-Moscow hosts  – accidentally – twin productions of his classic, The Three Sisters, A.K.A. The Six Sisters or Three Sisters Squared.

Hildegard Theatre Company has a reputation for doing exotic theatre integrating text with music and dance but, in this version of the Sisters, the movement and music are, rather, interpolated amidst the text that is primary. This was surprising but not disappointing.

The sisters Olga, (Angela Campbell), Masha (Bagryana Popov) and Irena (Samantha Bewes) spend their trivial lives in a rural army town in Russia, grieving for their dead father, pining for Moscow where they lived happily until their father removed them to the country after mother died.

Director, David Latham highlights the sense of 'open house'. Officers, civilians, family and friends trail through their museum-like rooms and miserable lives day and night, winter and summer. Everybody 'philosophises' and carps about lost dreams and broken promises. They live in the golden past, complain about the present and hope for a better future in Moscow - or in love. Years pass. Nothing changes. Nobody leaves.

This is a fine ensemble of actors. Campbell brings a vibrancy and stillness to the often stolid Olga and Bewes allows Irena's naivete' and brightness to tarnish as she becomes more jaded. Popov is appropriately languorous as the self-centred Masha. As the manipulative and tasteless Natasha, Caroline Lee is delightfully shrewish and hateful.

Latham keeps the play bouncing along at a cracking pace, always maintaining a state of dissatisfaction and discomfort amongst the population. The humour of Chekhov that glitters amongst the melancholy, is honed to a playful or satirical edge.

Jim Daly as the drunken old Chebutykin, the laconic Greg Ulfan as the stirrer, Solyony and David Wicks as Kulygin, the pedantic school master, all play the dialogue the jokes with excellent comic timing and delivery.

The dialogue emphasises the ecstatic and the melancholic in the Russian temperament. Chekhov had a cruel honesty and a warts and all gaze on all his characters.

The piano (Izabella Mougeraman) and balalaika (Yuriy Mougerman) and strains of Russian song provided a lyrical atmosphere and Peter Long's gorgeous painted scrim is a gift for Paul Jackson's evocative lighting.

The piece could have allowed more silence, pauses and further detail in the characters or relationships. It skipped like a stone over the surface in parts. But I'm being picky.

By Kate Herbert

Saturday 16 August 1997

I Only Want to Be With You- The Dusty Springfield Story, Aug 16, 1997

I Only Want to Be With You- The Dusty Springfield Story
 devised by Terry O'Connell Comedy Club 
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Aug 15, 1997

My neighbouring table at The Dusty Springfield Story had travelled from Adelaide especially for the show and a Melbourne weekend. Now that's dedication.

 The eight of them had a ball, doing the Hitchhiker, the Swim, clapping in time and singing along with Wendy Stapleton and The Stayawhiles.

 Stapleton plays the Diva Dusty in a 60's wig- and costume-fest, the wackier outfits being designed by Laurel Frank. The list of hits is peppered with self-narration, some schmaltzy filler and interesting anecdotes about her childhood, early career with her brother (who wrote 'Georgie Girl') and her eventual image change.

Dusty's hits were manifold and Stapleton gives them new life with her rich and powerful voice. Hers is not an impersonation of Dusty's voice but the tone and style are accurate. She is engaging and warm to the audience who loved her. Her performance is relaxed as only a seasoned professional can be. This show has toured for two years and still has energy and life.

Dusty's hit song list is formidable but the Bert Bacharach/Hal David songs are my favourites: 24 Hours from Tulsa, The Look of Love, This Girl's in Love with You, Anyone who had a Heart. If a song made her weep, she recorded it.

She reveals her struggle to overcome her past as little Mary O'Brien, who looked like a librarian, and to maintain her stage persona as 'the blue-eyed soul singer' as the U.S. dubbed her.

Gossips will relish snippets about Dusty's alcoholism and drug abuse and reputed homosexuality.  She is an icon for gay men and women. The patter has oblique references to lesbianism: "I followed the women's tennis circuit", and later more specific references to her sexual preference.

Musical director, Robert Gavin has wonderful arrangements and is a significant, unobtrusive presence at the grand piano. Backing vocalists, The Stayawhiles, choreographed by Alana Scanlan, have fab voices, lame' minis and the best legs outside Carnaby Street.  Their medleys set the context for 60's U.K. and U.S.

Director, Terry O'Connell, keeps the pace up apart from some dull early patter and utilises Alistair Fleming's set that includes slides of Dusty at various stages of stardom and decline.

If you were there in the 60's or you're a retro aficionado you'll love this show. The Finale, 'You don't have to say you love me' is hot.

By Kate Herbert

Friday 8 August 1997

The Popular Mechanicals, Aug 8, 1997

The Popular Mechanicals by Keith Robinson, Tony Taylor
 Shakespeare Mudfest
At Dancehouse until August 16, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Hebert around Aug 7, 1997

Acting badly is easy. Pretending to act badly is really difficult. Performing a parody of a Shakespearian comedy that requires comic actors to satirise bad acting is near insanity. Such is the bravado of a group of Melbourne University students as part of the Mudfest.

The Popular Mechanicals is a witty send-up of the "mechanicals" or tradesmen   who rehearse and perform 'the very tragical story of Pyramus and Thisbe' in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream.ˇ

Writers, Tony Taylor and Keith Robinson have integrated the original scenes from The Dream with some hilarious backstage Amateur Dramatic Society antics of the characters from the play. They draw on numerous comic styles ranging from Flanagan and Allan vaudeville routines and stand-up comedy to musical comedy chorus lines and puppet play.

The Am-Dram references abound and anyone who has ever rehearsed a classic with an amateur drama club will recognise the rigid artistic hierarchy, theatrical ignorance, waspish behaviour and poor acting of its members. The group's mindless adoration of a ring-in professional artiste from London is a scream, particularly when he is revealed to be a drunken hack with an ego the size of the MCG.

The text is fast and funny if a bit too camp for some tastes. It emphasises word plays and confusions, utilises linguistic and theatrical anachronisms and gives an after-life to these well-loved characters in a simpler manner than does Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, but he was adapting from a tragedy, not a romantic comedy.

This student cast, directed by Simon Day who also performs, give the play their all. They are enthusiastic, lively and obviously having a great time that is the whole point of student drama.
There are a few moments that are in tune with the fast and furious slapstick of the play. The shark puppet aqua-ballet to Strauss is one and the comic business in the background of the Pyramus and Thisbe story is a hoot.

The problem is that the whole piece needs to pace up and cues need to be tightened. Much of the comic 'lazzi' or slapstick is laboured. The cast miss so many of the stylistic allusions and have such limited clown skills that the production is no longer a parody but an example of its comic target.


Are You Evil Tonight? by Daniel Lillford, Aug 8 1997

Are You Evil Tonight? by Daniel Lillford
La Mama until August 31, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Aug 7, 1997

Pub. Herald Sun – Robin Usher ed.

How good it is to see a piece of theatre written, directed and acted with wit, truth and subtlety.  Are You Evil Tonight? by Daniel Lillford is just such a play.

Lillford continues his love affair with the dusty Texan desert in this play that has reverberations and reprises of themes and characters from previous plays. He uses isolated locale to examine under a microscope the twin-headed god of good and evil.

Like his beloved western movies, Lillford's good guy is also a bad guy with a heart and a spirit but his guy in the black hat or, in this case, the deputy's tin badge, has a black heart.

Tammy (Carolyn Bock) runs a truck stop way off the beaten track. She has no company except for her no-hoper brother, whom we never meet, and Joe (Chris Wallace) a Comanche tracker who is hunting a rogue coyote who is eating his goats. Tammy is single and lonely but not so desperate that she would marry Dan, the redneck deputy (Simon King).

Enter Matt, (Jeff Kovski) ex-marine who arrives on a motorbike carrying a secret and destined to become the good-bad guy who falls for the good-bad girl.

Lillford weaves magic with his narrative. His dialogue is pithy and laconic. He creates an atmosphere that is both evocative and provocative with its violence, bitterness and edginess. There is sex and love and fantasy to balance the wickedness of the irrational violence of Dan. The heat and dust of the Texan day and the chill of its night are palpable.

All four performances are three-dimensional and beautifully paced. Bock is like a wild Texas rose in her brittle, vulnerable portrayal of Tammy.  Kovski's stranger is wonderfully defensive but passionate, guarding his secrets jealously. The wisdom and irony of Wallace's Joe is a delightful foil for the other characters and King is artful in his brisk characterisation of the repulsive Dan.

There is another layer that is an allegory for Australia. Writing about Texas highlights issues of abuse and appropriation of land by invaders. The Native Americans are not alone in their confusion about whites believing they can own the land.
This is Lillford's swansong before he leaves us to live in Canada. Someone should have grabbed him before we gave away one of our finest locals. Farewell!


Tuesday 5 August 1997

Samson and Delilah, Saint Saens, Aug 5, 1997

Samson and Delilah (Samson et Dalila), composed by Camille Saint-Saens, libretto Ferdinand Lemaire
Opera Australia State Theatre August 2, 7, 9, 11, 13, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert on Aug 2, 1997

In Camille Saint-Saens' opera, Samson et Dalila (1857), Sam is a hero, Delilah a vengeful whore. Misogyny rules. O.K.

Samson, a lusty thug, rescues the Jews from Philistine slavery. His weakness is his taste for women – lots. The Philistine, Deliliah, disguises vengeance on her former lover as religious zealotry. Her High Priest believes she does it for Dagon, a Philistine god with a name like a pesticide.

Lindy Hume's production focuses on two marvellous voices. Georgian tenor, Badri Maisuradze (Samson) has impeccable control and a rich, subtle tone. Bernadette Cullen's (Delilah) warm mezzo is a fine complement.

Samson succumbs to the 'femme fatale' Delilah who discovers, for her High Priest (Gary Rowley), the secret of his strength. He is blinded, incarcerated, humiliated until he begs God for the strength to destroy the temple and the enemy.

Richard Divall conducts the State Orchestra with distinction. The First Act's sonorous tones echoing the enslavement of the Jews, is musically the least interesting but Hume's opening image of chorus high behind huge scarlet walls, is spectacular, if too brief.

Much of what follows remains unsatisfyingly static, relying on John Gunter's design for visual interest. The final act is more impassioned visually and musically, with focus on Philistine revelry and taunting of Samson.

Unfortunately, the static staging does nothing to enhance the limited acting. Maiduradze is not credible as the heroic Samson, although Cullen plays a stately Delilah. It is a passionless depiction of a relationship built exclusively on lust. The earth doesn't move for anybody except the delightfully sultry dancers who represent all their inner life.


Sunday 3 August 1997

These Foolish Things & Trapped, La Mama, Aug 3, 1997

These Foolish Things by One Toe & Trapped by Trudy Hellier
at La Mama Thursday July 31, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Aug 1, 1997

Pub. Herald Sun – Alison Barclay
The second evening of La Mama's Birthday Theatre marathon was a double bill. The more successful of the two was Trapped by Trudy Hellier (from Frontline) a slick half-hour script with a clever plot and witty dialogue.

A young woman (Hellier) finds a new flat mate (Sally Cooper) for her house that has a fabulous view - of Pentridge and its inmates. The two women develop a strange mutual obsession with their two special convicts who take turns to view the women's ordinary daily activities and fantasise.

The old hand crim (Marcus Eyre) has wangled a new cellmate (Jerome Pride) who is an explosives expert. He is planning an escape to be with his fantasy girl while his bomber pal gets hooked on the new gal next door. She, in turn, eventually does not leave the house at all, in case he misses her.

This is a quirky narrative with well-observed and economical dialogue. In spite of being a reading rather than a full production, the performances by all four actors were uniformly strong. The slight adjustment in the twist at the end in this draft of the script is much more effective than the earlier version.

These Foolish Things is light entertainment that works in part because of the naivete of its style. A man has sneaked into his ex-wife's apartment to check if she has kept mementos of their life together. When she finds him they relive moments.

The two animate funny little objects, toys and memorabilia - their 'foolish things' -to tell their story. One funny scene is the toy suicide. Teddy teeters on the edge of a table then dives. A Banana in Pyjamas totters off after him followed by Barbie. A crowd of tiny footy trophies cheers.

A suburban-style slide show of their travels draws us in while we share chips and anecdotes with them.

 There are problems with an incohesive structure and a confusion of styles. The naturalistic and serious relationship form does not gel with the other more successful and wacky style and, for most of the piece, the actors remain trapped behind a table cluttered with paraphernalia.

There is a gaucheness and charm about this show's unadorned amateurism. The form and style may be scrappy and the performance level limited, but it is sweet and fun.


Sodomy & Cigarettes by Stephen Sewell, Aug 3, 1997

Sodomy & Cigarettes by Stephen Sewell
 Melbourne University Mudfest until Aug 9, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around 2 Aug, 1997

There is a fine tradition of political theatre that confronts contemporary social issues and challenges government. Agit-prop (agitational propaganda) was an innovative and colourful form popular in Britain in the 60's and 70's but we have our own heritage.

Sodomy & Cigarettes by Stephen Sewell is such a play and its blatant criticism of the Kennett government is heightened by being performed on a university campus, once the site of heated political activism.

The term 'didactic' is positive in this context.  There are references to Casino, selling off state utilities, building deregulation, police corruption, cuts to welfare, hospitals and education. The problem in this production lies not in its intention but in the execution of its political commentary. Sewell is inclined to over-write and his political diatribes need editing.

The text is a chaotic collection of styles and scenes in a 70's patchwork. Uni revue satirical sketches (Sale of the Sanctuary) are intercut with songs, scenes and a narrative about Jeff Canute (Nick Virginis) our "much-loved' Premier and his counterpart, a corrupt Chicago mayor from 1941.

This is an unflattering portrait so it is no wonder, in these times of arts censorship, that State money was withdrawn from the project.

Evocative and provocative songs in the style of Kurt Weill and the Berliner cabaret of the 20's alternate with some wonderful cameos, a feature being Angus Cerini's John Howard who whimpers, ' I have a mandate." Helen Gagliano has a glorious voice in the chorus.

Director Kim Hanna has done a fine job with this youthful ensemble and Richard Jeziorny's epic design of a fallen temple is a visual treat.

Most scenes are satire but there was one truly theatrical scene. A woman's nightmare of cannibalism is counterpointed against voices from the stock market. This simple theatrical juxtaposition comments on a society that is devouring itself by focussing on market rather than human issues.

 In many other scenes this point is laboured.  The piece is entertaining but often incoherent and unwieldy and some scenes make no sense at all. Robespierre and Saint Juste appear twice but the analogy of the French Revolution becomes clumsy and disconnected. References to philosophers Didera, Heideger and Descartes are used but are obscure.
Sewell questions whether theatre can effect social change but I suspect this play merely reflects it after the fact.


Footprints in Water by Matt Cameron, Aug 3, 1997

Footprints in Water by Matt Cameron
at La Mama until July 20, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Aug 2, 1997

Matt Cameron's award-wining play, Footprints in Water, highlights prejudices and breaks social taboos by creating characters who are vile representations of all the worst 'isms' in our culture: sexism, misogyny, racism, fundamentalism, dogmatism, monotheism and a streak of homophobia.

Christian fanaticism struggles with promiscuity, Buddhist philosophy is set against the Bible and the Foreigners against the Local. As Noel the shoemaker-preacher says, 'Repression is what separates us from beasts.

The narrative involves six fraught characters who all live in a village which protects itself from outsiders. Noel's (Aiden Fennessy) church is atop the hill, closer to God. He is building a boat to escape the plague God will send. He pedals his bike and his religious pedantry down to the village daily, avoiding the brothel.

His assistant Errol (Jim Russell) is slow and is having sex with Lena, (Elise McCredie) the wife of Gunter, the brothel-keeper (Jerome Pride). The other two character are Edie, (Annie Finsterer) a virginal 'whore" and 'the Sobbing Woman' (Christen O'Leary) who is trying to empty the river. The ensemble is excellent.

Footprints is riddled with disturbing images, stark and horrible moments of abuse. Jerome Pride's brothel-keeper is, frankly, terrifying in his restrained perversion and violence.

Cameron's characters and dialogue are colourful and Peter Houghton's direction vigorous and inventive. Houghton heightens the festering darkness of the narrative with stark lighting. He keeps actors on stage throughout, lurking in corners and behind a forest of upright planks designed by Paul Jackson.

Houghton has introduced another deeply evocative layer in a live vocal soundscape that includes whistling, chanting, singing and dog's barking. It heightens the sense of impending doom and makes the space dangerous.

Cameron has explored an emotional depth that is less evident in his previous work. His characters are steeped in their own pain and prejudices. They do each other damage and they each have a wicked secret to guard.

Although it deals with dark issues of the human psyche, it is a very funny piece with a broad streak of Cameron's characteristic absurdity. On occasion he undercuts dialogue with gags but these only occasionally interrupt the flow.

Characters are manipulated like the chess pieces on Noel's board. They cannot escape their fates. They are like Jungian archetypes. What to infer from all this is not quite clear in the end but it a powerful and intense piece of theatre.


Saturday 2 August 1997

Legacy by Jack Hibberd, Aug 2, 1997

Legacy by Jack Hibberd
 La Mama at Carlton Courthouse until Aug 9, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert round Aug 1, 1997

Jack Hibberd has an extraordinary facility for fusing the poetic and the colloquial in language. He used this style in his masterwork, Stretch of the Imagination, and it is once again evident in his new play, Legacy, directed by Daniel Schlusser. 

Legacy is an abstract view of a family wake. Four siblings are in the family crypt to mourn the death, apparently by suicide pact, of both parents.  Mum and dad were obscenely wealthy and the pariah brothers, acting as a parody of the three monkeys, want it all.

Schlusser has kept the play contained in a space empty except for a couch, on which the men sit cramped, and armchair for Petunia, their sister. It is a study in the grotesque and the lewd: a black clown piece that attacks materialism and chauvinism, nationalism and racism.

 Hardwick (Burkett) is a racist capitalist dog, Warwick (Richardson) a mummy's boy and skirt chaser, Yorick (Hosking) a giggling follower. Petunia (Krape), as a woman and the only genuine adult, remains an outsider.

"Some families are beyond analysis" and this is one of them. They have a pecking order and Hardwick the banker is at the top. They function as a corporation and "Social Darwinism" is in operation.

Hibberd's ideas gallop and his language writhes and squirms almost out of our grasp. He interpolates literary and mythic allusions amongst the intentionally ordinary and pedestrian. The cast of four (Evelyn Krape, Michael Burkett, Peter Hosking, Damien Richardson) use his text alternately as weapon, seduction or for a rollicking good laugh. 

The simplicity of Schlusser's production allows the language and style to lead the piece. The performances are delightfully wicked and all four actors relish the naughtiness of Hibberd's earthy imagery.

Burkett plays the 'gnome", Hardwick as a vile rank-puller who governs the family 'corporation'. Richardson captures the infantile Warwick's desire for their mother's 'mummery-mammery-memory'. Hoskins' Yorick is the family pawn, the sensitive one. Krape balances the trio with a potent and 'womanly' portrayal of the betrayed daughter.

Schlusser's direction establishes a rhythm that works until it becomes repetitive, limiting the emotional range of actors and text.  Sections of short, clipped dialogue needed pacing up and the whole needed to explore a broader dynamic range. 

Moments of genuine pain and grief would heighten the comic elements but it is overall, an entertaining and well-crafted short play.


Friday 1 August 1997

The Tempest by Horned Moon, Aug 1997

The Tempest by Horned Moon
Merlyn Theatre until August, 1997

 NB This review was published in The Melbourne Times in Aug 1997
Much new and interesting Australian theatre emphasises the physical and visual. When this is applied to a dense text namely Shakespeare's The Tempest,  the company needs more than acrobatic skills to make meaning of the rich imagery embedded in the language.

The program notes for this production by Horned Moon, declare that it 'deliberately foregrounds the actor's body and their (sic) skills which realise the body as the site of theatrical meaning.' There are moments when the bodies serve the narrative, the text, the magic of Prospero and the intention of the play.

The design (Douglas Iain Smith) of massive earth-coloured cloth is evocative and flexible. One memorable scene was Prospero suspended aloft, draped in this gigantic cape and actors' entrances through gaping holes in the fabric ar effective.

This is a 'courageous' production in the sense that Sir Humphrey Appleby would use the term. It takes risks but they do not quite succeed. Miranda (Kate Parker)as a rough diamond has possibilities but she is played relentlessly as a simian creature.

Comic characters Stephano (Amanda Douge) and Trinculo (Sohie Raymond) as women is a novelty. Dunstan is a sweet-voiced Ariel but playing him as a semi-crippled sprite is an odd choice. His assistants are vsually exciting but intrusive as they scuttle about. There is far too much posturing amongst the aristocrats from Italy who look inappropriately  like catwalk models.

To use the program's words, this 'deliberately eclectic production' has lost 'itself in diversity.'