Saturday 30 May 1998

A Cucumber Called Rebecca , May 30, 1998

A Cucumber Called Rebecca by Five Square Metres
at Matteo's until May 31, 1998
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
 Reviewed around May29

Restaurateur, Matteo Pignatelli of Matteo's, is known for navigating a creative course in food service and his contribution to the Arts 2000 Dine Out week is no exception.

He wanted to stimulate all five senses of his guests so he called on Five Square metres, a theatrical improvisation group and Cosmo Cosmolino, a musical trio to accompany his stupendous five-course degustation luncheon menu.

While we plunged headlong into gloriously prepared and presented taste sensations cooked by chefs Raymond Khalil and Brendan McQueen, the 'theatrical 'chef, Michel-Pomme Hollandaise (Andrew Morrish) abuses his customers for their lack of style.

He berates his recalcitrant waitress (Sandra Pascuzzi), embarrasses a frumpy solo diner who awaits her tardy blind date (Clair Bartholomew) and keeps one eye on the seductive methods of his sultry wine waiter (Michael Hurwood).

Classical and gypsy strains of violin (Hope Csutoros), Cello (Helen Mountford) and accordion (Judy Gunson) accompany all of this.

The performers are improvising on a loose scenario that takes place, not on a separate stage, but amongst the real diners at table. The dining room drama escalates when the waiter does his sexy, latin dance and smears cream all over the dowdy object of his desire only to lick it off to a Piazzola tango.

Other diners were spattered with stray clots of cream. Matteo wanted us to be touched, to feel close, to be reached but not to feel invaded.

The unexpected guest at our table – a sharp-witted Q.C. with a taste for good wine and naughty stories – provided further entertainment.

The set menu, served with God's gift to wines, was divine. We began with a light sardine and smoked salmon terrine, then delicately flavoured sauteed prawns on a giant gnocchi with pesto, rich squab breast with duck liver, finely-textured saddle of white rabbit with olive and truffle tapinade, all followed by a cherry tartlet and coffee. Oh happy Sunday afternoon!

Matteo hopes to continue his crusade to bring fine art and food together with a possible monthly luncheon. He runs  "The Endless Lunch' annually with a debate on food issues, trivia contest and food and wine from lunch to the wee hours. What an innovative and personable host he is. Eat at Matteo's.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 27 May 1998

Tear from A Glass Eye, May 27, 1998

Tear from A Glass Eye by Matt Cameron
Playbox Beckett Theatre until June 20, 1998
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Reviewed around. May 26, 1998

"I'm sorry. I seem to have lost myself," repeats Titus Petra, (Peter Houghton) the lead in Matt Cameron's new play, Tear from a Glass Eye.

He is a sketchy character who is notable for his inability to feel. His portrait is empty. He is invisible.

The text is riddled with metaphor to colour his emotional numbness. Titus 'lives in his head' then discovers he doesn't have one. He cannot tolerate anyone 'getting under his skin' then he loses layers of tissue after severe sunburn. He awaits the impossible tear from a glass eye.

Cameron has experimented with an interesting abstract form that incorporates both the comic and dramatic. Scenes are introduced with repeated projected titles such as "The Mood Swing" and Lament of the Numb" and the ominous "Black Sun, White Sky".

Simon Phillips directs the production seamlessly and stylishly, capturing the dark foreboding of the literal and psychological landscape. It is enhanced by a sterile metallic environment designed by Shaun Gurton, dramatic lighting by David Murray and evocative original music by Ian MacDonald which shifts effortlessly from the whimsical to the forbidding.

The cast of five are a strong ensemble although Houghton seems, at times, a little constrained by the text and the limits of such an unemotional character.

The narrative is non-naturalistic. Both ex-girlfriend Iris (Christen O'Leary) and his parents (Monica Maughan, Bob Hornery) believe Titus has escaped on a plane after he ruthlessly set Iris alight with turpentine and a match. She lives with horrendous burns and somehow intuits that Titus' plane is about to crash and feels responsible.

But he lives, having avoided the disaster by giving his seat - 42A- and boarding pass to a Mystery man who is known now as "Mr. Petra", (Alex Menglet). Eerie disassociated scenes take place in the desert where the amnesiac Titus wanders aimlessly and meets Petra, his alterego.

Cameron's writing has a lovely ironic twist and poetic, rhythmic quality which gives texture to the dialogue. However, the metaphorical narrative is never quite resolved or clarified. The mystery man is not the only "mystery wrapped in a riddle."

Although it begins well, the script, like Titus, loses its way in the second half. Themes of indifference, rejection, abandonment, violence, absolution and punishment remain unclear and under-developed. It lacks the complexity and fully developed characters of Cameron's last play, Footprints on Water.

Kate Herbert

Monday 25 May 1998

Killer Joe, May 25, 1998

Killer Joe by Tracy Letts
Universal Theatre until June 14, 1998
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Reviewed on or around May 24, 1998

Would you kill your mother for the insurance? This family would.

Well, they would pay Killer Joe to do the deed then take the remainder that, we assume, could not be much more than $6,000 each; probably not even enough to buy a new annexe for their caravan home.

US playwright, Tracy Letts, created a seriously dysfunctional Southern White Trash family which director Adrian Butcher has successfully translated to the deep north of Australia. The design by Alan Surgener is a fine replica of a trashy trailer park site.

The production is compelling viewing and the style has a gritty realism that is offset by some very funny dialogue, absurd situations and troubled characters. It is unusual to see such realistic and disturbing violence on stage. Bloody make-up and clever stunt fighting are generally the realm of screen these days.

These are people who live in a moral vacuum, a world in which life is cheap, where you can sell your sister to pay your debts, hire a killer, demean your wife and beat your son.

 Surprisingly, Letts has written sympathetic characters, apart from Killer Joe (Steve Turner) who looks like a bank teller but is  a slimy and heartless misogynist looking for a virgin who is too dim to be manipulative. This he finds in Dottie the simple daughter of the family, played with sensitivity and humour by Kate Mulvany.

The production moves swiftly under Butcher's skilful direction. He has paid great attention to detail of characters and relationships and has accentuated the comic elements that heighten the shock value of the violence.

Performances are uniformly strong and actors work in a broad style. Jim Shaw is hilarious playing the father, Ansel as a gormless idiot. Jona Zeschke, as his son Chris, is credible as the classic loser who lost the farm literally and is now pursued by drug dealers. As his stepmother, Jo Wyndham as Sharla is suitably tarty.  Turner, as Joe, is ominously well mannered and dispassionate.

Letts has written a hit play reflecting his home state of Oklahoma. It has been performed in his new home of Chicago, in Sweden, Norway and London. The Australian production is produced by Diana Bliss and originated in Perth. It is a gripping night of naturalism.


Saturday 23 May 1998

Lucrezia and Cesare, May 23, 1998

Lucrezia and Cesare by Raimondo Cortese
 Ranters Theatre Theatreworks until June, 1998
Reviewer; Kate Herbert
Reviewed around May 22, 1998

A dubious fascination with sex and violence is the pivot of Raimondo Cortese's early play, Lucrezia and Cesare.

His character, Cesare, describes sex as "a despicable blend of tenderness and brutality." However, the play explores sado-masochism further than this.

This re-worked script, directed by Adriano Cortese and performed by Zoe Burton and David Tredinnick, is the fourth production of the play since 1992. Trapped in a half-lit cell riddled with bugs and vermin and without food or water, these two distant echoes of the mediaeval Borgia siblings rant, seduce and indulge their shared obsessions and sexual fantasies related to murder and suicide. The space is dangerous, their behaviour unpredictable and irrational.

Their relationship is built on repeated rituals in which they spit venom, abuse and curse one another. The opening, taunting monologue is reminiscent of Genet's The Maids who daily role play the demeaning and murder of their Mistress. The incest

Cortese's writing often wittily counterpoints poetic and the conversational language. It is often lurid in its imagery and he is faint-hearted about using the graphic and scatological.

Others of Cortese's works have been more successful: Features of Blown Youth has a raw, contemporary inner urban angst and Petroleum is a poignant study of two women who are strangers. Lucrezia and Cesare lacks the complexity of character development or narrative of these later plays.

The problems arise in the repetitiveness of its action. The two characters seem to go on no journey. Of course, it is cyclic and their days repeat themselves but this provides limited dramatic tension and dynamic range in the characters.

Burton is seductive and sensual as the tigress, Lucrezia. Tredinnick, in his inimitable way, finds a fine balance between the absurd and the terrifying in the Jack-the-Ripper-like Cesare. The design by Jaqueline Everitt complements the interesting abstraction of the direction.

In spite of its wild fantasies, its blatant seductions, its challenge of taboos and attempts to shock us with urination and excrement, the piece remains oddly cool and passionless.


Thursday 21 May 1998

Horizons & Kickin' up the Dust, May 21, 1998

Horizons & Kickin' up the Dust
David Williamson Theatre Swinburne University until May 30, 1998
Reviewed by Kate Herbert on or around May 20, 1998

In recent years, Australia has seen the rise of numerous successful aboriginal artists and companies in the mainstream theatre: Jack Davis, John Harding and Black Swan Theatre in Perth to mention some.

Until recently there has been no formal training in Melbourne for indigenous theatre workers but we are now seeing the first graduates emerging from the Swinburne University TAFE Small Companies and Community Theatre course designed specifically for aboriginal students.

With sponsorship from Next Wave, City of Melbourne and Australia Council, Horizons has been developed, under the direction of Peter Oyston, with continuing and graduate students .It is programmed in a double bill with Kickin' up the Dust by REM, an indigenous company from Wollongong.

The whole evening is memorable for its warmth and truthful storytelling. Horizons draws an interesting parallel between the First Settlement invasion of 1788 and a young aboriginal group who are illegally evicted from their house in 1998 to make way for a car park.

The cast's commitment to their story and the naturalness of their performances are the show's greatest strength. The level of skill is uneven and the structure very loose but the personal nature of the dialogue and the joy and ease with which it is delivered are more important in this context.

There are lively performances from Greg Fryer and Pauline Whyman but the highlight is a riveting monologue by 1996 graduate, Henry Goodwin. He speaks with great passion and eloquence to an aboriginal youth arrested for demonstrating. "We will take one day at a time, change one law at a time, reveal one crime at a time."

Kickin' up the Dust, directed Roger Rynd, features Maureen Watson as herself telling stories as an aboriginal woman coming to terms with her lot. She is supported on stage by Tanya Ellis who chats, prompts and paints, and by musician Mark Atkins who performs an exceptional didgeridoo piece, "Hitchhiker', which is a feast of uncanny sound effects.

This show has the same casual warmth as Horizons as it wanders through Watson's opinions and memories. She makes gentle political statements about women, aboriginals and power that only occasionally become didactic. Watson is hilarious and immediately creates an intimate relationship with the audience .her style is that of a stand-up comic and her gags are smart and funny.

The program of two shows is too long but it is a stimulating and colourful evening.


Monday 18 May 1998

The Club, MTC, May 18, 1998

The Club by David Williamson, by Melbourne Theatre Comany
 at Playhouse until June 13, 1998
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around May 17, 1998

If you can get the right blend of footy, jokes and blokes in the one piece of entertainment, you should have a sure-fire hit in Melbourne. Bruce Myles production of David Williamson's The Club has all the ingredients and a bloody good product.

The script, written in 1978, seems strangely contemporary. Its reference to "more than enough industrial strife out in the community" could be about our wharves. The central issue of buying and selling players has not changed, although the dollars may have increased.

The play may appear to be about football but it essentially exposes the power games played by men in their assumed positions of power: coach, president, vice-president and top player. The horror for the purists lies in the realisation that the real power lies with the general manager with his early rational economics principles and 'pragmatic', albeit secretive, purges of the club.

The play is a rollicking good night out. It is a laugh a minute with a cast including great comic actors such as Max Gillies and John Wood who does some wild, goofy clowning as Jock, a vain old hypocrite who unwittingly smokes hashish.

Williamson's earlier plays were better structured than many later works. The Club has a clever rhythm that keeps characters moving on and off stage in various duos, trios, quartets etc. The play demonstrates the worst of machismo, male bravado and vanity.  Characters shift alliances and status like the wind and Myles maintains the pace in spite of the odd patch of banal dialogue..

Rather than fully-rounded personalities, Williamson writes caricatures This allows recognisable footy-world stereotypes to romp unchecked. Some suffer from such two-dimensionality but generally the satire is effective. Many reflect real players who will be recognised by footy followers: the expensive recruit, the doped-out full forward. Others are just great football anecdotes told by ex-players.

Gary Sweet is both rugged and vulnerable as Laurie, the humourless coach whose job is under threat. In fact everybody is under threat from Gerry, the "oily weasel" manager, played with insidious plausibility by Jeremy Stanford.

Richard Roberts’ design depicts realistic clubrooms, complete with old players' photos and views onto the ground at dusk with clever lighting by Jamieson Lewis.

Anyone who pines for the days of football for football's sake will warm to the play's condemnation of money ruling sport - and you'll also get a laugh.


Australian National Playwrights' Conference 1998 -May 18, 1998

Australian National Playwrights' Conference
 1998 April 12 -26, 1998
 Reviewed on May 8, 1998 by Kate Herbert

It is bitterly disappointing to discover that you have been at the only Australian National Playwrights' Conference that has not had a memorable squabble. 

The April 1998 event in tidy and uninspired Canberra was a very tame affair compared to previous years in which the summing-up sessions, forums and dinners often deteriorated into a bun-fight. One young writer admitted demanding that Stephen Sewell and all the other domineering 'oldies' be pushed off in a boat.

Questions were, however, being raised in corners under cover of darkness and influence of red wine, about the direction the conference is taking. These included queries about a lack of consultation on the plays selected, the appropriateness of programming of incomplete scripts, the wisdom of selections based on regionalism or multiculturalism and the insufficient formal feed-back for the playwrights.

Previous years were more of a showcase for scripts that were in an advanced stage of development show promise or were by major playwrights who were commissioned by main stage companies. Each play is presented at the end of the fortnight as a rehearsed reading having been tweaked and re-written during the process of development with actors, director and a dramaturg to make suggestions for development of text.

Most years, at least one or two plays have subsequently been staged by a major organisation. This year demonstrates a new position that has its own problems.

Nine writers were selected in 1998. This year, several incomplete scripts were to be developed during, rather than before the conference. According to a visiting Australia Council representative, script development is a priority of the Literature Board.

Owen Love, an aboriginal writer (South Australia), came with a pile of research and a good idea about an aboriginal activist in the 60's. 
John Marshall's (Wagga Wagga) The Art of Straying was selected, but he and director Neil Armfield, switched trains on day two to work on a first draft of a wacky little farce.

Jill Shearer, the Brisbane playwright who wrote the very successful Shamada that went to Broadway, brought her prize-winning play Georgia about US painter, Georgia O'Keefe. It was re-worked but only the first act presented. 21 year-old Suneeta Peres da Costa presented a 10-minute radio play and an excerpt from a play in progress. Susan Rogers, a visual artist who, like da Costa, writes in prose-poetic form, arrived with a trilogy and left with a duology.

Sydney-based Australian-Vietnamese writer, Duong Le Quy, was the only writer who came with a completed written script that was rehearsed and presented in full to an audience of peers.

The marvellous and successful exception to the norm was Crying in Public Places, a group of four Melbourne women actor-singers who worked with dramaturg, John Romeril. This was a first for the conference. Group written work has not been part of its brief but so much of our theatre is now developed with ensembles or with an auteur-director, it would be a mistake not to define this as a contemporary play writing method.

Some clandestine queries pertained to the efficiency of play selection. Why have an aboriginal consultant on the board of directors (Noel Tovey) if he is not to be consulted on selection of appropriate indigenous material for development? Why does one need actors for unfinished or unwritten scripts? Would it not be more efficient to provide script development money for a writer to complete a draft before expecting actors to rehearse it? Of course, there will always be changes to text in rehearsal or script workshopping, but actors need to brought in at an advanced stage of writing.

Forums were productive with guests from Australia, Japan, USA and India haggled over writers' issues. But, unlike the Melbourne Playwrights' Conference, no resolution for political action was proposed. There is no formal forum for post-presentation feedback for writers and, although there is a Studio for new writers, there is no provision for experienced writers, other than the core nine, to develop work.

The conference is limited in the number of playwrights it serves. Perhaps more could be made of its national status and activities provided to encourage more middle-upper level writers to attend.

Perhaps playwrights and actors are all too accustomed to bad food and boarding school accommodation. Even this combined with the bland and bureaucratic capital city., were insufficient to stifle the muse. Writers still tapped away till the wee hours and actors kept on performing up until the traditional, last night satirical cabaret. Wish we'd seen a bun-fight though!

By Kate Herbert

Sunday 10 May 1998

Bonehead by Chunky Move, May, 1998

Bonehead by Chunky Move 
Merlin Theatre Malthouse until May 30, 1998

NB This review was published in The Melbourne Times in 1998

You can bet Luke Smiles felt a bit of a bonehead when he tore his metamucil-something ligament four hours before the opening night of Bonehead last Wednesday. But heck, nothing was going to stop Artistic Director Gideon Oberzanek launching Victoria's new contemporary dance company, Chunky Move.

In a courageous and very successful last minute dash, he selected three fragments of Bonehead: Nightmare, Soap and another, and presented an edited highlights show. Oberzanek introduced segments and with Byron Perry and newcomer David Tyndall danced Smiles'  roles.

Chunky Move is known for its innovation and fresh energy but this takes the cake. This season is a reworking of the company's original narrative-based show  but not even the ever-inventive Oberzanek could have anticipated this kind of restructure. It was exciting to see how he solved the problem.
His choreography is characteristically rigorous, vigorous and punishing. The distortion and contortion of bodies celebrates the ugly made beautiful. As Jeff Kennett said in his speech to launch the company, the work is always "provocative, innovative, daring and very, very physical." These bods are toned. Have you ever seen women with six-pack stomach muscles?

Nightmare is just that: a scary dream sequence. Women in underwear are tossed about like baggage and abused. A bizarre Frankenfurter creature of the night prowls about draped in fairy lights carrying a lamp perched over his head. Two men wrestle.  This is Punky Move.
Soap is a wildly funny comic book routine complete with "Thwack, Blam" foley effects and a remote-controlled knife-weilding Go-Go dancer. The soundscape by Supersonic is a knock-out. The last piece contains a graphic, often violent struggle between a man and woman to an almost pop sound track. This is Funky Move.

It was a treat to see this bare bones Bonehead. I'm looking forward to more.


Friday 1 May 1998

Who's Afraid of the Working Class? May 1, 1998

Who's Afraid of the Working Class? written by Andrew Bovell, Christos Tsiolkas, Melissa Reeves, Patricia Cornelius
Melbourne Workers' Theatre
Trades Hall Theatre until May 23, 1998
Reviewed by Kate Herbert on or around April 30, 1998

In an era when our definition of 'neighbours' is a television soap, a play about human isolation, self-absorption and the loss of community support is a tragic indictment of our system. The disintegration of the family and the 'every man for himself' behaviour has all but decimated our sense of community.

Who's Afraid of the Working Class? is a grim portrayal of contemporary urban life. It comprises a collage of loosely connected stories by four commissioned writers (Andrew Bovell, Christos Tsiolkas, Melissa Reeves, Patricia Cornelius) for Melbourne Workers' Theatre.

Of the 18 characters only four have jobs: two police, one prostitute and an insurance salesman. It might better be called Who's Afraid of the Workless Class?

MWT has generally developed light, funny, brazen shows that celebrate adversity with music and satire. In this moving and provocative production, there are laughs and music but the writers work on common themes about the disenfranchised underclass created by insensitive government policies and shrinking job market

We witness a desperate family who steal from each other and have secret lives.(Money: Cornelius) Two child runaways, whose mother has endangered their lives in order to keep her abusive boyfriend feature (Trash: Bovell). Two teenage of migrant families disguise themselves as private school girls to shoplift glitzy dresses. (Dreamtown: Reeves)

The most disturbing and potentially offensive characters are from Tsiolkas, a novelist now writing for theatre. The show opens with another grotesque monologue by a youth who has obsessive sexual fantasies about Jeff Kennett. (Bruce Morgan) Tsiolkas defies political correctness, making an aboriginal salesman the racist. (Glen Shea)

The writing is rich, provocative and often poignant and the splendid ensemble plunge into the emotional pond with commitment. As Reeves' shoplifters Daniela Farinacci, Maria Theodorakis are hilarious. As Bovell's runaways Farinacci and Morgan are a sweet and doomed pair of step-siblings yearning for a loving home.

Theodorakis, as the fraught mother, provides a bitter-sweet monologue about caring for a dying man. A cameo highlight was David Adamson as Reeves' pathological radio caller.

Director, Julian Meyrick has skilfully interwoven 21/2 hours of engrossing material with stylish cross-overs and swift scene changes. To suggest some editing would be picky. The whole is enhanced by discreet  lighting (Paul Jackson), simple design (Greg Clarke) and evocative music  by Irene Vela played by double bassist and cellist. This really is a fine and challenging work from the working class.