Monday 17 August 1998

Crossing The Line, Part One, Aug 17, 1998

Part One of Crossing The Line Merlin Theatre until August 20, 1998
 The Look by Alexa Wyatt 
The Floating Girl and the Man Who Whirled by Jack Feldstein 
 Review Aug 17, 1998

The lure of screenwriting for playwrights is well documented. There is no brain drain in the opposite direction because there is no money in theatre – and no jobs.

Crossing the Line is a momentary lapse, the exception to the rule. Under the umbrella of the Melbourne Writers' Festival, actor-writer-director, Gary Files has put together staged readings  of five plays by established screen writers.

These two media, stage and screen, demand very different techniques from writers. Naturalistic detail and dialogue is generally demanded on television whereas, on stage, styles range from realism to the abstract and physical.

Screen writers, so often constrained by the requirements of television executives, can be excused for forgetting the skill of the actor and the versatility of the stage.

The first program is two short plays: The Look by Alexa Wyatt (E Street, Heartbreak High, All Saints) and The Girl Who Floated and the Man Who Whirled by Jack Feldstein (Head Writer, Brilliant Digital Entertainment) Both are directed by John Wood, famous for his Blue Heelers role but also a seasoned theatre performer.

Ailsa Piper (Neighbours) alone on stage, apart from a Narrator (Tony Rickards) reading stage directions. Marilyn, a comic-tragic figure, is running a training session for Estelle cosmetics. Piper is poignant and funny as Marilyn's prepared lecture slowly disintegrates into a tortured and embarrassing rave

She was the first Estelle girl, the lover of Monsieur Dupont the owner. She is a shattered, disillusioned, dislocated woman who has no identity without her beauty or her make-up.

The piece is cleverly written but too long for its content. It is reminiscent of the women's theatre of the 80's which challenged role models and female stereotypes.

Feldstein's play is clearly written by a very capable screenwriter but it is not a theatre script because of its rapid cinematic scenes, very involved naturalistic stage directions, specific locations, costumes, props and numerous extras.

It is a tale of two inner-urban, self-indulgent, angst-ridden Jewish artists (David Tredinnick, Fiona Walsh) whose fraught relationship involves tormenting each other about their bisexuality, jealousy, intensity, neurosis and their Jewishness.

If this were staged in an abstract form it could be an interesting performance piece but, at present, it is still a short art-film script.

Other writers to come are John Wood's The Subterraneans, John Misto's Gossamer and Snoop by Patrick Edgeworth.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 6 August 1998

Mechtron: Education from Womb to Tomb, Aug 6, 1998

Mechtron: Education from Womb to Tomb by Stefo Nantsou
A Brunswick Mechanics' Institute until August 23, 1998
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
 Review Aug 6

Our sense of Community is becoming a distant memory. We can bank by phone, shop on the Web, work from home. We change addresses, fear strangers, feel insecure in the workplace and are expected to be computer literate rather than simply literate.

Schools, at least, remained a community - until the State government hacked budgets, closed schools, sold sites, increased class sizes and reduced teachers. Free education is a thing of the past.

A thing of the very near future in 2004, postulates Stefo Nantsou in his community theatre play, Mechtron: Education from Womb to Tomb, is the nightmare of Educard. Educard is a hypothetical, computerised, centralised education system by which children, from birth, accrue points to pay for their future education. The poor suffer, the rich win.

Children work alone with a virtual reality program and a digitally recorded "Education Navigator": a teacher in old-speak. Learning is depersonalised. The only teacher who succeeds in Mechtron, is the cool, competent, detached Miss "T" (Nadja Kostich) who values technology more than human contact.

In the early time period of this story, '92-94, a primary school is threatened with closure, as were many schools in the 90's. (My local schools are now townhouses) Some teachers and families occupy the buildings and resist the authorities. Remember the violence at the occupation of Richmond High and the battle to keep Northland Tech. open to cater for the Koori population? People care about children's education.

Nantsou, with co-ordinator Steve Payne, developed this project with assistance from organisations including The Brotherhood of St. Laurence and The Victorian Council of School Organisations.. This team was responsible for The Essentials, the controversial play about a state politician/wife-beater.

Mechtron is a community effort. The cast has some professional actors including Kostich and Anne Phelan as the Headmistress but, in the tradition of the Community Theatre of the last two decades, most of the 26 performers are non-professionals. Nine or ten are children.

It may be didactic in its approach and message, but Mechtron is entertaining and challenging political theatre. We need more of it. When theatre stops questioning the status quo, it is dying. If artists continue to be militant and raise awareness, perhaps we can regain our sense of community and counter these impersonal modes of being.
By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 5 August 1998

Some Mother's Son, Aug 5, 1998

Some Mother's Son by Jill O'Callaghan
At La Mama until August 23, 1998
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review Aug 5, 1998

The attentive Gennazano Convent girls at Some Mother's Son, would be familiar with Irish Catholic references such as Christmas midnight mass and St. Patrick but it is unlikely they had any direct experience of mediaeval mummers play, Irish jigs and the IRA or Sinn Fein.

Written and directed by Jill O'Callaghan, the play, which is on the VCE Drama list, has a return season at La Mama that replicates the intimacy of a B and B in Ballymalone Ireland, complete with blazing fire.

But the warmth and cheer of the hearth is not echoed in its residents. Maura Kelly's (Libby Stone) husband, a member of Sinn Fein, was murdered in his armchair, in front of her son Diarmuid, (Joseph Clements) 27 years earlier. Diarmuid is now a member of the IRA.

To upset the apple cart, two Australian tourists arrive. Rene (Maureen Hartley) and her dead son Emmet's girlfriend, Therese (Kath Gordon) are on a bizarre quest to avenge Emmet's murder.

O'Callaghan's play raises issues about revenge as a solution to violence. When does the murdering stop? Can justice be achieved with the gun? Can we take the law into our own hands?

Maura's painful telling of her husband's murder is powerful. Another affecting moment is the midnight mass overflowing with victims: the baker's widow whose husband was roasted alive, two brothers, one's arm shot off, the other is knee-capped. It is a litany of crimes against humanity.

The pain of grief from violent death would make one mad and Therese's grief is near-deranged. The mellowness of Hartley is a good foil. Stone's Maura is somehow fragile while remaining earthy. Clements is a potent, brooding presence with an edge of danger and desperation.

Relationships become more complex as the protagonists become acquainted and one mother realises she cannot wreak further pain on another.

The dialogue is sometimes too informational, with unnecessary detail of landmarks, history and legends such as St. Patrick. It is also never made clear how and why the Australians decided on their target for vengeance.

The traditional Christmas mummers play about St. Patrick's defeat of Prince George is hilarious. The players improvise and romp wearing huge raffia condoms on their heads. A clever choice was to integrate the La Mama book raffle into this wacko scene.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 4 August 1998

Shows opening August 1998


Fri Aug 7 Steel City
Wed Aug 12  Bring on the Talent by Rosemary John Courthouse
Tuesday Aug 18 Third World Blues by David Williamson, STC at Alexander Theatre
Mon 17 -Thurs 20 Aug Crossing the Line Melbourne Writers' Festival Plays written by famous screen writers local.
Monday Aug 17  The Look and The Floating Girl and the Man who Whirled, both directed by John Wood
Tues Aug 18 Gossamer by John Misto, director Gary Files
Wed Aug 19 The Subterraneans by John Wood, director John Ellis
Thus Aug 20 Snoop by Patrick Edgeworth
Wed Aug 19 - Taking the Floor New  Short Works

Combo Fiasco, Aug 4, 1998

Combo Fiasco, at Capers Restaurant until August 22, 1998
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
REvie Aug 4 1998

"Hey! Let's do a show!" said three musical escapees from Phantom of the Opera. And so was born Combo Fiasco., a cabaret trio which has been wowing 'em in New York recently at the 88's Club.

If you like to hum along to a show tune, toe-tap to a Bacharach or Fats Waller medley or croon the odd Sinatra number, this is the perfect night out. It is a snazzy, colourful, low-budget music theatre show with good a la carte food.

Sharon Millerchip, who was a very fine Beauty in our Beauty and the Beast, teams with singer-pianist Shaun Murphy and musical director-accompanist to the stars, Tony McGill.

 The program is broad and lively. The harmonies are sweet and tight, the musical arrangements novel, satirical lyrics are clever, the choreography perky. The vocal arrangement on Rhythm of Life was spectacular.

All three have a warm presence and perform like show ponies.  They swap evening wear for lounge outfits after interval, lean over the baby grand as McGill tinkles the ivories and goof about with silly dance steps.

Millerchip's bright, versatile soprano is the vocal feature and is well supported by the two tenors. She is magnetic with has real star quality. If someone doesn't grab her for a major role when they return to New York for the Cabaret Convention, we'll be surprised.

Poignant ballads and bluesy numbers are peppered with funky show tunes and jokey songs. Bacharach's melodic Walk on By is teased into a choreographic satire. They relish the wickedness of Stephen Lutwich's song Beware of Soft-Spoken Men.

Phantom, which they all persevered in for two and a half years, takes a musical beating in their eight-minute parody. Millerchip is hilarious as a squeaky, tone-deaf version of ingenue, Christine from the hit show. Earlier, her rendition of I Wanna Be Rich, Famous and Powerful, was raucously funny..

The more serious songs include the tragic Games I Play (from Falsettos) and a cleverly combined version of Sondheim's salutary lesson for parents, Children Will Listen (from Into the Woods) and the 70's social commentary, One Tin Soldier.

This is a slick show with bright talented performers. Their patter is charming and effortless, their manner warm and natural with the audience and the segues between songs are smooth.

by Kate Herbert

Sunday 2 August 1998

Hotel Sorrento, Aug 2, 1998

Hotel Sorrento by Hannie Rayson
HIT Productions at Merlyn Theatre Malthouse until August 15, 1998
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review Aug 2, 1998

Australian expatriates are an odd breed. When away, they may complain about their adopted culture and defend their homeland to the death. On returning home, all that patriotism vanishes and home becomes parochial and uncultured.

In Hannie Rayson's very popular play, Hotel Sorrento, expatriatism serves not only as an escape from Australian culture but as an avoidance of grim family secrets.

The play focuses on three sisters who reunite at their family home in Sorrento after a death. Hilary Moynihan (Janet Andrewartha) has remained in Sorrento with her son (Samuel Johnson OK) and father, (John Flaus) running a cafe and being everybody's support since her husband died in a car accident ten years earlier.

Pippa (Christine Harris), the youngest sister, has returned briefly from her advertising job in New York. Meg (Celia de Burgh) has lived in London for ten years and her latest novel, Melancholy, has been nominated for the Booker prize. The novel is the pivot of their mutual antagonism. Its narrative and characters are clearly autobiographical, despite Meg's refusal to acknowledge this.

Rayson addresses not only expatriatism and cultural cringe, but also issues of love, loss and nostalgia. The ethics of plundering the lives of one's family for literature are questioned, as are those of intrusive journalism.

The writing is smart and the play well crafted with full characters and rich comic dialogue. My only quibble is that the revelation of the 'secret' is too rapid, rushing the play to a sudden end.

The performances are strong. Andrewartha is warm and poignant as the stay-at-home Hilary and de Burgh is suitably maddening as the hot headed over-achiever, Meg.

As her husband Edwin, Brian Lipson is the perfect meld of loving partner, intellectual snob and awkward Brit. The two non-family members, played by Jan Friedl and Ken Radley, provide us with outsiders' commentary on the family which is nonetheless biased by their own obsessions.

This production is directed by David Latham who was, ironically, responsible for Chekhov's Three Sisters last year. It starts slowly but gathers momentum after interval when the real conflict escalates and characters communicate more directly in the one location. The split stage of the first half leaves the narrative feeling disconnected.

Judith Cobb's design provides multiple locations with its old wooden pier and platforms. Real water on stage reminds us constantly of the sea that eventually takes one of this fraught family.

By Kate Herbert