Tuesday 29 September 1998

Cyrano de Bergerac - as told by three idiots, Sept 29, 1998

Another review from last century for your delectation. This one's a mad, clown version of Cyrano. KH
Adapted from Edmund Rostand
La Mama at the Courthouse Theatre until October 17, 1998
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

If you do not know the original Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmund Rostand, you might know Steve Martin's film, Roxanne, based on Cyrano. A similar comic-poignant balancing act informs the style of Cyrano de Bergerac - as told by three idiots.

The idiots are three actors: David Adamson, Glynis Angell and Bruce Naylor who are directed by Alex Pinder. The three, according to the program notes, "share, perform and fight for all the roles" which allows the actors' own personae to be part of the performance.

As themselves, they bicker over their individual interpretations of the poet-fighter and vie for the privilege of playing the heroic, poetic, love-soaked Cyrano or, more to the point, who gets to sport his enormous, ugly honker.

Part of the play is classic clown with slapstick fight scenes, goofy caricatures and absurd references. These are interspersed with slabs of Rostand's fine text which is essentially poetic, romantic and, finally, tragic.

Cyrano has a reputation as a rabble-rouser, fearless soldier and fine poet. He suffers unrequited love of his pretty cousin, Roxanne. He finds himself in the invidious position of writing ardent love letters to her which are signed by Christian, a handsome young soldier beloved by Roxanne.

The dramatic, text-based scenes take precedence in the latter half of the 90 minute show and are poignant but less successful than the earlier idiocy. The clownery is often hilarious, although it could be pushed further to maintain its edge. When the energy drops and the voices and actions are too restrained, the show falters.

The director's balancing of the styles is awkward. They need to go further towards both the tragic and the comic. There are also some clumsy scene changes which cannot be covered by the trio singing prettily.

The ensemble is strong after developing this piece over a long workshop period. All three are charming and engaging and all have hilarious character cameos.

Naylor's loud brash servant woman is a hoot and Adamson as the evil, grimacing Comte de Guiche is suitably slimy while Angell, in several small roles, demonstrates her excellent physical clown skills; the more extreme their interpretation, the more effective the result.

This piece could benefit from tighter direction, further editing of the text and some more wildly over-the-top clowning. My gauge of their success became the giggles from the six-year-old in the front row. He loved it.

By Kate Herbert September 1998

Sunday 27 September 1998

INFECTIOU$, Sept 27, 1998

The 90s really had some mad theatre. Here's another archived review. KH
by Maude Davey and Marcia Ferguson
Lower Melbourne Town Hall until Oct 11, 1998

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

INFECTIOU$ is a psycho-pop-sci-fi-medical-satire with songs. Please explain? A megalomaniacal capitalist, Mr. Sphinx, (Karen Hadfield) employs medical researchers Drs. Pathology (James Wardlaw) and Drip (Jane Bayly), to isolate a world-threatening virus.

A patient called Infection (David Pidd) is turning into a chair. Yes, a chair. Claudia, a Fitzroy resident with a social conscience, (Maude Davey) is enraged by the insensitive, capitalist trend and laments her own fading empathy for the troubled: the losers, loners, street-people.

A granny in pink dressing gown (Marcia Ferguson) is losing her grip on this world and no-one seems to care - except her grand-daughter, Claudia. This ugly, impersonal world values the virtual and the lucrative above the actual and the personal. A 2-dimensional, screen queen (Pidd) coolly comments on the virtual versus the real.

There is a social and political message. We are infected with selfishness. We are blind to poverty, anguish, age and illness. Our sense of community is virtually(!) gone. Without a dollar value to society we are dispensable.

The script for this wacky show was written by Marcia Ferguson with Maude Davey, Madam of the Fringe, She Who Guides Us through the lurid halls of alternative theatre.

The six actors, directed by Melanie Beddie, sing, dance and quip their choreographed way through 90 minutes of goofy hospital cabaret, reminiscent of the television grotesquery of Let the Blood Run Free.

The narrative is interspersed with diverse, original music by Pete Farnan (Boom Crash Opera). The songs are the most inspiring and satisfying component, making their political points with pithy lyrics and big, live sound. Titles such as, "What will happen if nobody gives any more?" "I object. I'm not an object," " I want to be human,” "If money is a disease, I've got it," and " Give me a dollar or I die," reveal the whole story.

 There are a few weaknesses that do not affect the fun of the evening. There are too many narrative threads to be resolved. In the end, whose story is it? Nanny's? Claudia's? Patient Infection's? The humour sometimes relies on bad puns and under-grad jokes. If it were not for the quality of the performers it might be mistaken for the Uni Med School revue.

But this is an hilarious, lively, impassioned night of satirical humour which touches the bleeding, ugly core of our shallow world. We do not want to " get over the empathy thing."

 By Kate Herbert 27 Sept 1998

Wednesday 23 September 1998

I Cyclops by Robert McNamara, Sept 23, 1998

 I Cyclops by Robert McNamara
At La Mama until October 4, 1998
Reveiwed around Sept 23 1998

Cyclops is a sad old creature. He lives, blinded, on an island off Sicily with only his flocks for company.in the absence of his Cyclopian brothers.

American writer, Robert McNamara, in his comic-tragic monologue, I Cyclops, has extrapolated on the one-eyed monster who is encountered by Odysseus in Homer's Odyssey. The giant, before his blinding at the hands of the Greek sailors, is represented as a farcical figure who craves company, is a virgin and delights in the ambrosia given to him by the cunning marooned sailors.

William Gluth, directed by Malcolm Robertson, plays Cyclops as a scruffy, crippled grumbler wearing a tail coat and John Lennon sunglasses. He scuttles about the space, telling his tale of woe and bemoaning his fate. with only a table and chair to assist him on his journey.

McNamara derives his comedy from the pastiche of styles which works better at some times than others. There are snatches of Black American songs and characters, bad puns and witty references. There are some vulgar gags such as Cyclops' brothers being called Copraphilius, Necrophilius and Prophilaxis.

Gluth works hard in this solo show and has some high points, particularly when he plays the drunken Cyclops. His early nerviness gives way to a more relaxed and funny performance in which he more fully inhabits the giant, both vocally and physically. His comic timing is much better and his performance less mannered than in early sections in which he seems less connected with the character.

He peoples the stage with characters as he plays the group of smarmy, devious sailors as well as Cyclops and other incidental characters.

McNamara's text is patchy and wanders towards the end. There is a very odd interpolation of a court case in which "Dr. Cyclops" is tried by a Germanic judge who seems to resemble Freud. It takes a long time to reach the climax when Cyclops is blinded and there are unnecessary and unclear detours on the way.

Malcolm Robertson's direction keeps this one hour play simple and uncluttered. The tragedy of poor, lonely, blinded Cyclops is evident in the production although it could be milked further. the balancing of the grotesque,the comic and the dramatic is difficult but mostly effective.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 16 September 1998

Rising Fish Prayer, Sept 17, 1998

Rising Fish Prayer by Adam May
 Playbox Theatre Malthouse until October 3, 1998
Review Sept 17, 1998

It seems to be the week of the fish plays with Rising Fish Prayer at Playbox following hard on the heels of Shark Fin Soup at MTC.

The rising fish of Adam May's title relates to the unlikely return of fish to the polluted waters around the fictional Australian "Menzies" gold mine in Papua-New Guinea. Christian missionary style prayers have been the daily fare of the local villagers who have worked the mine for years under a tyrannical lunatic, Captain Melcroft.

When 50-year-old Ken Peterson (Robert Grubb) arrives to take over, he is unaware that his recent double by-pass, divorce from his wife (Janet Andrewartha) and his looming redundancy were a picnic compared to life at "Menzies".

 His dream escape to PNG becomes a nightmare. He faces a workers' rebellion, a closed mine and damning secrets about the death of his predecessor. He cannot escape without risking his life.

Here is a delightful recipe for farce and May, with director Aubrey Mellor, milks the culture clash for all it's worth. Characters are cartoon-like. Robert Grubb  plays Ken with a bluff, lovable coarseness. The dual-culturalism of Sam Tiko, his urbanised secretary, is played by a wry Theo Burns.

 The child-like Christian zeal of Ubuku, a uniformed volunteer who leads daily prayers, is a perfect foil to Ken's gruffness. Ubuku is played with relish by the adorable Kilori Susuve, from Playbox's co-production company, The Performing Arts Troupe of PNG.

Tiko is protective of his village and his daughter,.Sophie (Dobi Kidu) who has no respect for Ken because he, "Doesn't wear a uniform. Doesn't even make us pray." This is an indictment of our generally paternalistic relationship with PNG as is Sophie's fear of Australian men.

May's narrative is entertaining and potentially provocative but dialogue is repetitive, characters underdeveloped and some clunky dream sequences interrupt the story.

 Often the glib humour undercuts the more serious indictments of Australia's relationship with PNG: colonialism, economic exploitation and personal abuse. PNG forces are also criticised for hasty, violent action; shades of Bougainville.

This play was the winner of the Playbox Asialink Playwrighting competition in 1997. Its tropical feel is enhanced by an evocative lighting design by Philip Lethlean and sleek sea-grass set 
design by Trina Parker.

By Kate Herbert

Sunday 13 September 1998

Sept-Oct 1998 Shows in Melbourne

Sept-Oct 1998 Shows in Melbourne

Some of these shows also have reviews posted here from 1998.
  • Scissors Paper Rock, by Daniel Keene at Trades Hall Tues Sept 15 -27    
  • Bodysongs - The Fatman Tour at Theatreworks 
  • Calculated Risks Opera  Sept 19 -Oct 3 
  • Infectious Maud Davy et al, Fri Sept 25-Oct 11  
  • Alice is a Big Girl Now, Scott Felstead Sept 11-27, Nth Melb T Hall 
  • Cabaret of the Absurd ,at Theatreworks Sept 18 
  • La Mama, Ricefields installation Sept 15 -19               
  • La Mama, The Goldilocks Affair - An Opera,  Daniel Kahans Sep
  • Heavy Metal Hamlet, A Frank Production, St Martins Sept 30 
  • Wild Turkey Sept 30  at Cherry Tree Hotel Richmond
  • Conversations with my Father Saltpillar Theatre St Martins Oct 3-18   
  • Estimated Time of Arrival by All and Sundry Oct 1,  Lev 2 400 City Rd S Melb 
  • Dream Kitchen, Toni Lamond Universal Theatre Oct10 
  • So Wet, Samantha Bews Oct 13 8.15 N Melb T Hall

Wednesday 9 September 1998

Shark Fin Soup by Michael Gurr, Sept 9,1998

Shark Fin Soup by Michael Gurr,  MTC
Fairfax Studio until October 10, 1998
Reviewed by Kate Herbert on Sep 9, 1998

Michael Gurr has a couple of hits on his hands already. Sex Diary of an Infidel toured Australia to critical acclaim and Jerusalem won Literary Awards for Drama in both Victoria and NSW.

These plays and others in his repertoire address political or social issues. Shark Fin Soup, directed for the MTC by the deft hand of Bruce Myles, is more concerned with relationships and fate, making it more clearly focussed on character than issue.

This production is a really good night in the theatre. The characters are colourful and eccentric in spite of their inherent ordinariness. Performances are uniformly excellent and the writing is witty, often hilarious.

Vera Benn (Catherine Wilkin) is a famous clairvoyant who "sees" people's fates only by touching objects owned by them. She is married to Frank (John McTernan). Her daughter, Lucy (Tammy McCarthy) has abandoned her failed fashion design career to start an innovative restaurant called The Common Dish. Her partners are her ex-engineer and security guard boyfriend, Daniel (Paul English) and their randy chef pal, Ewan (Simon Wilton). The manifesto is, "just soup, bread and no bullshit"

Their lives seem newly hopeful, charmed, as do the lives of Alan (Kevin Harrington) and Rosemary (Alison Whyte) who are just engaged. But there is a creeping sense of doom. There are misunderstandings, deceptions, financial problems are solved in unorthodox ways. And Vera's heart disease requires a transplant. Things start to fall apart and despair replaces hope.

Myles has woven together the various lives by allowing scenes to bleed into each other. Characters remain on stage after their scenes are finished or hover behind the huge, transparent jagged triangles of Judith Cobb's startling set.

Wilkin is stately and considered as Vera travelling her uncharted path. English is a fine study of the crumbling of a pedant's dream.  Alison Whyte plays Rosemary, a delightfully familiar fast-talking salesgirl, with relish and impeccable timing.

Vera is the conscience of the play although this is not really followed through satisfactorily. In fact, the ending leaves many issues unresolved and most characters' journeys through the play remain unsatisfyingly incomplete.

The significance of Shark Fin Soup eludes me although soups feature in the menu of the cafe. However, the notion of luck, fate and future ruling lives is pervasive. Our dream castles are built on sand. Nothing is predictable - not even a human heart.

By Kate Herbert