Wednesday 27 October 1999

Certified Male, Oct 27, 1999

by Glynn Nicholas and Scott Rankin
at Athenaeum Theatre 1 until November 6, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Certified Male does not take itself too seriously. It does not try to knock down gender boundaries or educate men about sexual politics nor does it self-consciously attempt to give women an insight into men. It simply smirks at men and jabs us in the ribs with cute observations about male behaviour.

The play is directed slickly by Terry O'Connell and written by Glynn Nicholas and Scott Rankin. It is based very loosely, on ideas raised in Steve Biddulph's book, Manhood: an action plan for changing men's lives.

One old man, two middle aged man and one younger man, co-workers, go on a weekend retreat to rationalise staffing. ie to sack a few blokes. But it turns out to be a couple of days of self examination and weirdness.

Jarrad (Peter Hosking) is the executive director of the company. He invites, or should we say demands, the attendance of his three senior executives.

Alex (Glynn Nicholas), the wimp, is certain his wife will throw things at him. He goes anyway. The overtly sexist and silly McBride (Peter Rowsthorn) does not understand the impact of his actions on his wives. Yes. He has three.

Howard (Mark Neal) is younger and groovier but just as unhappy in single life as the others are married .We see the three fighting, sharing dreams, stories of loves and loss while Jarrad acts as a sort of Jungian/mythic Mentor.

They get drunk together and panic in private and public about being fired by Jarrad. Each receives a significant gift from and private chat with Jarrad. Each is as confused by their boss's unusual intimacy.

Jarrad challenges them with personal demands and a day of big game fishing which nearly kills them. These blokes don't dare say "No" to the boss.

All four actors bring their particular comic style to the characters. Hosking is commanding. Nicholas delights the crowd with his exceptional mime skills. Rowsthorn plays with his eccentric physicality and putty face while Neal is a cool customer with good comic timing.

The gags come thick and fast. There are songs and some terrific dialogue. There is no deep layering to the piece although it touches notions of mateship and love as well as the issue of taking it day by day in case your time on this earth is shorter than you think.

by Kate Herbert

Monday 25 October 1999

A Return to the Brink by Rodney Hall Oct 25 1999

A Return to the Brink by Rodney Hall, by Playbox
at Merlin Theatre until November 13, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

A country must reflect it own culture and history through its art. Return to the Brink is a valiant attempt to represent, on stage, one incident in our history.

Between 1838 and 1846, Governor Gipps (Paul English) sent to trial twice, eleven convicts and ex-convicts who slaughtered twenty-eight aborigines at Mile Creek. In spite of their confessions, all are acquitted in the first trial. Seven are convicted in the second.

Novelist, Rodney Hall, writes what is essentially a series of expository dialogues between powerful people of the NSW colony. They are the mouthpieces for differing viewpoints rather than actors in the central drama of either the murders or trial.

Gipps is serious, honest, efficient and compelled to institute British law: the elimination of the convict system, collection of land tax and the stopping of murder of the natives. Wentworth (Andrew S Gilbert), a landowner who values land and capital over native human life, opposes him.

Colonel Campbell, (Lewis Fiander) once an intelligent, coherent man, suffers Alzheimer's. He wants to see right done and knows that the army was responsible for the order to kill. Quinn (Greg Stone), newspaper reporter, is the voice of public opinion and Gipps' assistant Hooke (Simon Wilton) changes allegiances with the wind. Mrs Campbell (Jackie Kelleher) is the voice of the colonial wife.

The strongest scenes are late in the middle of the play when tension rises and we begin to care what happens. However, the "confession" of the colonel and the appearance of the escaped, guilty young officer(James Wardlaw) are never pursued.

Director, Bruce Myles and most actors keep the space as dynamic as possible but the characters are not three-dimensional. Paul English is a potent and emotional presence as Gipps, a man described as humourless. Judith Cobb's design, set in the round on a dried blood coloured wooden "O" evokes the bloody deaths of the natives.

The issues and premise of this play have dramatic potential but the didactic, descriptive nature of the dialogue interrupts any dramatic tension. It is unclear whose story it is, noone is changed in the process of the narrative and there are no surprises.

The peculiar and inappropriate final scene berates us with the reflection that we are all responsible. We do not need to hear the entire phone book of European names read out to understand this.

by Kate Herbert

Saturday 23 October 1999

Alive at Williamstown Pier, Oct 23 1999

 by Neil Cole
Beckett Theatre until October 2, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

"One thing having mania did was give more time to think about my depression." Alive at Williamstown Pier, Neil Cole's prize-winning play about his own experience of manic-depression, is both funny and moving. Does this make it a bi-polar play?

Dave (Ross Thompson) is an MP who cleans his car until it cannot be any cleaner - so he buys a new one. He sleeps only occasionally. During his mania, he dreams up elaborate and absurd schemes for his electorate, such as making the local bowls club into an RSL club. The bowlers revolt.

The play works because it is autobiographical. The experiences live because they are based in truth.  Dramatically, the second half is stronger. Dave's three weeks in a mental hospital take us on an emotional journey and provide us with a second substantial character, Mick.

Mick, also a manic-depressive, is an uncontrollable yobbo with a good heart. He heals Dave as much as any medication can. But his life is a tragedy.

Peter Hosking as Mick is a sympathetic and lovable oaf. He is the perfect foil for the twitching and confused Dave, who is played with great sensitivity and truth by Thompson.

The rest of the ensemble (Carole Patullo, Gary Files, Caroline Lee) performs with great humour and skill, a series of anonymous or thinly drawn characters.

Director, Ernie Gray, who performed in the 1997 production of the play, has kept the action moving swiftly and stylishly through the many scene changes. There is some accompanying light, live jazz and a very clean simple design of artificial grass, reminiscent of the bowls club that causes Dave so much trouble.

This is a play with great warmth and humour but its structure is a little awkward still, in spite of the rewriting. There is too much narration, particularly from Dave's psychiatrist. (Caroline Lee) These moments arise uncomfortably out of dialogue.

Dave's monologues to the audience provide some poetic insight but they could well be integrated into the dialogue to give the character depth. The doctor's speeches provide information about illness but give the actor little character development or relationship with which to work.

It is, however, an entertaining and funny play with a point to make about mental illness and its place in our community.

by Kate Herbert

Friday 22 October 1999

Nocturne for Lovers , Oct 22-30 1999

by Bruno Villien adapted by Gavin Lambert
 Fairfax Studio until 22, 24, 26, 27, 28, 30 October, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The stars of Leslie Caron's performance, Nocturne for Lovers, are Frederic Chopin's music and George Sand's passions although "lovers" is a misnomer for the prolonged and mostly non-sexual relationship between these two artists.

Sand, born Aurore Dupin in Paris in 1804, was a mother to the tubercular Chopin during their volatile relationship from 1838 to 1847. Even when he lived at her home in Nohant, Chopin referred to her as his "hostess". Now, there's a euphemism!

This performance is one of two Melbourne Festival vehicles for screen star, Caron. From Sand's correspondence, Bruno Villien adapted Nocturne into a play called Un Amour qui attend La Mort which is tastefully translated into English by Gavin Lambert.

The monologue, set during the period of her acquaintance with Chopin, begins with Caron in Sand's characteristic trousers with cigar and mannish gestures. She changes into more feminine attire to reflect Sand's acquiescence to Chopin's demands.

The great irony is that Sand was a radical feminist before the term was coined. She wrote and spoke publicly for the cause of the workers and believed women to be different but equal to men. She left her husband, had affairs with famous men including Delacroix and Flaubert, educated her children and wrote novels at night under the pseudonym of George Sand.

Why would such a woman choose a "narrow-minded, domineering" and childish artist as a lover? Anyone with the answer to this question would immediately reduce all gender argument to dust.

Accompanying Caron is piano virtuoso, David Abramovitz, who speaks no words but communicates volumes through exceptional musical skill playing 16 Chopin works.

Roger Hodgman deftly directs the relationship between the two characters, allowing Abramovitz's regal presence, simple poses and intense gaze to tell us all as Caron perches on a stool or sits quietly at her desk; sometimes it is a little too static.

Caron's performance uses the mimetic gestures of classical ballet that are melodramatic rather than dramatic. This, unfortunately, creates an appearance of artificiality in the genuine passions of Sand.

Sand was a human dynamo who believed she could not live without love but realised she could not find it in one man. What kind of life could she have in the late 20th century?

by Kate Herbert

Tuesday 19 October 1999

Home Sweet Home: Leonard's Last Hurrah , Oct 19, 1999

by Reg Livermore
at Comedy Theatre until October 30, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Leonard is back. He vibrates with vitriol and despair. Reg Livermore's alterego is incarcerated in The Twilight Home in Katoomba, sometimes chained to a verandah post so that he cannot bite the nurses nor tear off his clothes and terrorise the neighbours.

Leonard, who appeared in previous Livermore shows, is the featured character in Home Sweet Home: Leonard's Last Hurrah. He is now decrepit, mad as a hatter but still angry with everything and everybody.

 He is particularly irate about his wife, Gloria, who could not even bear to be in the same nursing home with him, his daughter, Nola, and her "poofter husband", Francis. Leonard has never heard of political correctness - luckily or there would be no show.

This, my first time seeing Reg live on stage, was like a bolt of lightning. He is versatile, individual and exceptionally skilful as a writer, clown and performer of song.  He has impeccable comic timing, perfect control, a colourful vocal quality and a profound sensitivity.

He inhabits his character totally, almost spookily. His interpretation is eccentric, his movement constantly surprising and his dialogue vivacious, scatological, lateral and poetic.

But it is the poignancy which makes Leonard so compelling. He is hilarious, outrageous and peculiar but his heart is on his sleeve so that we see and hear his pain as well as his hilarious belligerence. He may be an old bastard but he has been emotionally battered too.

Reg scampers about alone on the Comedy Theatre stage that is empty but for a single chair. He wears a scruffy 18th century wig and a brocade coat and stands in front of a screwy baroque wallpapered backdrop.

He babbles about his misogyny and the evils of feminism. He spits venom at the Sister Goodmede (Reg again), the nurses, nuns, his visitor and his dead mother. The only person he loved is his weak dead porcelain doll father..

Reg's final song, "Second Chance," is a celebration of his return to the stage. He more than deserves his Order of Australia for services to the Australian Theatre

by Kate Herbert

Thursday 14 October 1999

Jane Eyre, Shared Experience Theatre, Oct 14 1999

Adapted by Polly Teale, from novel by Charlotte Bronte, by Shared Experience Theatre
Melbourne Arts Festival 1999
At Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, October 14 to 23, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Jane Eyre is a gaspingly moving story. This adaptation for stage by Polly Teale and English company, Shared Experience, captures the passion, repression, anguish and joy of Charlotte Bronte's characters.

What is unusual about Teale's interpretation is that Mr. Rochester's (Sean Murray) deranged wife, Bertha, Harriette Ashcroft who is incarcerated in the attic, appears to reside within Jane Eyre. (Penny Layden) Even when she is a child in her Aunt Reid's (Joan Blackman) unhappy home, the wild, exotic and sexual Bertha is Jane's alter ego.

At the tender age of 10, Jane succumbs to a fit of rage against her cruel aunt. To overcome such unfamiliar, embarrassing passion, Jane metaphorically locks her lunatic self into the attic.

Teale and Shared Experience employ vivid physical metaphor to represent other relationships and notions that are so powerfully evoked through language in the novel.

Bertha crouches behind Jane, her arms and voice acting in concert with Jane's own. Jane twitches when Bertha slams against the door upstairs. She gasps with secret lust as Bertha writhes in sexual ecstasy and as Bertha swings her in a wild emotional hurricane.

This physical and metaphorical representation of the characters' inner worlds also applies to Rochester. He is accompanied by his huge, lusty dog, Pilot (Michael Matus) and unbridled horse. (Philip Rham) The male energy is palpable and his primitive Id surges uncontrolled into this formerly female environment.

Teale's direction is impassioned and stylish. She conjures a detailed inner an outer world through clever theatrical convention. This production suffers none of the usual problems of a novel clumsily spilled onto the stage. The play is enhanced by the rough-hewn attic design (Neil Warmington) as well as the evocative live cello (Philip Rham) composed by Peter Salem and lighting (Chris Davey).

This is a fine and versatile ensemble which plumbs the depths of despair and hilarity. Layden's interpretation of Jane as an ungainly, almost autistic creature is provocative while Murray prowls like a lion as Rochester. Matus transforms extraordinarily into dog, man and boy while Ashcroft creates a fiery other world in the dynamic Bertha. Hannah Miles, Octavia Walters, Rham and Blackman complete a cast of exceptional skill.

Shared Experience is a surprising recommendation for the adaptation  of fine literature for the stage

by Kate Herbert

Saturday 9 October 1999

Keene/Taylor Theatre Project: Season 9, Oct 9, 2000

Keene/Taylor Theatre Project: Season 9
Trades Hall, from Oct 9, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Daniel Keene is prolific. His short plays keep coming thick and fast and the Keene-Taylor Project is now into its ninth season.

Ariette Taylor again directs this latest series at the Trades Hall. The four pieces in this program are independent works but they are linked by an overall costume concept (Adrienne Chisholm) that has echoes of both a mediaeval mountebank troupe combined with a group of cockney Music Hall pearlies.

These images are not part of the content of the texts but rather create segues between pieces as well as random resonances within the mostly contemporary stories.

The first, Cordelia, is the only one that is not a modern piece. Malcolm Robertson plays an distracted and dream-like Lear who grieves eternally for his hanged daughter, Cordelia.

He carries a doll, her effigy, in a suitcase, as if he were a vaudeville ventriloquist. Robertson makes his grief palpable and Keene's poetic language acts as a slipstream between past and present.

Getting Shelter is the most successful theatrically. Bob Hornery plays an old geezer, a derelict and a thief it seems, who lies on his hospital deathbed which is the most comfortable place he has lain for many years.

His three old cronies (Laurence Bishop, Harry Haythorne, Jonathan Taylor) surround him and wait for him to reveal the whereabouts of his key, which may be the key to their loot.

Ariette Taylor uses the three men as a silent chorus. They prowl and fawn over the old bloke's body as he taunts them with hints about the key.

In River, Paul English gives his usual exceptional performance in this story of a young working-class man who abandoned his wife and son (James Priest) years earlier but is trying to re-establish contact with his boy. It is a series of episodes, the final being a disturbing glance at the drunken and raving man in his bed-sit with his confused son.

Dan Spielman performs the final play, Dog, with passion. It is a distressing snapshot of a psychiatrically ill boy in the midst of his crisis.

The songs that link the pieces, including the likes of "I Want to Be Happy", lend a poignant edge to the plays. Taylor has created a fine structure for the season that has a range of styles and some interesting themes.

by Kate Herbert

Wednesday 6 October 1999

The Business... As Usual, OCt 6, 1999

by The Business 
At La Mama at Carlton Courthouse until October 16, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The clowns are in government. So, what's new? It sounds like a post-election headline. However, in The Business... As Usual, it is really clowns who are running the country. The lunatics have finally taken over the asylum and it is really funny.

Kate Kantor, Clare Bartholomew and Penny Baron are the three members of The Business who are something like a Marx Brothers trio. except that they are women in bad suits and moustaches.

They are directed in the style of the French clown by John Bolton – a clown extraordinaire hmself. This is a charming political satire in which the three stumble and grumble, grimace and gambol on a stage which is empty apart from a few strategic pieces of furniture.

In fact, the furniture is very animated. Three swivel chairs that accompany three little bureaucratic desks,are the vehicle for a chair ballet danced to the Flower Duet from Lakme. A large, old kitchen cabinet, Built by David Murphy, is virtually a fourth character.

It beeps and flashes green lights, plays music, interrupts the petty bureaucrats' meeting, delivers the mail as well as morning and afternoon tea to the delight of the audience.

The mail features prominently in the story. Innumerable letters, which are stamped ominously with the word "WARNING", magically appear inside the cabinet. On opening, their bad news is accompanied by horror movie music.

These cowardly, incompetent pollies cheat their way into power by a simple audience gerrymander. The Prime Minister (Kate Kantor) is deceitful, bombastic and verbose. His Secretary of Defence (Penny Barton) is obsequious, nervy and bomb-happy. The Treasurer (Clare Bartholomew) is lazy, sneaky and a selfish, secretive cake-eater.

The show is riddled with plenty of comic "business" with phones, chairs, teacups, keyboards, post-it notes and a wine bottle. All three actors play instruments with great skill.

All three characters are impressed by their own position and power and are hilariously fatigued by answering the phone and opening mail. The Secretary of Defence starts a war in secret as if it was a video game.

The pay-off comes when the three are faced with the consequences of their actions. Suffice to say, they do what was recommended in the 1950's to avoid nuclear fall out: they duck and cover.

If you like physical comedy and visual humour, The Business really has the goods.

by Kate Herbert

The Author's Voice, Oct 6, 1999

 by Richard Greenberg
at North Melbourne Town Hall , until October 16, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Revenge is a dish best served cold. The gnomish character, Gene, in Richard Greenberg's play The Author's Voice, knows how to dish it out at the final curtain.

The grotesque Gene (James Benedict) was "rescued" from his life as a derelict writer by the handsome Todd (Nick Barkla). Todd is far from an altruist. He is merely interested in exploiting Gene's exceptional imagination and selling Gene's novel as his own.

Talent is evidently an aphrodisiac for his publisher, Portia (Cecilia Specht) who has none of her namesake's understanding of the quality of mercy. She is merciless to Gene and scarcely able to keep her clothes on in Todd's presence.

As long as Todd is quoting his/Gene's writings, his conversation is seductive to her. Neither she nor Gene who is locked in an adjoining room when she comes to visit, can understand why Todd keeps rejecting her advances.

The characters are purposely written without much inner life. They are visible to us as almost caricatures who represent notions for the playwright. Portia is a predatory money and man-grabbing creature. Todd is a shallow, cruel and pretty boy while Gene is a deformed and helplessly romantic artist.

Essentially, the themes revolve around the bizarre habit we have of associating beauty with positive personal traits such as goodness or talent.  Why should attraction be based on appearance when the beautiful may well be ugly inside?

The Author's Voice is a good short script on the page. This production goes some of the way to fulfilling its potential. David Paterson directs it with a crisp pace and spare staging. Specht captures the sexy boldness of Portia and Benedict is a suitably grotesque and miserable Gene. Barkla egocentric Todd is competent but he seems out of his depth at times.

But there is a layer missing. The style is very mannered which does not allow any genuine emotional intensity to emerge even from Gene in his torment.

However, it is a good 45 minutes in the theatre and the twist at the end is a wonderful pay-off for the story.

by Kate Herbert f

Tuesday 5 October 1999

The Sax Diaries, Oct 5-9 1999

by Peter Houghton
 at Fitzroy Gallery October 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

I was sucked in by The Sax Diaries' outrageously fraudulent publicity - but it was worth it.

The Sax Diaries is what quality Fringe Festival fare should be. It is performed in a non-theatre venue, it is an original Australian script, low budget, low maintenance with one actor in her nightie and two musicians. The set is a single couch and two cooking pots and the style is broad, abstract and hilarious.

It is also a huge hoax. The publicity informs us that "renowned travel writer, Petra Sax" wrote it, Rifsted Mifke adapted it, Rainer Schnauzer directed it and the visual component is by Helga van Vonstrom. It is listed as winner of the Ernst Schlagen Award at Ghent and the program quotes from a newspaper called "Der Junge". Even the first two performances were fakes.

It is all fraudulent and almost a mockery of experimental theatre. In fact, by Peter Houghton wrote it, Tom Healy directed it and the visual component is actually the sculpture garden of the Fitzroy Gallery. Fortunately, all components, including the "aural component" (music and live soundscape by Lucy Jones/Ross Mueller), are delightful.

Anne Browning is the sole actor. She is compelling as the fraught and hysterical Hausfrau who fantasises about the roving life of her friend, Petra. The woman is like a Toorak tart whose world revolves around her house, cocktail parties, gowns and her husband's affair with his secretary.

Houghton's script (He is ironically credited with "artistic stimulation") is clever and witty. The woman's mind hops, like a winged bird, from topic to topic. Thoughts collide, her inner world bleeds into her outer world.

Tom Healy has stylised the woman's action. He has even modelled her poses on female statues in the gallery courtyard. He establishes an irregular and fascinating rhythm with lyrical, fluid moments interspersed between frenetic action. It is a dynamic and stylish form.

Browning captures an enormous dynamic range, both vocally and physically. She gallops like a wildebeest then curls up like a lamb. Her performance is sensational.

This unique performance deserves an extended or return season. It's worth it. Fringe doesn't get any fringier.

by Kate Herbert

Sunday 3 October 1999

Terra Wilius by Will Anderson, Oct 3, 1999

At The Diggers' Room,North Melbourne Town Hall until October 9, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Don't kiss Will Anderson. He's got glandular fever. It's amazing he can stand up at all much less do stand-up comedy. Death wish?

Anderson is really funny and overwhelmingly charming, even with the teenage kissing disease. His brand new show, Terra Wilius, is peppered with frequent "I've been sick" excuses that are completely unnecessary.

The new material is built around Australian history, a subject that seems to have left the national curriculum entirely. The Diggers' Room, which hides out the back of the North Melbourne Town Hall, is the ideal venue.

It is the meeting room of the Armed Forces League, the organisation which competes with the RSL for amputation stories and jingoism. Anderson cleverly milks ten minutes of gags out of the Aussie flag, the armed forces memorabilia and an authentic sign which reads, "No Swearing in this Room."

Anderson has a rapid response time that is barely affected by his illness. Before he rolls headlong into the history, he preambles around TV game shows such as Catch Phrase and the mindless Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Eddie Maguire gets a well deserved pasting.

He paces like a caged lion, pinning audience members with earnest eyes and winning looks (and a far too seductive hand on the reviewer's knee!) as well as doing clever and socially relevant material. He has a go at the Aussie bloke and his homophobia then bumps into history again, managing to prove, by a circuitous route beginning with convicts, that 96% of the population is potentially bisexual.

He challenges our ignorance. "Does anyone know the name of the first Australian Prime Minister?" "Who wrote the constitution?" Through his comedy, he alerts us to our apathy and inertia. We might mumble, "Who cares?" but Anderson nudges us to feel guilty and a bit embarrassed at our disinterest.

He has a sharp intellect, an informed mind and a quick wit. I suspect he has more acerbic social and political satire up his sleeve, or in his little notebook. I also suspect that, more often than he would like, he succumbs to the lower common denominator of comedy because the laugh is quicker and louder.

 The average age and IQ of his audience would probably leap by tens if he upped the amount of sophisticated humour. He deserves a wider audience.

by Kate Herber

Saturday 2 October 1999

Up With Youth by Henry Lewis, Oct 2, 1999

By Great Escape Theatre Company 
at North Melbourne Town Hall until October 17, 1999
Melbourne Fringe Festival
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Up With Youth is part of the Fringe Festival but it is certainly not fringe-style theatre. Its content is not focussed on youthful angst, drugs or the millenium, it employs no "experimental" theatre conventions and features no young, hungry performers.

Written by Henry Lewis and directed by Simon Bell, it is an inversion of every unwritten fringe theatre rule. The UK-based company, Great Escape, celebrates Baby-Boomers. Three late 40-somethings reform their 1960's, silver record-winning band, The Delusions. We know they are deluded but it takes 75 minutes for them to realise it.

The new Delusions revive all the awfulness of the 60's, including flared jeans, cheesy songs and literal gestures to accompany lyrics. Strangely, 90's Boy Bands are still doing this. Will we ever escape the 60's? Have we not done enough penance?

The characters have left their groovy 60's days behind until Adrian's 49th birthday (Clive Marlowe). He has been "down-sized". and faces job interviews with smug young managers.

Pat (Laura Sheppard) is sick of her recalcitrant teenager, Derek (Tom Murphy) is sick of his gay clubs. Their mate, Marshall, (Tim Clyde) a moneybags marketing executive, sabotages their comeback in order to promote a Boy Band called Ozone.

The premise is funny and appeals to the older audience. The best moments satirise youth. The teenage daughter (Zoe Ellerton-Ashley) suggests mum's band should perform at fetes or on Red Faces. Mum weeps tears of joy when daughter threatens to leave home.

.The style does not, however, capture the 60's Carnaby Street feeling. It is like watching  70's dinner theatre , about the 60's, set in the 90's. It resembles an Amateur Dramatics Christmas panto without the Dame: the jokes are not very funny and the musical numbers are mediocre. And why is their major number a country music hoedown.

Original songs by Lewis include Do the Shoobaloo, Up With Youth and I'm Having My Life Now, which has some uncomfortably daggy lyrics such as, "It's time to be myself."

This is not to say that the cast do not work very hard to entertain us. The major problems reside in the writing and in the laborious direction.

by Kate Herbert

Friday 1 October 1999

Ninth Moon, Oct 1999

 by Daniel Keene Keene/Taylor Project

at Beckett Theatre, Malthouse  until October 31, 1999

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Playwright, Daniel Keene, is committed to unveiling, through theatre, social inequities. His collaboration with director, Ariette Taylor, has produced a cavalcade of characters in stories of the underclass.

These are often performed in non-theatre venues although The Ninth Moon is in a major arts festival and performed in a theatre. It deals with two escapees from what appears to be the middle class this time.

Dan (Dan Spielman) and Chloe (Chloe Armstrong), two teenagers from a nice school and ordinary homes, elope on Dan's dad's old Raleigh bicycle. They hole up in a single, dank room until Chloe, who is barely post-pubescent, falls pregnant.

The rather too articulate Dan chooses responsibility and lands a job on a construction site with a trio of workers who become his friends and mentors. (Marco Chiappi, Robert Menzies, Stewart Morrit) The three men initially function as a chorus of disapproval then, later, as a watchful trinity.

Taylor uses the scaffolding design (Adrienne Chisholm) to capture both the building site and the temporary and precarious nature of the lives of Chloe and Dan. They seem vulnerable up on the platforms, climbing like monkeys over the scaffold and reaching for comfort in each other's arms during their first lonely period of separation from family.

The Ninth Moon is particularly moving and funny in its first half. Keene's skill in reflecting the speech and concerns of these young people, is outstanding. With few words, he draws vivid pictures of the three workers. His dialogue provides a feast for this exceptional cast.

Spielman is passionate, surprising and detailed and Armstrong has a warmth and commitment to watch in future. Chiappi as a sturdy immigrant, is warm and funny. Menzies captures the rough Aussie beautifully and Morrit is the voice of paternal reason. Some ethereal music by David Chesworth enhances the atmosphere.

There is little dramatic tension in the second half. The drama of the pregnancy dissipates and the story stalls. The collision of Keene's two modes- poetry and realism - is less successful. Long monologues by the three workers are anti-climactic, interrupting the dramatic development.

The fall Chloe has early in pregnancy is never resolved, Dan's smart  mouth attention seeking is diverted into odd performance poetry in a pub. The promise of the first  half is never fulfilled.

by Kate Herbert