Saturday 25 March 2000

The Sound of Music, March 25, 2000

 Music and lyrics by Rodgers & Hammerstein, book by Lindsay & Crouse
 at Princess Theatre from March 25, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

For 40 years, The Sound of Music has been breaking box office records. This Australian remount of a new Broadway production, starring Lisa McCune, will be no exception.

The Rodgers and Hammerstein songs are inspired, despite Oscar being seriously ill when he wrote the last song, Edelweiss.  Will we ever again see the likes of such musical collaborations ?

It is almost impossible not to sing along with the title song, with the nuns solving "a problem like Maria" or the children singing "a few of my favourite things." R and H created the hilariously silly yodelling song, "Lonely Goatherd", and the youthful love song, "Sixteen going on Seventeen."

Howard Lindsay  and Russel Crouse,  who wrote the book, strike a delicate balance between humour and drama. They incorporate into the simplicity of the alpine life of the Von Trapp family and the nuns of the Abbey, the insidious march of Nazism into peaceful and fun-loving Austria.

The moment three enormous red flags, emblazoned with swastikas, drop from the roof and spotlights search the auditorium, the horror or Nazism is palpable.

My musical highlight was always "Climb Every Mountain". International opera singer, Eilene Hannan as Mother Abbess, with her rich, mellow voice, gives it the poignancy, dignity and drama it demands.

Lisa McCune is delightful as the ebullient Maria and the crowd applauded like seals her every move. Her voice is light with a good upper register but it is her charming persona which carries the role.

The fine cast includes John Waters as the stoic Captain, musical theatre celebrity, Anne Wood  as lovelorn Frau Schraeder, June Salter  as Frau Schmidt and ever-popular Bert Newton as the cheeky Max Detweiler.

The children charmed the pants off the audience with their fresh unaffected naivete as they learn to sing "doe, a deer or in the sweet "So Long, Farewell" But it is the nuns' chorus which wins the award for vocal beauty.

The orchestra, under Peter Casey, is impeccable and direction by American Susan H Schulman, balances comedy and drama perfectly and is complemented by Michael Litchefeld's  choreography. Heidi Ettinger's set captures the majesty of Salzburg, the Abbey and home and its alps which lower over the entire story.

See the show, hire the movie, buy the music - then sing it around the piano all night.

by Kate Herbert

Wednesday 22 March 2000

Butcher, March 22, 2000

By Matthew Crosby 
Actors' Furniture Group at Theatreworks until April 1, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Is it possible that a newborn infant bears the taint of original sin? Ar humans innately evil? Mat Crosby's play, Butcher,  is an abstract study of guilt and innocence, love and death, good and not-so-good.

Actors' Furniture Group works in the style of Tadashi Suzuki, a Japanese director with whom most of the company have studied either here or in Japan.

The method is to make both physical and vocal demands on actors and to focus on the internal "animal energy" rather than the intellectual exterior.

 There is, though, a surprising dichotomy in the play. The text is often confusing and intellectually demanding. There is little action on stage and limited dynamic or emotional range. The animal energy is still trapped in its cage at this stage.

The narrative involves Milos (Dean Linguey), a butcher, and his wife, Maeve (Lynne Santos) who run a butcher's shop during a war, probably somewhere in Europe in World War Two.
Maeve and Milos tilt in and out of vaudevillian comedy.

The story is linear but abstract with interjections from the devil (Glynis Angell)  and a Stage Manager (Ben Rogan). The SM is testing the thesis that humans are innately evil.

Crosby's text is poetic, often rich but also obscure in meaning. He incorporates purposely unfunny jokes. Life is comic-tragic. Music by Robin Cuming is evocative and well placed. The show could benefit from even more. A single song seemed too little.

The sparse set is barely lit. Actors emerge in slow motion from dark recesses of the cavernous space of Theatreworks.or appear in torchlight.

This is a confusing production that could benefit from a hefty edit. It could make a tight one hour play.

by Kate Herbert

Wednesday 1 March 2000

Face to Face, March 1, 2000

by David Williamson
Playbox at Merlin Theatre until March 18, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

If you have never participated in a "facilitated conflict resolution workshop", David Williamson's new play, Face to Face, may be a challenge and a surprise.

Ten people sit in a circle. One is the "facilitator". He is probably a psychologist. The other nine are all party to a problem. They may be victims or perpetrators. The conflict may be a workplace issue about harassment or pay claims. Or it may be a crime.

Whatever the issue to be resolved, the person on the outside, the convenor, needs to be exceptionally skilful at interpreting behaviour, diverting or channelling emotion and creating pathways of communication between those who are sworn enemies.

In Face to Face, Williamson has combined community conferencing, which is used in dealing with victims  and perpetrators of crime, and workplace conferencing. It is a happy dramatic marriage.

As Jack Manning, Guy Pearce is a cool, still point between nine personalities. He strikes a fine balance between observer and participator. Williamson's script compels Jack to comment on the procedures as well as steer the action. He is almost an onstage director.

Glen (Damien Richardson) is a slow-witted but cheerful young man who loves his job as a scaffolder even though all his workmates hate it. He is any easy target for teasing from his bored mates. However, Glen has a quick temper and, when he discovers he has been ridiculed by his workmates, he lets loose on Richard, (Chris Connelly) his foreman.

His boss (DJ Foster) sacks him. Glen goes berserk and rams Baldoni's Mercedes. Thus begins this juggernaut that could well drop him in prison.

This is a very strong ensemble.  In addition to Pearce's fine work, Richardson manages to be both engaging and maddening as the distressed and confused Glen. Greg Ulfan as the Serbian scaffolder, Luca, shifts imperceptibly from rigid negativity and anger to compassion. As Glen's mum, Gina Gaigalas is sympathetic.

Director, Aubrey Mellor, (OK) has kept the stage action simple and concentrated on emotional action. He places the single scene in a suitably scruffy, large room, designed by Judith Cobb (OK) with stark lighting by Michele Preshaw.

The justice system has warmed to community conferencing during this decade. There is increasing disenchantment in workplace and community. The only way out of the mire of human anguish is talk. Keep talking.

by Kate Herbert