Thursday 29 June 2000

Crazy Brave, June 29, 2000

by Michael Gurr
 Playbox at Merlin Theatre until July 22, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Let's face it. In Australia we have so little gross social injustice to fight. We have no war, no oppression, no military junta, no "failed businessman" holding the government hostage. So what do we protest about - and how?

Well, there is poverty, privatisation, corporatisation, political dishonesty, deforestation and global warming. In Michael Gurr's provocative new play, Crazy Brave, three "urban terrorists", (Alison Whyte, James Wardlaw, Fiona Todd) protest by playing grotesque but innocuous pranks on the moneyed classes of Australian society.

Jim (Brett Climo) has much more serious intentions. He wants to bomb them and he uses the naive and youthful pranksters to fulfil his objective.

Yet another character, Harold, (Bruce Myles) is an old school labour lawyer who was ostracised 30 years ago by his cronies and craves acceptance back into the lefty fold. Nick, a reputable radio journalist (Paul English), believes he is supporting the labour cause by revisiting old labour activists, including Harold, and recording their exploits.

Gurr's script raises more questions than it answers. His characters rail against injustice. None are able to make a dent in it. Two try to burn it away like an unsightly wart. In the end, nothing changes.

Gurr's characters are mouthpieces for a political statement. We do not engage emotionally with them so we remain free to debate. Gurr's intention in writing this play may not be crystal clear, but it certainly compels one to argue about our society and social change.

This is a very fine ensemble directed with style and finesse by Bruce Myles. He maintains the static nature of the text but gives it a sculptural quality by placing actors strategically around the space even when they are not in scenes.

Myles gives a delightfully enigmatic and magnetic performance as Harold. Whyte treads a suitably fine line between looney left and fragile bird. English is compelling as her abandoned husband.

The whole is set on in extraordinary abstract sunburst designed by Judith Cobb  with evocative lighting by Glenn Hughes . Sound design (David Franzke) and music (Andrew Pendlebury) provided a thudding, almost primitive bass to the narrative.

The conversations after the play circled around social change, leftism and definitions of 'conservative' and 'radical'. Do we have any radicals left?

By Kate Herbert

Shakespeare's Last Supper, June 29, 2000

 by Daniel Cassar
La Mama at Trades Hall until July 16, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Pirandello wrote Six Characters in Search of an Author. In Shakespeare's Last Super, Daniel Cassar has twelve characters in search of their playwright who happens to be Shakespeare. It is an effective theatrical conceit.

In this 90-minute play, we witness various unrelated characters from five of Shakespeare's plays, rambling aimlessly through a forest in order to attend a feast give by an anonymous "host".

A crazed Macbeth (Cassar) pursues Fleance, (Chris Kennett) the rightful heir to the throne. Macbeth is, in turn, hounded by three witches. (Candice Taylor, Sarah Nicholson, Megan Searle)  A belligerent Romeo (Michael Burkett) and his childish Juliet (Melissa Parente) try to avoid detection by disguising their identities.

The self-centred Hamlet (Craig Madden) attempts to seduce Juliet. Weak-willed Antonio (Andrew Thomson) travels with a domineering Portia, (Marian Haddrick) now his bride, and they meet their nemesis, Shylock. (Don Bridges) Puck (Darren Carmichael) taunts the lot of them.

The play is too long by about 30 minutes, but it has some clever dialogue, witty physical business and very committed performances from a cast of predominantly recent graduates. Three known professional actors appear amongst them.

Bridges as Shylock is powerful and Carmichael is a comical and acrobatic Puck. Haddrick's Portia is a fine shrew.

Cassar endeavours to address some interesting issues about the characters confronting their inner demons and facing the fact that they exist only because Will wrote them. The issues raised are never quite resolved and there is an even better draft of this play lurking within.

It would be satisfying to see Shakespeare and his creations deal thoroughly with their existential dilemmas and character flaws. Antonio and Portia's anti-Semitism has a potentially more complex texture. There is great potential in the fragility of the child bride and groom , Romeo and Juliet and also in the exploration of a spirit, Puck, who discovers he is a mere mortal.

The performances are good and the show has great colour, energy and a sense of ensemble. The pseudo-Elizabethan dialogue works most of the time although there is some clumsy non-Elizabethan grammar that clangs loudly on stage

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 22 June 2000

Giver of the Gift, June 22, 2000

t by Jess Kingsford
 Vagabond Theatre
at La Mama until July 2, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

In her quartet of short plays, Giver of the Gift, Jess Kingsford says she ants to present the audience with doubt and difficulty rather than the boredom of "truth". This objective is a response to Howard Barker's writings on theatre.

The fourth of the plays, The Gift of Life, comes closest to offering difficulty to the viewer as a theatrical element. This piece has far more dramatic tension than the other three. It surprises us more and has characters about whom we can care.

A man and a woman (Sally Lightfoot, Damien Pree) living in a futuristic world, take one another for granted to such a degree that they talk over each other, missing the most important snippets of each other's conversations. It is only when they are confronted with the truth that they do not hold the same views on children and they stop and listen.

We are touched emotionally in a way we are not in the other plays. This is not to suggest that the first three plays are not entertaining. They are warm and funny with simple plot lines. They do not, however, meet the writer's own challenge of providing us with doubt and difficulty.

Something and A Beautiful Thing are both period pieces. The first features Queen Elizabeth I, or Libby as her favoured cousin and adviser, Edward, calls her. The two are goofy and incompetent both emotionally and socially. It is a cute and funny piece in which Libby tries to give an entire county to Eddy who would prefer an army or even a wife.

A Beautiful Thing is a mild little Victorian English story about a young lover giving his darling a beautiful parasol he found abandoned by its owner. It's mood and style are similar to the first play. The actors are not able to create characters who differ from the first two.

A son buys his old-fashioned mum a television in The Box. Although the characters and story are stereotypical, it has suspense.

These perky little pieces are well-performed although the actors seemed nervous on opening night. Giver of the Gift is a bright and fun night out.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 21 June 2000

Truth and Brutality, June 21, 2000

by Jessica Lockhart
at La Mama until July 2, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The first thing one notices about Truth and Brutality is the elegant and beautifully designed set by Meredith Rogers. Second is the detailed  and compelling direction by Neil Pigot which allows the play to open mysteriously in silence.

The silence is followed by a live trombone playing in our ears in the midst of the audience. It is all surprising and immediately engaging.

Pigot takes Jessica Lockhart's rather standard duologue and weaves several layers of theatrical fabric through it. The result is like looking through a prism at the two characters. (John Sheedy, Kim Denman)

Without this imaginative direction, the play would remain cryptic and patchy. Lockhart's narrative is based on the premise that conflict creates drama. Hence, the entire interaction is angry, abusive, manipulative and barbed which pall eventually.

Lockhart uses plenty of literary allusions and writes some very witty and entertaining repartee, often focused on observations about gender differences. The woman is vain, staring into a mirror continually. She demeans the man's romance novel writing, belittles him and threatens to leave him.

At moments they read passages from his Mills and Boon novel which he pulls from the typewriter. Pigot, in his directorial debut, theatricalises the entire relationship, dragging it away from television naturalism into a peculiar and abstract isolated world in which these two are incarcerated.

Denman has an engaging, perky and provocative style while Sheedy maintains a nervous energy that works most of the time for this cowed lover.
The pair have a 'real' relationship in which they taunt and seduce each other, communicate by phone while in the same room and plan to go out to drink with friends.

They have a 'play-acting' relationship in which the woman pretends to be an acerbic and witty Dorothy Parker doppelganger and the man a working novelist. Finally they have a violent and deadly relationship in which one of them must die.

The journey of the characters begins when the actual physical danger kicks in. A glass is broken and one's nerve ending start screaming. Someone is going to get hurt. Sit in the back rows. The text gets more interesting now.

The look and style of this production make the script look better than it actually is. But, hey, theatre is a collaboration.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 20 June 2000

Customers by Robert Reid, June 20, 2000

Theatre of Decay
at Hotel Bakpak until July 1, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Twice in ten days we have been party to theatre in a bedroom. The Secret Room (IRAA) is one woman's intensely personal revelation performed in her own home. Customers, written by Robert Reid, is played in a bedroom of a real backpackers hotel in the city.

This necessarily constrains the performance space, restricts the audience to about twenty people and confines the design to the realistic.

As in Secret Room, there is a sense of audience as voyeur. We are not invited into the reality of the two characters, Claire (Telia Nevile) and Jerome. (Reid) Rather, we sit awkwardly on the edge of their bleak world which is framed by the four walls of the hotel room and the double bed on which they act out their fraught relationship.

This forty minute play is written and directed by Reid who also performs. It is an intimate investigation of a moment in the shared life of two young prostitutes.

The direction is appropriately simple  and the action happens in real time. Forty minutes is forty minutes in this room. There is no leaping from scene to scene, abstracting time and place.

This is not to say that the style is naturalistic. Reid's text relies heavily on metaphor and poetic dialogue. At times the literary quality of the words becomes cumbersome but most of the time it works.

The performances are relaxed and, most of the time, truthful. With an audience so close, it is difficult to disguise nerves or artifice. Nevile is less comfortable with the poetic text and both are inclined to rush lines at times.

These characters are ruined and ruin each other. They choose to meet daily in this seedy room but they clearly hate each other. We witness mutual punishment, decadence, lost innocence and a craving for affection that can never be satisfied in each other's arms.

The story has a circular, hapless quality that reflects the directionless lives of the pair of hookers. We know that they will do the same thing the next day - and the next - and the next.

Another novelty is the opportunity to get a close-up look inside the backpackers hotel .It exceptionally well appointed with bar, cafe, internet room, travel agency and comfy beds. Kids just don't know how to travel in discomfort these days!

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 15 June 2000

Front, June 15, 2000

 by Peter Houghton
Melbourne Workers' Theatre at  Theatreworks until July 1, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

In crisis people may reveal themselves in ways we never expected - or they may behave completely in character: simply, honestly, dangerously, deceptively, even self-interestedly. So it is in Front, Peter Houghton's play about the waterfront dispute in Melbourne in 1998.

Houghton was writing a play about the waterfront in '98 when he struck a dramatic goldmine. The Federal Government and Patrick Stevedores colluded with the National Farmers' Federation to sack members of the Maritime Union of Australia and replace them with "scab" labour.

This play, commissioned by Melbourne Workers' Theatre, focuses on the personal impact of the mass sackings on a group of men who have worked on the front for years.

The story glamorises neither their work practices nor personalities. Curly (Paul Bongiovanni) is caught concreting his back yard with "damaged" bags of cement lifted from the docks. Jerry (Mark Pegler) cruelly taunts the simple-minded Fido, (Luke Elliot). Grey (Ken Radley) beats Curly for his betrayal of the cause.

These are ordinary people with no ambition apart from making a good living from hard physical labour with a few perks on the side.

All seven actors are strong. Radley is a potent, unpredictable presence as the old-school unionist. Elliot finds a poignant naivete in Fido. Geoff Keogh is insidious as the scab labour employer. But the ensemble gets the gold star for its strong company feel that reflects the content. "The union makes us strong."

Houghton writes intelligent dialogue and structures the story neatly. He counterpoints witty banter with lyrical passages. The text is generally naturalistic but Houghton's own direction provides some satisfying and simple theatrical devices and inventive scene changes.

Music by Ross Mueller and Lucy Jones is unobtrusive and evocative and Paul Jackson's dramatic scaffolding set is enhanced by his atmospheric lighting.

The metaphors come thick and fast. The men play Monopoly in the slow patches, bickering over the theft of tiny Monopoly hotels. Gerry and Fido go fishing off the pier. The metaphor of big fish (bosses) eating little fish (workers) and little fish swimming in schools for safety, (union) is laid on a little too heavily.

The first half is the more successful. The second does not provide the full flavour of the Waterfront crisis, its horror and pain, and the community support it gathered. Perhaps trying to cover the personal and the universal was too much for one play.

By Kate Herbert
for 2 pages:

The Dam, June 15, 2000

by Johann McIntyre
La Mama at The Courthouse until July 1, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The great strength of Kim Durban's production of The Dam, is the performances rather than the text by Johann McIntyre. The actors work wonders with a text that needs some radical editing and rethinking of the narrative, characters and relationships.

Sarah Sutherland plays 12-year old Florence who lives an isolated and fanciful life on a property in Bacchus Marsh. Jenny Lovell is Martha, her agoraphobic mother who, fearing all males are predators, keeps her daughter at home for lessons. Joshua, (Mike Bishop) Florence's father, lives in the cubby house, eating his meals alone.

When Florence begins to venture daily to the dam on the property and to show an interest in Jesse, (Richard Cawthorne) a neighbouring lad, Martha is fraught.

The performers really shine and give the text their best shot. Sutherland finds a lightness and youth in Florence. Lovell brings a great warmth and truth to the role of her mother and Bishop is a strong physical presence in spite of the role of father being underwritten.

The design by Trina Parker is simple and evocative. Director, Kim Durban brings an honesty and truth to the text. One reservation I had was her choice to have Florence running in circles to create a sense of distance and escape.

This is a family barren of love, starved of contact and riddled with dark memories and secret pasts. The problem is that McIntyre keeps hinting at the mystery from the beginning to the point where we no longer care about it. We just want to get the information and get on with it. This is not dramatic tension or suspense. It is just frustrating.
The play lacks craft. The narrative is confused. It is never clear what, if anything, is in the spooky dam. There is a peculiar cross reference, in Florence's confused stream-of-consciousness monologues, to a black version of Michelangelo's David and a dead baby.

The Dam was McIntyre's first full-length play written in 1996. It might work better in a ruthlessly edited version as a short play. The dialogue is awkward and the poetic self-narration, particularly of Florence, is over-written while the style is incoherent and inconsistent.

Gruesome images of death, worms and incest,. in conjunction with surprise revelations do not create dramatic tension. This script needs intensive reworking.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 13 June 2000

Don't Dress For Dinner, June 13, 2000

by Marc Camoletti, adapted by Ron Haydon
 at Crown Showroom until June 25, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink. You need to see Don't Dress For Dinner to believe it. It is like a time capsule. Benny Hill still lives, I'm here to tell you!

In fact, perhaps he lived with the Carry On movie team and some old Panto dames and the mènage à trois wrote Don't Dress For Dinner. Are you getting the picture?

Lots of people laughed lots at the show. A Parisian man (Dennis Waterman) and his wife (Lisa Broadby) both hope to have a fling with their lovers (John English, Tottie Goldsmith) during a weekend at their country retreat which looks oddly like The Little House on the Prairie. The spunky little cook arrives (Sue Hodge) and everything gets silly.

Hodge, a UK TV comic, is a great clown with a rubber face and good timing. Waterman seems uncomfortable with farce while Broadby never wavers from one style of delivery. English has his moments but he is not believable as a sophisticated Parisian while Goldsmith is awkward in the bimbo role.

The script, adapted from a successful French play by Marc Camoletti, and the production directed by Peter Farago are a throwback to 60s UK TV comedies, 18 century French farce and the 15th century Italian Commedia del 'Arte.

From the 60s comedies, it borrows bimbos with big tits, tight bodices and short skirts, bad taste, sexist jokes, women as objects and sleazy middle aged men with too much money and a drink problem.

From French farce it takes - well, all of the above plus - double identity, secret rendezvous, illicit affairs, lies confusion and plenty of entrances and exits through five doors.

From the Italian Comedy comes (all of the above plus) lots of slapstick, spilt wine, drunkenness, falling over and a servant just like Harlequin  who is willing to do any deception for a franc or two hundred.

Oh, and there's pantomime acting too: work to the audience, pull faces, shout, laugh at your own jokes and hassle the audience if they don't laugh.

This is a very old-fashioned and frighteningly sexist piece of farce with uneven acting and loose direction.

If this is the style of comedy you like, please see it. Many of the audience laughed. I found it offensive and childish.

By Kate Herbert

Monday 12 June 2000

Fourplay by Jane Bodie, June 12, 2000

By The Other Tongue
 at Trades Hall until June 25, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Jane Bodie writes great dialogue. Fourplay zips along at a pace, peppered with laughs. The relationships between four characters are well observed, the play is neatly constructed and the ensemble is strong.

This company, formed by Bodie and Fiona McLeod, is developing a reputation for snappy comedies about 20-somethings.

In Fourplay, Alice (Bodie) and Tom (Ben Grant) face a crisis in their relationship or rather, they try to ignore it. Tom is rehearsing, with Natasha, (McLeod) a play about two people, both of whom have partners, who fall in love. Their own lust intrudes on the reeharsal process.

Meanwhile, Alice has a rewarding job as a care worker for a disabled woman. Her shifts coincide with another worker, Jack. (Adam Broinowski). He knows far more than he should about her life away from work. What follows is a simple but quirky take on the motivations of a stalker.

Fourplay is an absorbing and funny 90 minute play that strikes a clever balance between naturalism and the abstract. Bodie's dialogue is complex and credible, never underestimating the audience's capacity to fill in the gaps.

Characters are clearly drawn and the relationships maintain the truth of our messy, confusing human dynamics. We really are a silly breed driven by sexual urges and the absurd combination of a need for certainty as well as a desire for constant change and excitement.

There were gasps and horrified chuckles from the audience as they heard echoes of themselves in ridiculous arguments, moments of unbridled lust, jealousy or uncontrolled anger.

Bodie wrote the play for four actors seated. Slick direction by Bernadette Ryan forces characters into confined action in close proximity but with no eye contact. This highlights their dislocation and self-centredness.

When, finally, Alice and Jack really start communicating, they make eye contact and the relief as an audience member is enormous. There could be some further development of this relationship between Jack and Alice to make it more credible. It all happens very quickly.

There are some problems with sightlines for audience because so much action is staged on the floor at the front of the stage. However, this is an entertaining show with a romantic and satisfying link to the beginning.

By Kate Herbert

Sunday 11 June 2000

The Secret Room, IRAA Theatre, June 11, 2000

By Renato Cuocolo & Roberta Bosetti, IRAA Theatre
Tues to Sat from June 8, 2000
Venue revealed on booking. Available on net at
Bookings:  9349 5880 or
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

This must be a first. The entire audience of The Secret Room went for coffee together after the performance. Of course, the audience is restricted to seven.

There is nothing ordinary about this theatre piece. It may be inappropriate to call it theatre. We book by phone or email, then arrive at a secret address, actual home of actor, Roberta Bosetti and director, Renato Cuocolo.

We have crossed the boundary from public into private life. We are inside the actor's personal world, constrained by the formalities of the audience but liberated by the looser rules of our other role as dinner guest.

We seven chat perfunctorily in the front room, glancing at a mute video of Bosetti, aged eight. She serves us a fine two course meal in the dining room. Some are aware of the camera on us and the monitor that reflects our action. We are part of an internet transmission. We catch a glimpse of it on a computer in the bedroom later.

What happens during dinner must alter each night. Bosetti triggers bursts of conversations with snippets about, we presume, her own life. We talk about books, photographs, memories, childhood, religion and secrets.

We retire to the secret room and transfer into a more theatrical mode.  I will not reveal the content but it is exposing, sensual and sexual, frightening and tragic, personal and universal.

Interestingly, it echoes the content and form of Maude Davey's very personal show at La Mama this week.

Bosetti is able to make us smile and whimper in the same breath. Her performance and Cuocolo's direction are based in physical emotional style which demands enormous effort from the actor. We are so close. We wonder whether there is truth in the text (by Hélène Cixous, Karen Finlay, Holly Hughes, Peter Handke, Nadina Fusini, Bosetti, Cuocolo)

It is demanding and joyful, fun and challenging. It forces one to assess the nature of performance, the nature of femaleness and the depth of our secrecy in a world that demands we remain safe and protected.

The Secret Room is the first of a new Trilogy called Interior Sites by IRAA Theatre. It promises to push the envelope - even tear it.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 8 June 2000

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Bell Shakespeare, June 8, 2000

 by William Shakespeare
Bell Shakespeare Company
Athenaeum Theatre 1, until June 24, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The opening scene of Elke Neidhardt's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream suggests cheekily that we are in for an S and M version of this play about fairies and lovers.

The Athenian Duke, Theseus (Ivar Kants) has his reluctant bride on a leather leash which he tugs to control her like a recalcitrant pup.

The promise of a genuinely malevolent collection of characters is exciting but not fulfilled unfortunately. There are hints of darkness but the initial vision is diluted and confused as the play continues.

The story goes thus: two young me , Demetrius and Lysander (Wadih Dona, Leon Ford) love the same girl, Hermia. (Julie Eckersley). She loves Lysander but her father demands she marry Demetrius who, in turn, is loved by Helena. (Marta Dusseldorp)

The Duke threatens Hermia with death or the nunnery if she defies her father. Meanwhile the King and Queen of Fairyland are feuding and Oberon (Kants) enchants Titania (Jeanette Cronin OK) so she is enamoured of an ass.

In the woods, a group of dopey tradesmen rehearse an appalling play for the Duke's wedding. Got all that?

Nieidhardt makes some interesting and risky choices in addition to the tilt toward the grim and dark rather than the cute, bright and fairy-like.

Puck is cast and directed unusually. Frank Whitten plays him as an old and disillusioned Alice Cooper look-alike. This works at times but is often mistimed and awkward.

Neidhardt's other choices include portraying Theseus as a tyrant, rather than a loving, just Duke and Titania as silly and sulky. The stage seems to be dotted with psychopaths who do not always communicate well. At times it is fascinating. At others it is noisy and confused.

The notion that the woods are filled initially with anger and vengeance, but become peaceful and loving is not fully nor coherently developed.

There are some strong performances. Dean Atkinson as Bottom has marvellous timing and charm. and the mechanicals work well as an ensemble. Marta Dusseldorp is a perky and engaging Helena while Eckersley is strong particularly in Hermia's adversity.

Michael Scott-Mitchell's silvery geometric design refracts beautifully Rory Dempster's lighting and Jonathon Maher's music is the most effective atmospheric element.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 7 June 2000

The Pickle or the Pickle Jar, June 7, 2000

 by Maude Davey
 at La Mama until June 18, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Immediately Maude Davey informed me she was pregnant, I bet my fortune she would appear naked and pregnant on stage. This is the show.

And a damned fine show it is too! There is nothing gratuitous about her nudity in The Pickle or the Pickle Jar. It is part of her exploration of whether the body, during pregnancy, is merely a baby factory or still an individual?

Davey is surprised by her body and appalled by the world. This is a show she needed to write because the changes in the self and the worldview that accompany pregnancy are overwhelmingly inherently dramatic.

Davey thinks philosophically, writes poetically and performs truthfully. All material is from her observations of her changing physical and emotional being and the growing awareness of the horror in the world that her child will soon face.

The counterpoint of joy and horror, beauty and ugliness is potent. It applies not only to the body and self-image, but to the world at large.  Davey re-enacts sad little scenarios of junkies and children in the Safeway in Collingwood. The poignant humanity of all the stories is achingly beautiful.

The solo performance opens with a video of Davey shot some weeks ago. In it, she postulates about time and change. Next we see her naked in a bathtub but also live to video. When she hauls herself out of the tub we cannot help but be fascinated by the hilly details of the luscious motherly body.

Next, wrapped in a crisp white robe, she tells of friends who have altered their lives. One changed her name, another became a Buddhist nun and a third changed gender. What is certain in this world is that nothing stays the same.

Which self is the real self? There are images of Maude as man, (Luke Elliot) Maude as child (Rosie Pidd) or of Maude challenging social expectations of gender.

Davey challenges those who abrogate responsibility by saying, " I am just a reflection of the prevailing culture."

There is a charming story of two crows living in a lemon-scented gum. It speaks to the resilience of life, the urge to survive even when surrounded by obscenities.

The challenge is to us to listen and respond to this magnetic, profound and intimate performance.

By Kate Herbert

Saturday 3 June 2000

Wrecked Eggs by David Hare, June 3, 2000

Aquarius Productions
at Chapel off Chapel until June 25, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

It is always a pleasant surprise to stumble upon a good show when one is not expecting it. Wrecked Eggs is one of those in spite of its rather self-conscious title.

This production of English playwright David Hare's 75-minute play, is directed by David Myles at Chapel off Chapel. Hare's writing is always intelligent and witty. His dialogue is life a fencing match with rapiers poised but no blood drawn.

Conversations are tinged with unrealised menace and he leaves us anticipating disaster. He suggests that even the most innocuous and ordinary lives are riddled with unpredictability.

His plot tilts and writhes like some slippery creature. We never know where it might turn.

Robbie (Jeremy Stanford) and Loelia (Frédériqué Fouché) are a couple on the brink of separation, which in itself is a surprise to their single guest, Grace, ( Bernadette Schwerdt) to whom they seem the perfect couple.

Robbie and Loelia  have loosely invited guests for a weekend rite of passage  celebration of their impending divorce. Only Grace, a relative stranger, arrives.

Schwerdt must be one of Melbourne theatre's best-kept secrets. She is a charming dramatic and comic actor with a quirky look, intelligent interpretation and detailed emotional performance.

Stanford, known for his wonderful work in musical theatre finds a fine edgy charm as Robbie and captures his deception, jealousy, insecurity and conservatism.

Fouché  plays the naivete of his French wife and has a peppy style but, as yet, she has not found the depth or truth in the role.

The open, split-level staging and rather noisy flooring do not enhance the show. Myles could have contained the piece in a more intimate, confined stage space to explore the intense an claustrophobic atmosphere. The actors are forced to pace about the large space to fill it. However, this is a very satisfying night at the theatre.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 1 June 2000

Skipping by Trudy McLauchlan, June 1, 2000

 Lunchtime Theatre
at Trades Hall  until June 30, 2000 ( 12.10 & 1.10pm)
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

It is astonishing how an artist can leave her individual imprint on a show. Director, Maude Davey has left her identifiable fingerprints all over Skipping by Lunchtime Theatre.

The signs are as much her personal trademarks as those of her theatre group, Crying in Public Places. In Skipping, we see and hear à capella songs, female voices, intimate stories told directly to audience, moments of stillness and quirky physical performance ideas.

Davey's signature, if it may be defined, is a blending of voice and body with a natural presence. This is how she has directed the three women in Lunchtime Theatre's most successful piece for some time.

Amanda Armstrong, Natalie Carr and Jocelyn Evans are on an empty stage underneath a beautifully rendered and lit metallic image of The Skipping Girl who used to cavort on top of a factory in Richmond. This was a Melbourne icon that should never have been allowed to be removed.

Writer, Trudy McLauchlan, gives the three actors stories to tell us about modern romantic love, if the terms modern and romantic may be used in the same phrase.

Her writing is brisk and often funny and the stage collaboration between writer and director is strong.

Only the first story relates to Skipping Girl unfortunately. The next deals with Barbie being responsible for little girls' presuming they would be blissfully happy as adults.

Others relate to married men who lie, dates who cancel, seemingly blissful marriages. There are some good gags about pulling the petals off daisies. "He loves me. He stands me up" The final story is the best - and it's about goats!

The songs are pleasant and the three women are competent singers. There is, however, something missing. The trio lack the charisma of their mentor's group, Crying, and they seem under-confident and sometimes awkward on stage.

This is a swiftly-moving and cheerful 50-minute show that fits into your lunchtime if you can get to the Trades Hall on week days. And you get soup and bread as well. A bargain!

By Kate Herbert