Saturday 30 September 2000

Filch by Angus Cerini, Sept 30, 2000

at The Diggers, North Melbourne Town Hall until October 8, 10pm

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Filch is the fourth in a series of solo shows written and performed in vivid style by Angus Cerini.

Themes recur in Filch that were addressed in each of Cerini's previous projects: poverty, homelessness, disempowerment, urban decay, abuse, mental illness, male violence, political negligence and loneliness.

The form of the performance is now as important as the content. Cerini created this show with his mythical alter ego/director, Aardis von Vaarkenhausen.

He calls it "a physical extemporisation upon a brutal yet poetic spoken text." Cerini narrates the entire story as a voice over running throughout the performance.

On stage, Cerini presents the same story simultaneously, sometimes speaking or miming with the voice-over or physicalising, in an abstract form, the images of the narrative.

It is a fascinating style and a compelling performance from this multi-skilled artist. The entire showis accompnaied by evocative and unobtrusive recorded sound. (Darrell Jarrell , Dave Corbett)

There is a large serving of angst and existential pain in the tortured characters and poignant stories told in this piece.

The main voice is a homeless man, begging for a dollar so he can buy his frothy caffe latte from Julio's cafe. He wakes each day with a little patch of sun on his face to cheer him. He believes in love at first sight, falls for a tragic abused girl he calls Jenny.

He sees a street character called Monkey daily. He reads a story from the newspaper about an old man who is bitten by his own dog that, as a result, is put down.

There are scenes in a fetid gaol cell and there are memories of the main character as an 11 year old child who craves the company of his absent father.

The passion and commitment as well as the physical skill of this piece colour the stream of consciousness narration and make this a powerful 40 minutes in the Fringe Festival.

By Kate Herbert

Tightrope by Krinkl Theatre, Sept 30, 2000

At The Diggers North Melbourne Town Hall until October 8, 2000

Show:  8.30pm

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The Fringe Festival is always riddled with extremes of skill and quality of performance. Tightrope is one of the more inventive and satisfying pieces- and you could take the kids to it.

Lara Cruickshank and Padi Bolliger are Krinkl Theatre. The title of the company captures something of their work. They crinkle, wrap and sticky-tape newspaper to create images and puppets before our eyes.

Their work with newspaper puppets is inspired by English designer, Julian Crouch, allows the daily newspaper to be animated in simple and vivid ways.

The two puppeteers are part of the action. They arrive through a sea of crumpled newsprint and develop a seductive relationship with each other as they move to the stage.

They roll and cellotape paper until we see a tightrope appear before us. A newspaper puppet, trapped in a suitcase, emerges. He is the tightrope walker. His limbs are ill-formed, his hands are huge fans of paper and his eyes are lumps of cellotape but he is a living creature to us.

He is animated by his two puppet-masters who are, in turn, manipulated by his tricks and antics.

It is delightful watching the little paper puppet giggle as he teases his masters then quake in his paper boots as he is forced to climb the tightrope ladder.

He develops confidence as he practises his tricks, twirling an umbrella, doing flips and balances on the tightrope.

Less successful theatrically is Snap, written and directed by Ross Brisbane. (Not to be confused with Snap at La Mama)

A woman (Melanie Such) is dissatisfied with her career as a photographer. She snaps pics of children, glamour shots of bored housewives and even photos of a Turkish family for their tombstones.

When a disturbed man (Kane McDonald) asks her to photograph "the person I used to be", she finds he has left his evil presence behind in her studio.

The premise could make a grim, philosophical play but the show lacks definition in the writing, direction and performances. Scene changes are interminable, characters are static and there is no emotional substance.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 27 September 2000

The Enormous Club by Born in a Taxi, Sept 27, 2000

At The Black Box, Arts Centre until October 5, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Born in a Taxi is a group of four performers who specialise in creating physical theatre and movement improvisation. The Enormous Club, directed by John Bolton, is a development of a shorter piece of theirs from 1997.

All four members of the ensemble (Penny Baron, Nick Papas, David Wells, Carolyn Hanna) are charming and engaging. Each plays a distinctive character in The Enormous Club.

Baron is a startled and awkward little urchin with bright eyes and impeccable comic timing and detail. Papas is a huggy-bear kind of hobo in a flap-eared hat and knee pads. Hanna is a romantic and anxious figure in an ivory gown.

These three function as a unit. They meet, play, experiment and love each other, rolling, hugging and romping like children.

Then, arriving through a portable doorway, is a stranger in dress shirt and boxer shorts. David Wells character is an intruder who upsets the harmony of the trio, both diverting and distressing them.

He is an entertainer, singing Eastern European songs accompanied by accordion. He makes them dance, seduces the women, teases, taunts and frightens them in turn.

The movement style is abstract, often funny and demonstrating the unity of spirit of this ensemble.

The first forty minutes are the most successful. The later vignettes are interesting but they are disparate and therefore less connected or compelling.

David Murphy's set is simple, portable and effective. His three wheel-on doorways allow secrets to be revealed. Mountfort's original musical compositions are diverse and clever. Nick Pajanti's lighting is muted and dusky but hand held candles and various lamps illuminate the action further.

The Enormous Club heightens human emotion and embodies the unconscious in these quirky child-like characters.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 21 September 2000

Bang! A Critical Fiction! Sept 21, 2000

by Margaret Cameron
at La Mama until October 1, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

There is humour and anguish in  Margaret Cameron's eyes. Emotion is etched in her expressive face. Bang! A Critical Fiction! is the latest manifestation of her superbly crafted and idiosyncratic style of solo performance seen in such pieces as Knowledge and Melancholy.

Cameron, winner of  a Green Room and other awards, is magnetic yet again. Her performance and writing tilt from the hilarity of the opening dialogue to poignant, sometimes wrenching despair. It is sheer beauty to witness such skill and whimsy on stage.

Bang! is not a narrative-based show. Cameron investigates notions of "rectification" of the self,  the search for the missing parts of self which can unify the spirit. She  explores the loss of a loved one and the quest for wholeness and healing.

It may sound esoteric but it accessible, witty and intelligent. Cameron presents the entire piece in an achingly funny Texan character with a brassy accent, black cowboy hat, spiffy jacket and boots. She teases us with cheeky jibes in which we see the performer peeping out of the character.

"I've been doin' some thinkin' and I've been havin' me some creative ideas.," which we see soon after.

She plays with objects: a perky little chest of drawers filled with light, a lit cracker, a cap gun and a box of throw-downs - things that go Bang!

She controls her own technology, a recalcitrant CD player. When a few technical hiccups are ironed out, the lyrical quality  of the piece will flow.

The music is an eclectic selection of country tunes and evocative romantic melodies  and tosses in quirky sound tracks such as The X Files music or David Bowie's Major Tom for good measure.

The sound switches on and off as Cameron flicks the remote blithely over her shoulder at the CD player. She rides the little chest of drawers like a bronco or jives to the beat, challenging us with her eyes.

Cameron balances text with movement, humour with the poetic, the banal with the philosophical and the personal with the universal.

She creates metaphors for human experience. Crackers explode just as love and life explode us into pieces. We can only hope that we can put ourselves back together again in a package that can still function.

By Kate Herbert

Flame by Joanna Murray-Smith, Sept 21, 2000

At La Mama until October 1, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Flame by Joanna Murray-Smith deals with grief about not only the death of a loved one but the death of a love.

Max (Alex Pinder) and Louisa (Michele Williams) stand in an empty space. They speak as if disconnected. She has sold, or rather given away, their marital bed. he is appalled. Slowly we realise that he is dead, she is his widow.

He asks over and over, "Do you miss...?" She does not reply. They interrupt their thoughts, talk at cross-purposes and misunderstand each other.

We discover that the marriage was "A tight little life". She says, "Thy loved their life but they had no life." The dead man's memory of their life is a mirage. he believed it was perfect while his wife was bored and having an affair with a friend of theirs.

In the end, no relationship is safe from the chaos and destruction of miscommunication and ennui. Murray-Smith wrote this play is 1994 and it pre-empts the dialogue style of later plays, Redemption and Nightfall. The characters sentences are broken and their thoughts struggle out of the dark recesses of their minds.

Joy Mitchell's direction concentrates on the images and poetic style of Murray-Smith's writing. The actors talk directly to us much of the time, avoiding eye contact and emphasising the lack of communication between them. There is no technical embellishment. The lighting is simple and unchanging.

Pinder gains our sympathy by playing Max as a bright, almost naive man who still idolises his wife even after death. His voice is light and almost piping like a child, his demeanour open and imploring.

Williams ,as Louisa, finds a grim and steely edge that highlights the dissonance between the characters. Her icy, ironic tone previews the awful truth she reveals later about her betrayal of her husband. Both actors manage the difficult dialogue and style admirably.

This is a deceptively simple piece which takes a complex emotional landscape and tackles it in a stylised form. Murray-Smith's writing is effective and, at times, compelling, particularly in the first half.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 14 September 2000

Daily Grind , Sept 14, 2000

by Vicky Reynolds
Sprat Boy Productions at Trades Hall until September 24, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Strippers have their own raft of problems associated with work conditions.  Their concerns are not about superannuation and promotion opportunity, but about safety, length of career and ageing.

Daily Grind, by Vicky Reynolds, highlights the most significant change for strippers in recent years. If they don't work 'hot', they will starve.

'Hot' means anything beyond the simple bump and grind. It might involve live sex acts on stage at a footy club turn or demeaning acts with a vibrator.

Either way, it leaves the women vulnerable both emotionally and physically.

This play originated at the Melbourne Workers' Theatre some years ago to address workplace issues for strippers. This new production, featuring Inga Norgrove and Katharine McErlean, is not nearly as theatrically successful as the first.

The script itself has emotional power, but its flaws are more visible in this production because of the intermittent awkwardness of the acting and direction. (Helen Doig) 

The show lacks the subtlety required to maintain the balance between the lurid stripping and the emotional drama. At times it feels like a peep show and we have trouble concentrating on the personal and political rahter than the physical.

Roxy (Norgrove) is a 22 year old trying to save to go back to school. Louie (McErlean) is 30-something and at the end of her career. The play shifts between Roxy's first gig at 17 under Louie's mentorship, to five years later when Roxy supports Louie after she is humiliated on stage by their boss.

There is merit in this production. There are moments when Norgrove and McErlean find both the comedy and poignancy in the characters and the relationship. Norgrove is a bright and confident dancer who is generally credible as the youthful Roxy. McErlean finds moments of ease as the older stripper.

The major problem is the uninspired direction. Scene transitions are clumsy and characters act out their stories awkwardly.

The lighting (James Clavering, Joe Coleman) could have assisted the performance further with greater variety and by closing down the space to create a more distinct spotlit strip club stage.

The strip scenes are graphic 'exotic dancing' but they are accompanied by some moving and politically enlightened dialogue.

However, if you are coy about full frontal nudity, this may not be the show for you.

By Kate Herbert

Saturday 9 September 2000

Pixels in the Picture by Robert Reid , Sept 9, 2000

Theatre in Decay
at The Storeroom Parkview Hotel until September 16, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Short plays in novel locations with limited number of audience are the signature for Robert Reid's company, Theatre in Decay.

 In the last few months they have performed in a Backpackers' hotel, in an art gallery and now Pixels in the Picture is set in two small rooms above a pub in Fitzroy.

Reid's writing for this monologue is abstract, edgy, philosophical with witty or poignant observations on the modern world. He draws eclectic themes and images together in a style reminiscent of 20th century European directors such as Grotowski and Artaud.

What is fascinating in the form is that, in the two little rooms, the same monologue is being performed simultaneously by two different actors. (Telia Nevile, Elliot Summers)  Reid allows them different interpretations.

The character is a graffiti artist with a difference. He she was once a pavement chalk artist, hence his/her name, Rembrandt. Now Rembrandt is shut into a room painted white like an asylum cell. In here, he/she obsessively fills the white paper-covered floor with binary code: various combinations of the digits one and zero.

Rembrandt now uses texta, not chalk. "It's more permanent." All Rembrandt's secret revolutionary actions are a wry commentary on the dehumanisation of the modern world and the insanity of quiet rebellion.

Strangely, by the second viewing, the dialogue, although exactly the same, seemed to be different and my hearing was selective. We are compelled to look at the "pixels", the details the second time.

 Summers, in room, one invaded our space. He leaned over audience members eye to eye, nose to nose, ranting about his mental state, telling stories and scrawling numbers.

Nevile's is a more meditative performance, more of a story-telling.
Both are dressed in blue worker's overalls. Both have a minder, a controller in the corner, manipulating the bare white and red light-bulbs, leaving us in darkness for periods of time.

The presentation and form are as important as the content in Pixels. A dice is thrown in the foyer. One lucky audient saw both pieces alone in a room separate to the rest of us.

Pixels is well-performed, intelligently directed intimate theatre.

By Kate Herbert

Pure Escapism, Sept 9, 2000

by  Scott Gooding
at Storeroom Parkview Hotel until September 23, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Pure Escapism, a solo play written and performed by Scott Gooding, is yet another venture at the Storeroom, a new venue above the Parkview Hotel, Fitzroy.

A young man is locked in a room alone with only an enormous pile of comic books, an ant and a bowl of rice. It seems to be his job in some peculiar way. He does no collating or even reading of the comics.

Occasionally he receives a new one by "air mail" of sorts. His imaginary friend , Bob, raps on the door intermittently and annoyingly, and sends flying in a new superhero comic.

Yes, Pure Escapism is abstract and bizarre but only partially successful in its present form. Gooding's script is a little too obtuse and lacks a coherent structure.

There are some funny moments and some poignant ones. The man befriends a stray ant he finds on his bowl of cold white rice. He names him Solitaire after one of his favourite Superheroes. When Bob insists, by knocking furiously, that the ant must be eliminated, the young man tearfully squashes Solitaire in his hand.

Oddly, considering the publicity for this show, there is very little reference to the comic books, their heroes and narratives. It is disappointing to be surrounded by the books and heroic posters but to see and hear so little of their bizarre content that obsesses this character.

In fact, the main story he tells is a fairy story about a princess an old man. Why tell this tale when you have Captain Marvel and Aquaman?

Director, Malcolm Berry, highlights the frustration and anger in this character who lives in such isolation and on the edge of lunacy.

At times there is far too much shouting from Gooding who appears tense. The show will be much more watchable when he relaxes into the role.

The play, written in 1991, has seen several edits since then. It might enjoy some further dramaturgical work. 

By Kate Herbert

th International Women's Playwrights' Festival Readings, Sept 9, 2000

5th International Women's Playwrights' Festival Readings
at Beckett Theatre Saturday September 9, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Eleven plays written by Melbourne's women are travelling to Athens in October for the 5th International Women's Playwrights' Festival. These plays are  presented once only in Melbourne for our delectation.

The two part program lasted for over five and a half hours so let's stick with part One. Most pieces in this showcase are rehearsed readings of excerpts from full length plays. The first, The Girl Who Wanted To Be God, was the only one to be presented in its entirety.

The play is written by a trio, Karen Corbett, Rosemary Johns and Brenda Palmer (all) who also appear in the piece with Gillian Hardy. Its subject is the fraught and tragic life of American poet, Sylvia Plath who published a book of poetry, married Ted Hughes, left him and put her head in a gas oven with the flame off.

This is an episodic, abstract and poetic script in which the three women simultaneously play Sylvia at all ages as the child, writer and mother. It is interesting and evocative and still in development say the writers.

Smashing Pancakes is a Youth Theatre play written by Sarah Vincent for Mainstreet Theatre and performed here and in Athens by a contracted cast of five teenagers from Rushworth College. It is a funny, well-observed slice of country town life with no holds barred.

The kids get drunk and have sex with strangers, throw rocks at neighbours houses and complain about their families who eventually get taken by aliens. Every kid's dream.

Ruthed by Marita Wilcox is a play set in the cut-throat world of a Public Relations Company focussing on the ruthless behaviour of the women who work in it. It has some clever moments but the dialogue is glib and the story predictable.

The strength of Streetsweeper by Liz Goldman is in the potent performance by Gillian Hardy as a derelict woman on the street, reminiscing about her marriage, children and mental illness.

Crossing the Bridge, by Gaylene Carbis, is compelling in parts. It paints a picture of an isolated country town when a middle-aged son visits his elderly parents to confront them about his childhood abuse. The parents live in denial. The son is hamstrung by his pain.

The remaining six plays are by Jeannie Haughton, Suzanne Spunner, Margaret Bearman, Angela Costi, Marjorie Darling-Ward and Nik Willmott.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 7 September 2000

Love Letters by A. R. Gurney, Sept 7, 2000

Love Letters by A. R. Gurney
 at Chapel off Chapel until September 16, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

It is a joy to see actors without the trappings of lighting, special effects, costumes or even stage action, to clutter or interfere with their craft. To be specific, it is a joy when the actors are as skilful as Maggie Millar and Alan Hopgood and the dialogue is as well-crafted as that of US playwright, A. R. Gurney.

Love Letters was performed by various Australian theatrical couples during the last few years. It is a powerful, funny and moving rehearsed reading of a series of very personal letters between a man and a woman as they grow from adolescence and early attraction to late middle age.

There is something passionate, intimate and secretive about a letter-writing relationship. There is no eye contact so the words must be vivid and the reader's first response is unseen, his or her perception is unpredictable and the interpretation is often complex.

Even the shyest writer can express strong emotion in a letter. Love can be declared, promises made - and just as easily broken in the delay between correspondence.

In this case, the gaps between letters spread out into years. Sometimes, after the two married, they amounted only to xeroxed Christmas greetings and birthday cards.

The pair are opposites from an early age. Although both come from middle class families, Melissa (Millar ) is from substantial wealth and Andy (Hopgood) from moderate comfort. Andy is straight, loved by his conservative parents and shipped off to boys schools for his own good, to row and study Racine.

Melissa is shipped off for different reasons. Her mother is a drunk and a serial divorcee. Melissa is a tragedy waiting to happen. She describes herself in later life when the two finally consummate their love, as a "boozed-out, cynical, lascivious old broad". Andy, in contrast, is a stalwart citizen, a Republican senator with a stable and dull marriage and children.

Millar and Hopgood sit in upright chairs, script in hand, but the lives and loves of these two adorable characters are palpable. We hear their joy and pain, we hope for a reunion and a cure for Melissa's alcoholism, we pray they will not marry their silly spouses and we romanticise the possibilities of the life they never lived together.

We all have those dreams of past loves to repent.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 6 September 2000

Dog Farm by Back to Back Theatre, Sept 6, 2000

At La Mama until September 17, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Dog farm is an exciting, funny and insightful collection of three short plays by Back to Back Theatre which is visiting La Mama from Geelong.

These idiosyncratic plays are generated by the five members of the ensemble with directors, Bruce Gladwin and Marcia Ferguson and writer, Julianne O'Brien.

The themes are universal, the characters represent Everyman and Everywoman. The dialogue is pared down to the essentials, creating spare, simple but often incisive observations of human foibles, love, humour and anger.

Part of the unusual quality of the plays and their style is due to the nature of the company and its members. Back to Back comprises five actors with various intellectual disabilities and a great deal of professional/community theatre experience.

There is a quirky, almost French absurdist, lateral quality to the material and its delivery. Each actor has a distinctive style and their individual obsessions are central to the three pieces. Obsession makes good theatre.

In Sally and Bunce, Sally (Nicki Holland) wants marry and she doesn't care who. Bunce (Darren Riches)  warns her he will drink, hit her and abandon her. "I still want to marry you," snaps Sally. She is hounded by her harridan of a mother. (Rita Halabarec) They marry. It's a disaster. They separate.

Porn Star is not about pornography but about a conservative cleaning woman (guest actor, Noel Jordan)  who cleans the house of an erotic film-maker (Sonia Teuben) and finds her hidden sexuality.

Cow is a vehicle for first-class ham actor, Mark Deans Deans is a consummate clown who takes two simple comic ideas and makes a meal of them. He argues with unruly light bulbs and, like a vaudeville magician, he pulls toy farm animals out of a case then moos and roars into a microphone making the animals leap. It is inexplicable and hilarious.

Music is an integral part of the show. David Franzke's soundscape in Sally and Bunce is exceptional. David Watts and Hugh Covill's compositions are atmospheric.

Clever and simple direction by Gladwin and Ferguson is brisk, stylish and stylised.

The actors look like art works in costumes by Graham Long. They are like eccentric mannequins in a French dada cabaret in the 1920s. Get a look at this show.

By Kate Herbert