Friday 23 March 2001

Salt, March 23, 2001

Salt by Peta Murray
Playbox Theatre at Beckett Theatre March 23, 2001
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Mothers and daughters. Food and kitchens. They seem part of the same picture. Mothers teach daughters to cook. They fight and make up over the kitchen table and pots of tea.

In Peta Murray's new play, Salt, it is, ironically, the daughter, Meg, (Victoria Eagger) who is the devoted, pernickety, innovative cook and her mum, Laurel (Julia Blake) who cooks meals from Heinz cans. It is a pity we in the back rows miss the aromas of the on-stage cooking.

The play is directed effortlessly and seamlessly by Aubrey Mellor a on a sleek design by Trina Parker.

The history and relationship of these two women is played out in their kitchens. They cook, argue, reminisce. We very quickly realise that memory is unreliable, particularly for Laurel who is losing her grip on her past. She is fearful of the unspecified 'tests' that will name her dementia.

Julia Blake's Laurel is a complex characterisation of the unravelling of a woman who has always been narcissistic, flirtatious and abandoned. It is a movin portrayal of the fear and despair that accompanies Alzheimer's. Roles are swapped. The mother becomes the mothered, the baby bird feeds the mother bird.

Victoria Eagger plays Meg, the brisk, practical 'kitchen fascist' who has missed her final chance at relationship and children. She now devoted herself to her mother.

Vegetables and fruit feature throughout. Fresh specimums are displayed in spotlights in the set. Tomatoes, potatoes, mushrooms, eggplant, rhubarb are paraded like celebrities by Paul English who plays an anonymous Man/Narrator. He provides us with scientific details of their origins and poisonous properties. He is charming and witty as the representation of all men in their lives.

Murray splices warm, naturalistic scenes between the women with their internal monologues, memories, recipes and readings from famous foodies: "Fulton, Margaret."

It is a study of the mother-daughter relationship and the deterioration of a mind with age but it is also about lost dreams.

Mysteries are suggested early in the pasts of both women. The revelations of these in the final scene are disappointing in the script. They seems contrived and arch, lacking any genuine significance in the greater scheme of things, in the face of dementia.
It is an enjoyable meal of a play.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 20 March 2001

Scenes of the Beginning from the End , NYID

Not Yet It's Difficultat Public Office Car Park
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
March 20, 2001

We are meaning makers. Our little synapses go mad hooking up seemingly disconnected images or sequences and making meaning of them.

Contemporary performance groups such as Not Yet It's Difficult, demand an audience some intellectual work to pull the threads of themes together.

In their latest work, performed in the still active car park of the Public Office in West Melbourne, audience participates in an event that combines video installation, performance art, contemporary dance and  a parody of Neighbours.

The themes forming the glue for all these forms revolve around notions of how and why we live where we do. We begin our video and movement journey in the desert then travel via images and dialogue to the suburbs. Then we take a video train to the city and end up right back in the Public Office building again.

The opening sequence is clearly the most successful component of the performance. It is the scene in which the various elements of performance are most cohesive and most creatively combined by director David Pledger, dramaturg, Peter Eckersall and the ensemble of seven actors.

We are guided upstairs, warned about safety issues and exits, ushered to surprisingly comfortable seating. Images of the outback are set behind a complex and fascinating movement sequence that conjures thoughts of desert creatures, lizards and birds. Evocative sound design (Roger Alsop) and stark lighting completes the picture.

The very end of the final sequence , after we return to the screen after out journey around the suburban stereotypes and soap opera, is also effective linkage of forms.

The performers (Paul Bongiovanni, Greg Ulfan, Tamara Saulwick, Louise Taube, Tony Briggs, Natalie Cursio, Cazarine Barry) appear on screen via live video cameras, mocking and mimicking the office workers who are trailing past us out of the car park in their cars.

There are some very entertaining moments in the suburbs with teenagers and adults arguing, families living out the Neighbours dream and even a Japanese and Vietnamese video version of Charlene and Scott in Ramsay Street.

However, the critique of lifestyle, city and suburbia lacks depth. Some of the acting is limited but the physical work and choreography are delightful.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 15 March 2001

Design for Living, MTC, March 15, 2001

by Noel Coward
MTC at Playhouse, Mar 15 to  14 April, 2001
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Noel Coward was a prolific playwright and song-writer. His plays are stuffed with witty dialogue and smart, urbane, often glib characters. Design for Living written in 1932, is no exception.

It was controversial in its time. It is not, however, his best or funniest work. Nor does it have the poignant edge of his play, Private Lives, nor its level of incisive commentary on the immoral middle classes and their petty squabbles and concerns.

Design for Living is directed with style by Rodney Fisher at a swift pace appropriate for Coward.  It is a co-production for the State Theatre Company of South Australia and the MTC. Dale Ferguson's design is exceptionally rich. His New York apartment drew gasps of pleasure from the audience.

It focuses on three self-centred and privileged people who love each other but are careless with each other's affections and with their mutual friendships. It is social farce about love and lust in the 1930s. It may be out of date now to be horrfied at couples living together unmarried but it is still awful to watch such blatant selfishness in action.

In Act One, Gilda (Josephine Byrnes) lives in Paris with Otto (Rhys Muldoon), a young portrait painter. Their mutual friend Leo (Nathan Page) arrives and Gilda and he fly off together.

In Act Two, Otto interferes with their little love nest in London when he arrives as a successful painter. Leo meanwhile has another hit play. Gilda runs off with their older conservative friend , Ernest. (Dennis Olsen) Yes, Gilda marries him and escapes from her two lovers to live in benign boredom in New York .

Byrnes is a bright presence on stage and creates a nervy, deceitful and  immoral creature of the period. Her journey to conservatism and back again is credible.

As Ernest, Olsen creates a powerful and substantial character. Ernest is the only character who deserves our sympathy when he is dumped unceremoniously by his wife.

Muldoon gives an arch and witty portrayal of Otto . Page seems uncomfortable in the style but relaxes in the very funny drunk scene between the two men.

There is much unresolved sexual tension between all three characters. It is surprising that Fisher did not exploit the homo-erotic layers of Otto and Leo's relatiionship. It is palpable in Coward's script.

By Kate Herbert

Friday 9 March 2001

Mothballs, March 9, 2001

By Jack Hibberd
Chapel off Chapel, March 9 until 1 April, 2001
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Jack Hibberd's style is recognisably idiosyncratic even after thirty or so years of writing for the Australian theatre. Mothballs, his latest monologue in a series of new plays, is performed with zest by his partner, Evelyn Krape. It has his signature written all over it.

The language is complex, witty and littered with literary references and local colour. Krape is a woman in mourning after the death of her husband, Ashley Smith. She is called Jocasta which is an allusion to the ancient Greek character and her fraught marriage. Attaching the surname Smith to such an epic name as Jocasta, is a typical Hibberd tilt.

He gets laughs from purposely misusing words, misquoting proverbs or cliches, poems or philosphers or placing anachronistic ideas together. Hibberd's writing is like a quick flit around the intelligentsia while simultaneously cocking a snoot at them.

This monologue is not quite as successful as Lavendar Bags Hibberd's previous piece performed by Krape last year. It is not as cohesive and has less of the relentless fury and hilarity.

However, it is clever and delightfully wicked and irreverent, with both poignant and funny moments. HIbberd's direction of his own play is cheeky and anarchic. Krape cavorts and capers in a parody of joy and despair. She is warm and charming as she leaps from mania to weeping, ecstasy to angst in a moment.

There is the opportunity for her performance to plumb the depths of anguish further. Her two styles of deep penetration of an emotion and hilarious parody of human pain are well-suited to this production but both could be a little sharper.

Even the choice of recorded music is funny. Mozart's Requiem is counterpointed with Chubby Checker and African drum music.

The presence of the corpse in a body bag on a marriage bed in the space is grotesque and funny. This epitomises the Hibberd humour. If it's sacred or serious, let's treat it irreverently. Now, there's a sound philosophy!

By Kate Herbert