Thursday 30 May 2002

The Aliens, May 30, 2002

 By Jackie Smith  at La Mama  until June16
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

In an Australian country town, secrets, prejudices and lies have festered since Lizzy ( Liz Welch)  left town twelve years ago.

The Aliens was co-winner of the Patrick White Playwright's Award in 2001. It is a naturalistic play written by Jackie Smith and directed by Peta Murray. There are glaring problems with both the script and the direction and performances are uneven.

Peta Murray's direction is static and the pace and timing too slow. The design by Jane Murphy  leaves the actors too little space to move.

The concept of the play has potential and Smith writes some  funny and successful dialogue.

However, the plot seems contrived and the resolution of the story is unsatisfactory. Information is repeated and there is little dynamic action. Most of the dramatic action takes place off stage in the past.

Characters have no emotional journey and are not fully rounded or credible. Lizzy's revelation at the end of the play is clearly inconsistent with the character as she is established.

Lizzy visits Mr Little, ( Don Munro)  an old and ailing man whose daughter, Julie, committed suicide recently. Living with Wilson are Iris, ( Shirley Cattunar ) his housekeeper, and her intellectually disabled daughter, Deidre (Jackie Smith).

Deidre, Julie and Liz were childhood playmates. There is a bond between the two girls still living, in spite of the years passing and their intellectual differences.

Liz Welch Lizzy, is credible despite the inconsistencies in Smith's writing of the character's behaviour. Deidre  is an interesting character but difficult to play and Smith struggles with her portrayal of a disabled woman.

Munro is entertaining as Mr. Little, but is at times inaudible and underplayed this sick old man. Cattunar has a difficult job playing the irascible and dislikeable Iris who has few redeeming features.

The play is loo long and the plot not quite credible. In the end, we do not care about any of the characters.

By Kate Herbert

The Lord of Misrule, May 30, 2002

By Sam Sejavka

 La Mama  at The Courthouse, May 30 until June 15, 2002

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Sam Sejavka's play, the Lord of Misrule, is a contemporary gothic parable about drug addiction and inner urban angst.

Sejavka employs his eccentric style yet again. It is a blend of futuristic sci-fi and the absurd. The play is successful in part.

There is violence, sexual perversion and drug references obviously. Any publicity could read like an ABC television rating warning.

 Sejavka is inclined to surprise us with flights of fancy, poetic interludes and mad collisions of the contemporary, the poetic, the mythic and the absurd. However, the play is probably an hour longer than it needs to be and could do with a rigorous editor.

Luther  (Anthony Johnston ) lives alone, tending his peculiar chemical experiment in a bottle and doping himself daily on the juices it exudes.

He is visited by his equally addicted friend, Sugar,  (Carmen Mascia)  who prostitutes herself to a thug called Theudas.  (Ben Grant )

Luther's new neighbour, Nira,  ( Jessamy Dyer) attempts to rescue Luther from his addiction only to become an addict herself. Complicated? Yes. And a little confusing.

The narrative begins with Luther as central character but takes an odd diversion into the increasingly addictive behaviour of his neighbour, Nira.

This resolves itself when she enters his life and tried to seduce him with insane combinations of food: frankfurts and custard for example.

Johnston is engaging as the manic, secretive Luther. Mascia brings warmth and sympathy to Sugar while Dyer is energetic yet relaxed as Nira; even when another actor missed her cue by several minutes.

Grant, unfortunately, works in such a state of tension he is uncomfortable to watch. He is contorted and overwrought, both vocally and physically.

Director, Christian Leavesley  emphasises a sense of menace on stage. The design (Phil Rolfe) is an interesting blend  of suburban kitchen, aeroplane galley and urinal wall.

Dramatic and vivid lighting by Nick Merrylees  and sound design (Nadav Rayman, Boyd Korab) create an eerie atmosphere. There is a grungey feel to this play and the space reflects student houses and druggy dives we have known.

The Lord of Misrule has merit as a piece of contemporary absurdism but it needs some clarification of its vision.

By Kate Herbert

Saturday 25 May 2002

Hot Shoe Shuffle, May 25, 2002

Written by Larry Buttrose  and Kathryn Riding  
Choreographed by David Atkins and Dein Perry
Musical Direction Robert Gavin  
At Athenaeum I, May 25 until June 15, 2002
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

If you want peppy, Hot Shoe Shuffle is your show. It is exhilarating, old-fashioned song and dance that will warm a wintry night.

It resembles a Broadway import but is totally Australian. Director, David Atkins,  conceived it with Max Lambert in 1995. Dance sequences are choreographed by Atkins with Dein Perry,  creator of Aussie tap sensation, Tap Dogs.

The music comprises old Broadway tunes by the likes of Gershwin, Berlin  and Ellington.  The dance is pure tap, the story unadulterated schmaltz. The stage is a vivid cartoon set by Eamon D'Arcy.  

Dialogue by Larry Buttrose and Kathryn Riding is witty, fast and reminiscent of old movies. Characters talk like Mickey Rooney and dance like Gene Kelly.  Atkins milks the verbal and sight gags   The pace and timing are sensational.

Choreography falls into two forms. The flashy, colourful and with great comic timing derives from old Broadway. The other is the hotter, sexier, more contemporary form of Dein Perry.

The story is thin, but who cares? This show is about singin' and dancin'.

The seven Tap Brothers are forced by their father's will to perform dad's old tap routines in order to secure a two million dollar inheritance. To meet the requirements of his will they must incorporate into the act, April, (Leonie Page) a gal who can't dance.
 Tempers rise.  All the boys adore April except the eldest, Swing. (Drew Anthony). A love story brews, preceded by resentment and flirting.

As Swing, Anthony is charming, relaxed and a terrific dancer and singer.  Page has a delightfully warm voice and a sweet and sexy 40s look.

She sings with relish and a seductive quality, Long Ago and Far Away ( Gershwin), I Get Along Without You Very Well (Carmichael ) and How Long Has This Been Going On. (Gershwin). Jack Webster  as Max King  the promoter, has grace and command of the stage.

The ensemble is a pool of talents comprising Sean Mulligan,  Rohan Browne,  Nathan Wright,  Costa Nicolas,  Christian Patterson  and Jesse Rasmussen whose extraordinary solo routine is breath-taking.

This show is a hoot and leaves you stomping, clapping and wishing you learned tap at ten.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 23 May 2002

Proof by David Auburn, MTC, May 23, 2002

Proof by David  Auburn   
Melbourne Theatre Company
Playhouse May 23 until June 22, 2002
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

What  a joy when a play touches us so sweetly and profoundly as does Proof by US playwright, David Auburn.

It is superbly written, compellingly performed, cleverly and unobtrusively directed with striking music, design and lighting.

 Rachel Griffiths, as Catherine, is luminous, warm, compelling and so natural it seems inappropriate to call it acting.
Her sympathy is palpable for Catherine who confronts her fear of succumbing to the mental illness that shattered her father's (Frank Gallacher)  brilliant career.

Auburn captures with subtlety and wit the vulnerability of human nature in all its complexity. It is a play about family, mathematics and genius. But more significantly, Proof is a love story.

Catherine loves her dead father, Robert, a mathematical genius and sacrifices her studies to care for him. She falls in love with a mathematician, Hal. (Christopher Gabardi )

But the great and mysterious love affair is with Mathematics. Robert seeks its beauty and complexity. Catherine is driven to study in her father's footsteps while Hal hopes for one great discovery.

The relationship between mental illness, creativity and genius is central. The volatile state of the innovative mind is frighteningly close to madness.

Catherine's grief triggers her own fear of potential madness. At her father's wake she falls for Hal but all goes awry when Hal, scouring Robert's notebooks, finds an exciting maths proof. Catherine loses faith when Hal breaches her trust.

Simon Phillips'  direction is seamless, beautifully paced, and serves perfectly Auburn's stylish, intelligent writing. This play has a startling and satisfying revelation at interval.

Auburn creates totally credible, fallible and idiosyncratic characters. Esoteric mathematical notions become natural dialogue.

Gallacher as Robert finds a cunning manic edge that tilts from dysfunction to inspiration. Gabardi is charming as the cute Maths geek. He even gets laughs out of Maths jokes. As the edgy sister, Belinda McClory finds an elusive sensitivity in such a controlling character.

With the warmth and mystery of Nick Schlieper's   interior lamp lighting we want to leap inside Tony Tripp's  design to walk around in their lives. Ian McDonald's  music reflects the pace of the thinkers on stage.

Some believe naturalism is outdated. When wrought as imaginatively as Proof, it is rivetting.

By Kate Herbert

Saturday 18 May 2002

Roulette A & B, Raimondo Cortese, May 18, 2002

Roulette A  by Raimondo Cortese 
Ranters Theatre  at Chapel off Chapel, May 18 until  June 1, 2002
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Roulette, a collection of plays by Raimondo Cortese and Ranters Theatre, is a movable feast that reappears regularly with variations. It changes venues, cities, even the number of the plays in the program alters each time.  It is always a compelling evening.

This round at Chapel off Chapel, includes eight plays in two programs. Program A comprises four two-handers: Legacy, Night, Fortune and Sickness. The acting, writing and direction are intelligent and skilful.

The stage bears only a few chairs and props in an empty space. The actors and the dialogue are at the heart of the work.

Directors, Adriano Cortese  and Bob Daoud,  keep action simple and focus intently on relationships. Pacing is impeccable and the direction serves the text superbly. These are not 'look at me' directors.

Each play is an intense dialogue between two people who are strangers or acquaintances. The characters are ordinary people in unusual circumstances.

The meetings between pairs seem, at first, unremarkable. Each play has  a positive and a negative character and we are fascinated with the dynamic of the relationship and conversations.

Legacy (Beth Buchanan, Tony Nickolakopoulos) is set on a street corner. A young woman sells skin care products while a construction worker has his lunch break.  

The woman is dislikable but Cortese makes her vulnerable. Nickolakopoulos is exceptional as the worker. His warmth and positivity is contagious and his natural charm draws the audience into his engagement with the frightened, angry young woman.

In Night, set in a club, Kelly Tracey  is almost teeth-jarringly wired as the young woman out to get drunk. Her meeting with a stranger, a dental nurse (Kristina Bidenko) becomes a drunken rave ending in a brief burst of passion. Tracey's fragile drunk is sympathetic and Bidenko is tragic in her quest for nightly obliteration

In Fortune Torquil Neilson and Nickolakopoulos unravel a mysterious relationship. A prodigal son returns after his mother's death to claim her house after a ten year absence. He and his mother's partner play a status game which finds the son weilding all the power.

In Sickness, a dying patient, played passionately by Robert Morgan, is visited by a priest (Paul Lum) whose attempts to cheer the patient are in vain. The rage, deception of Morgan's character and the awful ordinariness of his life and death are the tragedy here.

These four plays are a delight to see.

Roulette A and B alternate nights.

By Kate Herbert

Roulette B  by Raimondo Cortese
  Ranters Theatre  at Chapel off Chapel until June 1, 2002
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Program B of Roulette by Raimondo Cortese is no disappointment. Like Program A, it comprises four short plays and each is a gem. As a group, they provide a landscape of seemingly simple characters.

What we observe ordinary people being strangely intricate creatures with bizarre traits, surprising behaviours and delusions, miscommunications and resentments that torment them.

The acting is stylish and restrained. As in Program A  directors for the plays, Adriano Cortese   and Bob Daoud,  keep the stage almost empty. Actors walk on in full light with no dramatic fade up nor a black out to signal the end.

The pieces stop at their logical point. Actors pause then leave the stage or take a bow. The focus always remains on character, dialogue and script.

We are not overwhelmed with technology that is currently consuming much of our theatre.

Raimondo Cortese's writing is delightful. Each character is a hive of buzzing idiosyncrasies. They speak like mad birds, pecking at each other. They pull ideas and memories from the backs of their brains, surprising us with non-sequiturs.

Petroleum is a cunningly wrought meeting between two men. Young  Gordon (Torquil Neilson) tinkers with a lawn mower in a country garage. Another man (Robert Morgan ) awaits the mechanic to fix his car after it hit a wallaby.

The two begin civilly but the customer is wired and ready to pop at the slightest provocation. Cortese cleverly unfolds their stories in fits and bursts. The relationship rushes to its conclusion.

In Inconsolable,  Tom (Paul Lum) is interrupted table by dizzy Kat at his café table. (Heather Bolton) Although they are strangers, they travel an entire relationship in one conversation. They meet, flirt, tease, annoy, bicker and separate without ever being intimate.

In Hotel  a hardened, foul-mouthed hotel cleaner (Kristina Bidenko)  advises to her younger counterpart. (Beth Buchanan)  What begins as mateship and a union against the bosses, ends as a violent, abusive and saddening outburst.

Borneo  is set on an international flight. Angelica (Bolton) reveals more than she should to younger sillier Sal. (Kelly Tracey) The ending shows how little one can trust a stranger.

All of program A and B are worth a night out.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 16 May 2002

The Waiting Room, Melbourne Workers Theatre, May 15, 2002

The Waiting Room  by Melbourne Workers Theatre   
 Trades Hall, May 15 until June 1, 2002

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Let me declare my hand here. I am a critic of our federal government's policies on refugees.

There are many issues to be discussed and many opinions on these policies that need to be addressed. Theatre can be a vehicle for social change. It may also be a conduit for views not seen or heard in the media or in any other public arena.

Melbourne Workers Theatre (MWT) produces work that represents the underclass the helpless and vulnerable in our community. Their production, Who's Afraid of the Working Class? was complex, intelligent, well-written and directed social commentary.

Political theatre can also be as biased as the speakers it attacks. MWT's latest creation, The Waiting Room, is unfortunately one of the latter. The show preaches to the converted who abhor the treatment of refugees. However, its simplistic approach to the issues may only alienate those who they wish to educate.

There are scenes that work well individually as representations of parts of the refugee predicament. It is a series of short scenes in a contemporary performance style with a background of evocative music (Liberty Kerr). video imagery by Rolando Ramos  is provocative, sophisticated and beautifully wrought.

There are several emotional scenes inter-cut with parodies, movement or speeches by immigrants.

The opening is thematically related to the body of the play but it has no stylistic relationship. In fact it feels like an 80's community theatre role play.

The material is devised by the director (Richard Lagarto with the actors Wahibi Moussa , Steve Mouzakis,  Valerie Berry  and Kerr.   Actors work hard in the show and create some interesting moments and Lagarto moves scenes along effectively.

There is merit in this production but it needs a playwright to pull ideas together. There is no cohesion or subtlety. The content is important but it is so trivialised and simplified that is difficult to discern a rational argument. The fragmented scenes do not allow any depth.

Politicians, guards and long term resident Australians are represented as racist, abusive and thuggish. The images of Ku Klux Klan and Nazi are cartoon-like and ineffective. It is simplistic and inappropriate to describe Australia  as Whites Only.

This show has good intentions does not do justice to the complexity of the issues.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 8 May 2002

The Hollow Crown, RSC, May, 2002

The Hollow Crown
By Royal Shakespeare Company
 at Her Majesty's Theatre until May 19, 2002
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Let's face it. These actors are so good they could read the phone book backwards and it would be compelling. They are the last generation of British actors to have such resonant, dynamic voices.

I speak of Donald Sinden, Ian Richardson, Derek Jacobi and Diana Rigg -all skilful classical actors. They feature in The Hollow Crown, a diverting romp through the foibles of the English sovereigns from William I to Victoria. .

Part of the Royal Shakespeare Company repertoire, The Hollow Crown is engaging, versatile and comprises speeches, poetry, letters and songs. It was originally "a  one-off divertissement" devised by John Barton in 1960. Since, it has run world-wide.

The tile derives from Shakespeare's Richard 11; a reminder of the fragility of sovereignty. Richardson begins the show with this speech.

The actors and musician ( Stephen Gray)  sit in high-backed chairs. On a table sits a crown on a velvet cushion. Behind is a simple screen. The production relies not on the design (Louise Belson) but on the actors' presence.

Director, John Barton, keeps staging economical. Actors use a lectern. Although they refer to large folders as if to a script, actors perform rather than read. It is a stylish theatrical convention.

Barton and his actors breathe life and inject wit into historical documents.

It is an eclectic mix of forms and styles of text. Rigg reads Jane Austen's youthful, acerbic history with its hissing attack on Elizabeth I. Jacobi and Richardson play Henry VII's Ambassador's hilarious account of the ugly Queen of Naples. Rigg, as Mary Tudor, rants about traitors.

Part Two is striking with a more dramatic content and tone. Sinden's James I is goofy and overblown railing about tobacco use. A dramatic highlight is Jacobi as Charles I accused of treason by parliament. Richardson is charming as a dizzy Charles II.

Jacobi's portrayal of Horace Walpole's reportage of George II's funeral is wonderfully high camp and Richardson, as Thackeray, delightfully damns the incompetent George IV.

The only weak point in this production is the musician. Gray's voice and his contemporary style of singing do not do justice to the ballads of the period and a lute might well have replaced the guitar. His perky Scottish Medley was his best piece.

By Kate Herbert

Friday 3 May 2002

Reckage by Tony Reck, May 3, 2002

Reckage by Tony Reck
Chapel off Chapel until May 3 to 26, 2002
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Playwright, Tony Reck's two short plays are billed under the one title: Reckage. Both deal with the wreckage of a family in the wake of father's violence.

The two are non-linear, non-narrative and abstract in form. The second, The Great Dividehas some interesting elements.

The other, The Tar Machineis less effective and suffers the down side of abstraction - it is incomprehensible for the most part.

The Tar Machine begins with a man (Reck) beating a table with a leather belt. He returns repeatedly to do the same action while, simultaneously, a woman (Kaori Hamamoto) laughs unremittingly.

The text in this play is not dialogue but large slabs of prose. Some refer to a cat, others to a man called Jenkins. Stylised action accompanies the speeches but does not make them any more accessible.

Direction by Beng Ohdoes not assist the text. Actors are overacting and engaging in movement that does not illuminate the meaning.

The Great Divide is a better work with a clearer and more coherent meaning and a more cohesive style. Again, it deals with a violent father. This time it is in the context of a dysfunctional family.

One voice (Bruce Langdon) speaks the entire text on microphone about the family disruption. Meanwhile, the others (Reck, Hamamoto, Chris Schlusser, Christie Nieman) engage in a sort of pantomime parody of a family in disarray.

The boy (Schlusser) opens a can of tomatoes and repeatedly shoves them back into the can. Mother (Hamamoto) chops onions fastidiously then father massacres before beating the son repeatedly.

The repetition and stylisation of Oh's direction works in part but it is too self-consciously abstract. The use of three video monitors, a hand held camera, intrusive soundscape (Christie Nieman )and stark lighting (Matthew Barber) are almost overkill.

The repetition and abstraction do not necessarily create interesting theatre.  These pieces need to be a little less obscure in both writing and direction.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 2 May 2002

The Dunny by Daniel Lillford , May 2, 2002

The Dunny by Daniel Lillford

La Mama at The Courthouse, May 2 until May 11, 2002

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on May 2, 1995

this review published in Herald Sun in May 2002. KH

 Three of the most vulgar, drunken and foul-mouthed Aussie males are the subject of The Dunny, written and directed by Daniel Lillford. Astoundingly, playwright, Lillford, manages to make these three unpleasant blokes lovable.

It is a treat to see a Lillford play return to the Melbourne stage since he emigrated to Canada. The Dunny is a funny, brazen and distinctly Australian play. Perhaps it takes distance to appreciate the Aussie idiom completely.

Three sign writers from different generations trundle up to the bush to their shared galvanised iron shack for a bloke's weekend on the booze.

Robbo (Jeff Keogh) is a rugged, gruff 44 year old. The flip side of his vulgarity and booziness is his loyalty to both is unfaithful wife and to Pops, (Don Bridges) the older sign writer who taught him his trade.

Pops is a damaged Vietnam war veteran, one of the old school of sign writers with a work ethic. He is slowing down, his vision is going and he is about to be sacked.

Chooky (Michael Burkett) is the youngest, the most talkative and the one with the crudest attitude to women and work. He is in the habit of getting himself hurt and saying the wrong thing.

The grotesqueness of their drunkenness, language and their knocking and teasing of their mates is offset by their total loyalty to one another. There is no place for women in this bush retreat. In fact, it is difficult to see how these blokes could relate to women at all.

The play is tough, gritty realism. Lillford's writing is pithy, witty and dialogue is realistic. Characters are impeccably observed and each is well-defined and distinctive.

The balance of the comic and poignant is excellent. Lillford's direction is slick and seamless.

Performances by all three actors are exceptionally colourful, stylish and skillful. Bridges brings great dignity to Pops. Keogh balances the rough with the emotional in Robbo while Burkett, as the maddening Chooky, is a highlight.

Greg Carroll's design creates a rustic galvo shack and lighting by Ian Patching is evocative.

This is a very entertaining play that captures the Aussie male character frighteningly well.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 1 May 2002

Scissors, Paper, Rock by Daniel Keene, May 2002

Keene Taylor Theatre Project 
45 Downstairs 45 Flinders Lane Until May 12, 2002
Bookings: 9328 5870
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Scissors, Paper, Rock, by Daniel Keene, won the Premier's Literary Award in NSW in 2000. IT is a sensitive, realistic and trim script that deals with one man's descent from redundancy, through depression into psychosis.

Although it is such an unhappy topic, the play is not relentlessly tragic. Keene injects his signature dose of comedy into the pithy dialogue. He does not use Aussie idiom or rough vernacular as the basis of jokes but, rather, a gentler ironic tone.

Marco Chiappi is compelling as Kevin, the Catholic stonemason who patiently tends the home after being stood down from "the old works" 18 months ago.  He cooks, cleans and awaits the return of his wife (Anastasia Malinoff) and teenage daughter (Chloe Armstrong OK)

He is a different man now. The changes wrought in him by his redundancy make him unfamiliar to his wife and child. This is the tragedy of the play. It is the life of one little man with one enormous problem that he cannot articulate or deal with in any way other than depression or drinking.

The tragedy is in the detail. Kevin alienates his only remaining friend (Syd Brisbane OK) with his increasingly strange and secretive behaviour. He obsesses over the stone Madonna he carved and visits the old works daily for reasons to be revealed.
Director, Ariette Taylor creates a complex theatrical landscape in the rather awkward and very white space at 45 Downstairs.

She seats the audience on three sides of the action behind tables as if at a meeting. The action takes place in the centre of the space and at one end in a design by Adrienne Chisholm.

Philip Lethlean's lighting highlights the chill of the home world with cool blue light.

A chorus of volunteer actors intone, sigh and chant amongst or behind the audience. They create environments and crowds as well as providing an evocative vocal soundscape for Kevin's delusional inner world.

Actors leap suddenly onto the tables and run. The action intrudes on us even though we may feel separated by the tables.

Taylor's direction is stunning, inventive yet unintrusive. It adds metaphorical layers to Keene's naturalistic dialogue and narrative.

This is not necessarily a Keene masterpiece but it is yet another powerful statement about the underclass, the workless the ordinary man who suffers alone in his little world at the hand of the uncaring society.

By Kate Herbert