Thursday 19 September 2002

Fever, MWT, Sep 19, 2002

Fever  by Andrew Bovell  Patricia Cornelius,  Melissa Reeves, Christos Tsiolkas  & Irine Vela Melbourne Workers Theatre
At  Trades Hall, Sept 19 to October 5, 2002
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

"Where does the fever in the nation burn hottest?' This was the challenging question asked of the four writers of the new Melbourne Workers Theatre production, Fever.

These same writers (Andrew Bovell, Patricia Cornelius, Melissa Reeves , Christos Tsiolkas) created the award winning MWT show, Who's Afraid of the Working Class?

Seven actors play variety of roles in all stories. (Daniela Farinacci, Eugenia Fragos, LeRoy Parsons,  Rodney Afif, (Pauline Whyman David Adamson, Tony Briggs)

The company wanted to revisit the artistic and critical success of its earlier production. Fever succeeds only in part. It does not meet the level of socio-political commentary of Who's Afraid…? Nor does it equal its artistic achievements.

This is not to say that the show has no merit. The important issues of xenophobia and fear of difference are raised in this testing period of our history since the refugee crisis and September 11.

These common themes and the image of a river link the four separate narrative threads.

Bovell's tightly written story, The Chair,  is about a frightened woman ( Fragos) holding hostage a man (Parsons) who invaded her land and her home.

This is the most effective narrative. The dialogue is spare, the themes are less obvious and the relationship between the two characters is dangerous and dramatic. It is the only story with any genuine dramatic tension.

Reeves' story, Savant,  is funny and eccentric. A young woman (Farinacci)  gives birth to a violent and fully developed baby. (Afif) " Mummy, I'm evil," quips the bub.

Although the baby's concluding political tirade is humorous, it overstates its themes and feels like preaching.

In Blunt  by  Patricia Cornelius,  a woman (Whyman) finds a baby floating on a river. Her primitive community of women are fearful of the baby because of its race.

Psalms  by Christos Tsiolkas,  attacks the issues by portraying a local community split by a river, race, religion and, subsequently, war.

Director, Julian Meyrick  keeps the pace rapid and the style and images consistent. The set (Louise McCarthy  is a red sandy desert reminiscent of Uluru.  Paul Jackson   lights the stage with flair.  

Music by Irine Vela  is a highlight of the show. It creates atmosphere with sultry evocative guitar and cello.

Fever is a noble effort but the outcome is, in part, a simplistic representation of complex themes.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 12 September 2002

The Simple Truth by Michael Gurr Playbox, Sept 2002

The Simple Truth  by Michael Gurr
Playbox Theatre  at Beckett Theatre, Malthouse
Sept 12 until October 5, 2002
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

There is a disturbing quality to Michael Gurr's  new play, The Simple Truth. It challenges an audience to stay alert, to keep abreast of its wave-like motion and to comprehend its twists and abstractions.

It begins enigmatically, with a man engaged in a one-sided conversation with a silent and frightened woman. The air is thick with menace. He seems threatening.

 Hirst, (Kim Gyngell)  the man, we discover to be a police officer. Sarah, (Josephine Byrnes) the distressed woman, came to him to confess. We know neither to what crime nor even whether she committed a crime at all.

The premise of this play is interesting. What constitutes a crime? Is neglect, lack of interest or an unwillingness to help a crime?

As this bewildering relationship develops, we are compelled to ask why the pair seem so intimate so quickly and what is the simple truth of her 'crime'.

The play has an unusual construction. It begins with long monologues: the first from Hirst, the second from Sarah. Eventually they converse. The play is dense with cryptic dialogue and is demanding on the ear. 

Gyngell is both entertaining and menacing as the pseudo-intellectual cop while Byrnes provides a finely tuned performance as the fragile and despairing Sarah.

Bruce Myles  adroitly directs the two actors with a light hand. There is little physical action so the focus is on the speaking character much of the time.

Glenn Hughes'  lighting creates deep shadows and evocative atmosphere. Andrew Pendlebury's  original live guitar is a fine adjunct to the production. It provides the necessary emotional layer. Judith Cobb's  design replicates an interrogation room with Pendelbury seated upstage framed by what could be a two-way mirror.

The play is short and clever. The writing is witty, characters are smart and engage in entertaining repartee and romantic fantasy. What it lacks is an emotional connection for the audience.

There seems to be some connective tissue missing from the narrative or, at least, from the relationship between the two characters. They are pushed suddenly and inexplicably into intimacy, shared fantasy and flirtation. The leaps are not totally unconvincing and make the outcome a little unsatisfying.

Despite this, The Simple Truth is a short and intense experience in the theatre.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 11 September 2002

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, MTC, Sept 11, 2002

Great Expectations  by Charles Dickens  adapted by Simon Phillips
Melbourne Theatre Company at Playhouse, Vic Arts Centre 
Sept 11 until 12 October, 2002
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The multiple narrative threads of Great Expectations are rich and the gallery of characters fascinating and hilarious.  Simon Phillips' adaptation wrests a viable stage script from Charles Dickens' extensive novel.

Its long chronology, countless eccentric characters and Victorian landscapes would terrify a more timorous heart. This complexity is difficult to translate into dramatic language and imagery. There are more threads than even four hours can comfortably handle. A more ruthless edit might help. 

Phillips' creates some magical and transformational images. People become horses and carriage, characters appear out of darkness, dank and forbidding London streets come alive. Some images, such as the burning of Miss Haversham,  fly by too quickly.

The emotional landscape is provided by Ian McDonald's  music that underscores and punctuates. The production is enhanced by Nick Schlieper's  complex and dramatic lighting that creates atmosphere and deep perspective.

Benjamin Winspear  as Pip  creates a believable youth growing from working class child to city gentleman. As Pip grows, Winspear displays the complex passion, craving and warmth of the man. Pip grows up with his comically feisty sister (Julie Forsyth) and her kindly blacksmith husband played with great warmth by Richard Piper. 

He is privileged and tormented by his regular visits to the eccentric Miss Haversham (Angela Punch McGregor)  and her cold-hearted adoptive niece, Estella  (Sam Healy) whom he loves hopelessly. 

Punch McGregor's almost spider-like portrayal of Miss Haversham is compelling, capturing impeccably the jilted woman's grief, despair and remorse. Healy  is competent as the provocative, cold Estella but lacks intensity.

Pip's life changed radically when a mysterious benefactor catapults him into the life of a gentleman. Jonathan Hardy  is rivetting as Jaggers,  the surly lawyer who manages Pip's patronage.

 Linal Haft  as Pip's convict benefactor, Magwitch,  is powerful and Huw Higginson  plays a charming, quirky Wemmick.

A parade of vivid, hilarious characters are played with finesse by the ensemble. There is an enormous amount of action and innumerable characters in this story.  Dale Ferguson's  design is architectural and at times a little inflexible but allows a flow of action on stairs and balconies.

Great Expectations is an epic that is successful in the great part but is a little unwieldy and unmoving.

By Kate Herbert