Thursday 30 January 2003

The Thinning Complex, Brettcardie Ingram, Feb 27, 2003

 The Thinning Complex by Brettcardie Ingram  
 The Storeroom, Feb 27 to March 1, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

There is nothing cheerful about The Thinning Complex by Brettcardie Ingram. It is a relentlessly dark and angry piece about a man with a gambling problem and the woman who tries to love him. Carl  (Hugh Sexton ) calls himself a poet. He is one of the inner city pseudo-artists with limited talent, no money or job.

He indulges in cynical attacks on the middle class and other easy targets despite having no social conscience. By the time we see him, he writes little and gambles all his dole money every second Friday. His girlfriend, Michelle,  (Devon Taylor)  totally supports him financially and is ready to relinquish this unwanted role. Carl drives her to distraction and rage - and us. He is maddeningly unreasonable, selfish, cruel and deceitful.

There are some interesting elements in The Thinning Complex. Ingram writes from personal experience as a problem gambler that gives the character authenticity.

Carl's confusion, anger and deception are totally believable. Carl suffers side effects of the gambling. He is impotent.  Michelle takes this as a personal affront because she is ignorant of his addiction and the causes of his impotence. It puzzles outsiders why a woman would suffer such a dysfunctional man. 

The play is too wordy. It needs action, emotional or physical, to relieve the demand on the audience to listen. The two long monologues are too much.

Taylor, as Michelle, plays the unceasing grief but manages to engage audience sympathy. Sexton, as Carl, is best which he drunkenly abuses Michelle's friends. At other times, he plays so down beat and introspective that he is almost inaudible.

Director, Julian Firminger  confines the actors in a cluttered space emphasising their disconnection. This restricts the space too much for the actors.

His use of video monitors draws the eye but most of the images are cryptic to say the least: leaves, ferns, pegs, abstract lines. The poker machine video makes an effective backdrop to Carl's rave about gambling but he is placed so awkwardly we cannot see both him and the images.

If you are after a night of laughs, this is not the play for you.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 29 January 2003

What is it Zach ? and Daddy Wolf by James Purdy, Jan 29, 2003

 What is it Zach ? / Daddy Wolf  by James Purdy
 Chapel off Chapel
Wed 29 Jan to Sat 8 Feb, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

From the 1980's, Lindzee Smith  lived in New York and staged short plays by James Purdy. What is it Zach? And Daddy Wolf is a product of Smith's long love affair with Purdy's writing. This short play is a collision of a short story and a play by Purdy. It is unstated which of the two is the dramatic text.

However, we might presume it is the dialogue between Zach,   Lindzee Smith ) a war veteran, and his amateur housekeeper-cook, Pete (Nicholas Politis ). The combination of the two produces a gritty, intimate, sometimes funny play.

Wilfred Last's  portrayal of the hapless Benny,  is a fine study in despair and survival of the working class in New York.
 His ruined face, skinny frame and versatile voice creates a complete workld even though we see Benny only in a phone box attached to a handset.

Smith and Politis may not quite master the New York accents nor the detail in acting but they are committed and interesting to watch. They relationship between cook and veteran is dangerous, warm and compelling.

One exceptional element in the show is the musician. Ashley Gaudion.  His jazzy piano, sultry saxophone and chaotic soundscape are essential to the impact.

Smith, who also directed the play, keeps the pace smooth and the intersections slick between the world of Benny and that of Zach and Pete.

Benny raves as he waits for an operator-connected call in the heady streets of the Big Apple. Slowly he unpeels his life for us. He worked in a mitten factory. The holes in the linoleum in his apartment are home to a family of rats.  Ironically, his family left him because of the rats - and the rising rate of venereal disease in the city.

Meanwhile, Pete, who lied his way into the job as private cook for Zach, slaves cooking delicious, inventive meals for Zach who abuses him. The status shifts between the pair constantly until they finally reconcile.

These two threads of narrative are a capsule of  life in New York and of the heightened emotion of deprivation, loneliness and loss.

By Kate Herbert

Monday 27 January 2003

One Night in the Well, Jan 27 to Feb 7, 2003

One Night in the Well   by Well Theatre
La Mama  at The Courthouse
Nightly at 7.30pm Jan 27 until February 7, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

There is one strength in the trio of plays called One Night in the Well. It is the live quintet is the first play, Stitch. The tangos of Argentinian composer, Astor Piazzola,  create the atmosphere.  

The musical ensemble, composed of piano accordion and string instruments, plays the sensual tunes with great skill.  The problem is that the plays cannot do justice to the musicians. The other element worth seeing over the evening is the video design (Matt Gingold).

In Stitch,  images are cunningly projected onto screens only to transform into real objects. A projected rose suddenly appears as a real rose. There are several life size puppets in the final piece, On Time.  written and performed by Dario VaCirca.

All three pieces utilise the physical and visual. There is even the addition of Australian Sign language. (Auslan)

There are so many disparate elements that none is sufficiently well realised to make these pieces work as theatre. They are more akin to incomplete pieces of performance art.

There is plenty in the program, as we see in performance art, to explain the concept of the pieces. However, very little of it is visible or comprehensible on stage.

Stitch, says the program, is based on Papillon  and his incarceration. A depressed boy (Nik Garcia) pursues a rat and then falls asleep.  In his dream, his older self (Peat Moss) pursues a tango dancer (Willow Conway) who is seduced and later murdered by a Spanish Don.  (Ryan Schofield)

The second play lacks style or form. Director, Ben Cittadina,  stands on stage doing snatches of Auslan. A boy and girl (Renato VaCirca, Ania Reynolds) sit on a bed, tear paper, put on lipstick, play piano and kiss. Sometimes they just sit or twist into palsied shapes. It seems to be an attempt at contemporary physical comedy but it misses by a country mile.

On Time is a narrated story (Tim Townsend) with action by Dario VaCirca.  Va Circa has some skill as a physical performer. However, his representation of the story is so literal and the writing so lacking in craft that, by the end, the piece is incoherent.

It seems that an amount of Australia Council money funded this. We should expect better.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 23 January 2003

Ben(t) by Ben Grant, La Mama, Jan 23, 2003

Ben(t)  by Ben Grant
 La Mama, Jan 23 to  Feb 9, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Ben Grant takes one afternoon of his life and makes an unassuming narrated musical show of it with director, Louis Dingemans.

The particular afternoon may not be the most interesting or compelling, but his experience of it was clearly exceptional.

One day, while travelling in an Asian country, Grant found himself very doped up on marijuana which, according to his telling, makes him notoriously sensual.

The quantity and potency of the dope seems to have made these few hours memorable so he wrote a series of songs about it and put them together with a very personal style of story-telling. He sits on a stool and sings into a microphone, playing his original songs on acoustic guitar.

The songs range across styles from ballads through blues to some that are so packed with lyrics they resemble contemporary patter songs.

Grant has charm and engages the audience in spite of some opening night nervousness and the rapid pace at which he played the show.

It is a journey of self-analysis which is not quite fully formed. We are confused by the narrative, bemused by his obsession with its being exceptional but at times charmed by his songs and his presence.

The show needs much rewriting and some rigorous direction. It is too loose and confusing. The songs often sound the same and feel as if they are casual travel journal entries put to music.

The day begins with his inappropriate sexual feelings toward a 'skinny Brit'  who shared his accommodation. He sings of his desire to overcome this drug-induced lust. "If only I were different - normal."

His rush to escape his lusty thoughts take shim to a creek where he encounters a dark-skinned robed boy wearing eye liner. The boy says, "Bent?" Is he asking whether Grant is gay or stoned? He escapes only to find himself pursued.

The stories continue. His paranoia increases. He tries to ton find friends. He feels persecuted, ogled by five black angels - or are they Indian workmen?  Finally, he reaches a beach and a woman selling shells. Somehow, she engages him and calms his spirit.

It is a short, simple show that relies on Grant's personality to carry it rather than the quality of the writing.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 22 January 2003

My Life as a Dyke Too/Open For Inspection, Jan 22, 2003

Open For Inspection  by Christopher Molyneux  
My Life as a Dyke Too: The Shequel  by Nik Willmott  and Rachel Forgasz
 La Mama,  Jan 21 to Feb 9, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The Midsumma Gay and Lesbian Festival tosses out way al levels of performance. These shows are examples of the good and the unsuccessful.

Open For Inspection  by Christopher Molyneux  is described ironically in the program as "a tragical musical fable for theatre". What it is, in fact, is fact is a confused concoction that never makes it as comedy.

The story is incoherent and the style lacks cohesive. The writing is a mish-mash of pop references, bad jokes and poor dialogue.  Direction by the writer Molyneux splits the stage by placing simultaneous scenes on two sides of the space so we feel we are often watching a tennis match.

The actors do their level best to commit to this play but it all looks wrong. It is intended to be sexy but looks uncomfortable. The songs and music are poorly arranged.

Deirdre ( Kellie Fernando) and Darren  (Nathan McFie) inspect a flat to rent. The apartment is riddled with weird people and events. There are two Greek Gods, a woman in a lamp, another in the oven and a couple in the fridge. Although this is all revealed to be a drug-induced vision, it does not work as narrative.

At the other end of the scale of success is My Life as a Dyke Too: The Shequel. This is a witty, simple funny sketch show. Writer, Nik Willmott, developed the series of vignettes with Rachel Forgasz.

They create a show about lesbians that that does not alienate a heterosexual audience. Two outrageously silly Toorak Road women reveal their ill-informed and idiotic bias about lesbians.

A sober young lesbian drives to a conference with a twittering work colleague in a recurring scene.  A seductive university professor lectures us on Lesbianism 201.

One particularly funny sketch involves two lesbian flat mates discuss the prohibitive cost of starting a relationship. Think of the gifts, flowers, dinners. Another parodies two elderly women who insist, "We are not lesbians," even though they kiss and sleep together.

The final parody of the video clip of Madonna's song, Vogue, is very entertaining. See it to get the picture.

By Kate Herbert

Saturday 18 January 2003

Combo Fiasco in Illegal Harmonies , Jan 18, 2003

Combo Fiasco  in Illegal Harmonies  
Chapel off Chapel
 Jan 18, 19, 25, 26, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Combo Fiasco is always a treat to hear. This trio of musical theatre artists met on a production of The Secret Garden.  Now, they sing show tunes together and quip their way through cabaret venues.

Sean Murphy, Tony McGill  and Charmaine Clements  are a charming, talented ensemble with a blend of delightful voices that tickle your musical nerve endings.

They have inventive arrangements of some well-known songs as well as some original numbers that are sometimes hilarious and at others moving. They open with a zippy version of Sentimental Journey  and follow it with a fine, jazzy arrangement of Sweet Georgia Brown.

This new show, Illegal Harmonies, is a deviation from the norm for them. Because it is part of the Gay and Lesbian Midsumma Festival , they have integrated plenty of camp humour for their audience.

"Are there any self-confessed heterosexuals in the audience?" quips Murphy. "Don't they blend in?"

They alter lyrics of famous songs to incorporate the comic gay references. If There Is a God He's a Queen was a hit. Lyrics from These Are a Few of My Favourite Things  are converted to " I simply remember the gays that I know and then I don't feel so bad."

There is nothing offensive only a few cheeky and often hilarious changes, puns and detours.
Even the blatantly sexual Como Ti Gusta Mi Pinga  has all the naughty bits in Spanish.

The high point of this truly entertaining show is Clements singing the raucously funny song Diva.  It is a parody of television actors who get themselves a musical role despite their lack of vocal talent.

"I can't carry a tune in a bucket," She sings. "But still I'm on the stage." It is an inspired indictment of casting for fame not talent.

Phil Scott  makes a special appearance to sing with the trio, What Did We Do Before Starbucks?  which he wrote with Tony Sheldon.  This a wonderfully acerbic parody of our new obsession with American coffee that tastes like everything but coffee.

The poignant Sweet Dreams  is superbly sung by Murphy. He also delivers with gusto the passionate and sad song from Falsettos,  The Games That I Play.  

Back on Base  is a sexy jazz number with only double bass accompaniment. And they do a soaring a cappella  version of Over the Rainbow. Don't be deterred by the festival's name. This is a great musical show.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 15 January 2003

The Blue Room by David Hare, MTC, Jan 15, 2003

The Blue Room by David Hare  
 Melbourne Theatre Company  (MTC)
 Playhouse, Vic Arts Centre
When: Monday to Saturday, Jan 15 to Feb 15, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The Blue Room, the much-publicised play by David Hare, weathered the hype surrounding its arrival.

Simon Phillips'  slick and funny production is a crowd pleaser. The highlight is not the two television stars ( Marcus Graham,  Sigrid Thornton)  getting their kit off nor the overtly sexual themes. It is Graham's  performance.

Both actors play five characters in ten scenes about ten diverse sexual encounters. Graham is compelling as all five. He is a chameleon, transforming physically, vocally and emotionally as he inhabits each character.

Thornton is a strong stage partner. Her role is challenging as she shifts accents from trashy London hooker to worldly French au pair or drug-addled Irish model. Her accents are not always perfect but Thornton is particularly good playing the lower class characters. She is charmingly naive as the young prostitute and she finds a potent blend of feisty and hapless in the Irish addict.

The difference is the effortlessness of Graham's performance. The enormous amount of work is evident in both actors but Graham makes it so real and natural. He moves from perky Cockney cabbie to self-conscious, anxious son of the privileged. His Politician is a study in arrogant reserve while his Scottish Playwright is an hilarious portrayal of a flamboyant, self-absorbed artist.

Graham's talent is innate, inexplicable and almost animal.  His most moving and subtly drawn character is the Aristocrat. His melancholy, his stillness, his desperate seeking for love and the romantic ideal are deeply moving.

The play is based on Arthur Schnitzler  19th century play, Reigen. The Blue Room is a series of scenes designed like a circle dance. Each person moves on to a new partner.

Hare's play is light, funny and entertaining whereas Schnitzler emphasised the darker side of sexual affairs. Everyone is seen in two relationships. Characters shift status, their power and sexuality taking on a different dynamic as they assume a new mask with another partner.

The script flags a little by the eighth or ninth scene but is redeemed by the final poignant relationship between the Aristocrat and the Hooker. When the Aristocrat faces his alcoholic amnesia, deeper layers seep through. Similarly, the drama is heightened in the jaded young life of the addict.

Characters selfishly tamper with others' lives, emerging emotionally unscathed. Others are so vulnerable they seem ready to shatter.

Stephen Curtis' design of angular stone, steel and glass is a fine counterpoint to the chaotic relationships and emotional morass of the characters. Iain Grandage's  incidental music is appropriately sexy jazz. The icy blues of Matt Scott's  lighting create a sickly glow that emphasises the coldness of most of these encounters.

This is a very clever commercial play that is funny without pushing too far into the social psychology of sexual peccadilloes.

By Kate Herbert

Friday 10 January 2003

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Australian Shakespeare Company, Jan 10, 2003

A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare   
The Australian Shakespeare Company
 Botanical Gardens  Gate F, Jan 10 to March, 2003 (no closing date)
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

It is that time again. After dark, Melburnians flock to the Botanical Gardens to sit on plaid picnic blankets snacking from wicker hampers. Yes. It's time for another ebullient production by Glenn Elston of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Usually, the environment is the feature of the show but this year it is the comedy that rules. Shakespeare's clowns are served exceptionally well by this swift, energetic production. They are the highlight. Ross Williams,  as Bottom  the Weaver,  is ebullient and charismatic.

Williams' comic and dramatic skills are evident as he plays Bottom transformed into a donkey, Bottom dominating the tradesmen's rehearsals and Bottom being seduced by the Fairy Queen, Titania.  (Kate Langworthy)

The other highlight is Brendan O'Connor  who is a marvellously acrobatic and mischievous Puck.  He charms the audience with his impishness and boundless energy.

The entire cast is delightful and most double as royals and tradies. As the two lovers, Demetrius  and Lysander,  Anthony Rive  and Philip Cameron-Smith  make a fine comic duo. They integrate contemporary language and songs into the Shakespearian dialogue

 As their female counterparts, Hermia  and Helena  Marissa Warrington  and Clare Danaher  are both very funny and play their girlish rivalry with a modern tilt.  Danaher plays Helena as a sporty, leggy, goofy gal who is a fine comic foil to Warrington's petite Kylie Minogue pertness.

Directors, Elston and Greg Carroll,  maintain a snappy pace so there is not time to tire of Shakespeare if you are unaccustomed to it.

Kevin Hopkins  reprises his roles as the Duke and Oberon, Fairy King.  His presence is commanding. As his Fairy Queen and Duchess, Langworthy manages to be both statuesque and playful.

If you do not know the story it goes like this. Hermia and Lysander want to marry but Hermia is betrothed to Demetrius who also adores her. Helen loves Demetrius. They all end up lost in the woods. Meanwhile, the tradesmen are rehearsing a play for the Duke's wedding in the woods. The Fairy King and Queen are rowing so Oberon, with his Puck, plays tricks on the humans for sport.

The acrobatic fairies ( Laura and Rachel Kmetko  bring howls of delight from the audience and the vivid lighting of the trees still takes our childish breath away.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 8 January 2003

Pirates of Penzance, Simon Gallaher & EssGee, Jan 8, 2003

Pirates of Penzance  by Gilbert  and Sullivan
by Simon Gallaher  and EssGee Entertainment
 Melbourne Concert Hall, January 8 to 14, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Simon Gallaher's company, EssGee Entertainment has a huge hit on its hands with this production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance.

2003 marks the 20th anniversary of the production featuring John English  and Gallaher. It feels like a private party to which we were invited. The enormous crowd in the Concert Hall leapt to its feet to applaud this mischievous and modern interpretation of the musical.

English reprises his role as the Pirate King.  He plays him as a bumbling but lovably incompetent buccaneer. English is a slapstick king with a big rusty voice and oodles of personality.

The highlight is the chorus of With Cat-like Tread.  English and his pirates pound out this hearty song, hurling themselves across the stage, hyping the audience until they scream for three encores.

The show is deftly directed by Craig Schaefer.  Tightly staged scenes and songs are interspersed with loose, ad libbed sections of dialogue that have the crowd roaring. English picks up on any twitch or cough in the audience and makes a meal of it.

There is plenty of swordplay and fall down comedy. The running gag is English grabbing his sword by the blade.

Gallaher's bright tenor is as good as ever. He plays Frederic  the young pirate whose loyalties are split between his new-found love, Mabel  (Carmell Parente) and his pirate mates. Parente's pretty soprano does justice to Mabel's signature tune, Poor Wandering One.

The chorus of pirates provides a powerful all-singing, all-dancing support to the production. They double as the hilariously cowardly policemen. Choreography by Tony Bartuccio  is slick, jazzy and funny, the orchestra are superb and Musical Director, Kevin Hocking, is a constant cheeky presence in the pit.

As the Sergeant of Police,  David Gould's  resonant bass, huge physique and mobile clown's face give the role pizzazz.

The pirates seek wives and all want one of the daughters of Major-General Stanley.  Gerry Connelly,  as Stanley, incorporates his mammoth skill in impersonation. This production gives him licence to strut his stuff. He switches at will into Queen Elizabeth, Bjelke-Petersen  Thatcher  and Paul Keating.  The crowd goes wild at his clever wordplay and uncannily accurate characters.

Another leap away from the original G and S script is Stanley three daughters. The Absolutely Fabulettes  (Andi Gallaher, Diana Holt, Marissa Denyer) are a wickedly 60's trio sporting bee-hives, pop music voices and plenty of spunk.

Pirates is perfect summer fare.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 7 January 2003

Cloud Nine by Caryl Churchill, MTC, Jan 7, 2003

 Cloud Nine by Caryl Churchill  
 Melbourne Theatre Company
Fairfax Studio, Victorian Arts Centre, Jan 7 to  Feb 8, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Although it was developed and written in 1978, Caryl Churchill's play, Cloud Nine, seems a product of the 60's.

Churchill is less concerned with narrative than with issues surrounding sexual diversity - or aberration depending on one's view. The play was developed in the late 70's with Joint Stock,  a renowned English company that produced many great political dramas.

Churchill's style is affected by its group-devised beginnings. This form can leave a play, even in the hands of a playwright, with too many threads and voices. Churchill's style cracks traditional narrative and tosses the pieces in the air.

In the first half, we see an English colonial family in Africa. They are dressed, in Kate Cherry's  production, in Edwardian costume, which heightens their conservatism and paternalism toward the black population.

The father (Christopher Gabardi) rules not only the colony but also his wife, (Luke Mullins) her mother, (Gillian Jones) his son, (Clare Powell) their governess (Katherine Tonkin) and his black servant (Greg Stone). His only equal is his closeted, gay explorer friend, Bagley. (Matthew Dyktynski)

This half is very funny in its clever parody of the upper class colonials. Cherry accentuates the toffy-nosed git caricatures and it has the feeling of Benny Hill meeting a French farce. Cherry's direction is intelligent and slick. The acting from the entire ensemble is exceptionally strong.

 Gabardi is delightful as the father and playing a toddler in act two. Jones brings great skill and resonance to the aging Betty.   and Stone portrays the black servant with relish and wit.

The cross-dressing and cross-gender casting give Churchill's smart lines of dialogue dual meanings.

The lighting (Mark Howett) and set design (Christina Smith) create a luminous African savanna background with pristine white foreground.

The second half is less successful. Twenty-five  years pass. It is London in1978  and we see some of the same characters struggling with life in the fast lane with its innumerable sexual and lifestyle choices.

Churchill injects so many social issues into the second act that it becomes messy and unsatisfying. The wit of the first half is replaced with cheap sexual jokes and ridiculously complicated relationships and hippy lifestyle choices.

The detailed sexual references become adolescent. They were designed, presumably, to shock a 70's audience. We are almost unshockable these days.

By Kate Herbert

Saturday 4 January 2003

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves by Dance Encore Productions, Jan 4, 2003

 Snow White and the Seven Dwarves  by Dance Encore Productions
Comedy Theatre, Tuesday to Sunday, January 4 to 19, 2003  
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

It is impossible to judge this production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves as one would other shows. It is a success because the kids laugh and sing along and shout, " He's behind you!" like nobody's business.

This version, based on the Grimm's  fairy tale, was first presented in the 70's and is designed for young children. The show has toured Australia since. It is an artistic dinosaur.

It is refreshing to note that, even in this day of high tech entertainment, the simple things still work with kids. It is not quite an English pantomime. It feels like a dance school end of year show. There are dancing girls in outmoded peasant costumes doing out-dated choreography, the sets are plywood and there is pre-recorded music to which the chorus mimes.

There are two very fine performances from singer-actors Nicky Webb  playing Snow White  and James Allen  as The Prince.  Both have delightfully well trained and true voices and enter the old-fashioned style with great commitment.

Hilton Bonner,  also the director, is entertaining as the absent-minded King. His style is old Vaudeville comic patter and the audience shouts, "Yes you did!" and "No you didn't!" at his will.

The seven dwarves, although not highly skilled actors, are a very funny slapstick ensemble. Their scenes are the most entertaining and children flocked to get autographs after the show.

The Walt Disney   dwarf characters are not in attendance. Instead we meet The Leader,  (Scott Smith ) Smiler,  (Tim Victory) and Shy One (Jim Chapman). Sneezy is replaced by Sniffles,  (Nathan Monk) and Sleepy by Dozey  (Luke Ryan).

Jeff Bernasconi  is funny as the woman-hating Grouchy.  When he goes off to work in leathers dancing to Michael Jackson's "I'm Bad', the crowd goes wild. Stephen George  plays Silly One,  as an eye-rolling, mute, Harpo Marx  style of slapstick oddball. The kids love him.

Some of the company began in this production over twenty years ago. It has the feeling of a family on stage. It is rough and amateurish in many ways but if the children want to see it, it must be doing its job.

By Kate Herbert

Friday 3 January 2003

Wind in the Willows, Australian Shakespeare Productions, Jan 3, 2003.

Wind in the Willows  by  Kenneth Grahame  Australian Shakespeare Productions
Botanical Gardens enter Gate F
 10am and 6pm Tuesday to Saturday  until January 25, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Each new cast of Glenn Elston's  production of Wind in the Willows brings a different edge to this charming outdoor children's show. What never changes is the spectacular environment of the Botanical Gardens.

The audience, seated on rugs and surrounded by snack foods, is greeted by the personable Head Chief Rabbit  ( Ross Mathers) and the rascally Weasel (Robert Jackson). The light, comical banter between this pair is always peppered with adult jokes and innuendo for the parents.

Mathers and Jackson dub us all honorary bunnies. Just to prove it we all sing 'Waggle your ears, wiggle your nose and sing whispering willows." The next arrival is the timid compulsive cleaning creature, Mole.  ( Vanessa Case)

Once we are warmed up by both the sun and the Rabbit and Weasel duo, we toddle off on an adventure through the Wild Wood  to the River.

It is here that the Bottie Gardens struts its stuff. Fruit bats, swans and ducks provide scenery and soundscape while the actors cavort in front of, and even in, the glistering lake.

Ratty (Ezra Bix) arrives in a rowing boat with a picnic basket.  Otter (Brett Cousins) swims to us wearing a wetsuit and Toad of Toad Hall  ( Ben Anderson) tumbles from a canoe. Ben Anderson successfully plays the wise, lazy old Badger  as a blustering old British lord.

When Otter's son, Portly,  (Arky Elston) disappears, the action heats up and the Weasels take over the Toad Hall in a silent terrorist assault

There are some delightful songs and characters. Jackson provides some hot Weasel Jazz on clarinet and guitar. He's a 'Lounge Weasel'. Ratty, played in wonderfully high panto style by Bix, sings Know You Ducks,  a great hit in the audience participation stakes.

Anderson plays Toad as an outrageously flamboyant vaudeville star or game show host. He is all teeth and vanity. "I'm not fibbin', I'm a hot amphibian," he sings.

Director, Greg Carroll,  keeps the show warm and the jokes coming. My only criticisms are that the pace is occasionally slow and some actors have not fully entered their characters. Take a rug and brolly and a sandwich and cop another a look at this cute little show.

By Kate Herbert

The Three Musketeers, Australian Shakespeare Company, Jan 4, 2003

The Three Musketeers  
Touche Productions  with Australian Shakespeare Company
Albert Park Lake Aughtie Drive,  Tuesday to Sunday, January 3 to 18, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Here comes another summer outdoor classic. All for one and one for all! The Three Musketeers are sword-fighting around Albert Park Lake for King and country.

This adaptation by Touche Productions of the famous story has its tongue firmly in its cheek most of the time. It is very funny with plenty of swordplay, wordplay, swashbuckling, elaborate 17th century French costumes, poncing, posing and wig-tossing.

The young D'Artagnan  (Christopher Parker) is sent by his legendary father to join the Musketeers. He becomes involved in saving the reputation of the beautiful Queen (Penelope Bartlau) and protecting the aging King (Bruce Kerr) from the powerful and corrupt Cardinal Richelieu.  ( Bruce Langdon)

Although the stage design is simple and uninspiring, the production, directed by Justin Harris-Parslow  is entertaining with some very fine acting from the entire ensemble.

The Musketeers are a delightful trio of buffoons with attitude. Jarrod Carland  plays the former cleric, Aramis,  as a foppish and pious hypocrite.

Harris-Parslow lends colour to the portly Porthos,  playing him as a man who prefers food to fighting. As Athos  and the Older D'Artagnan, Tom Bradley  is compelling and his delivery and understanding of dialogue is impeccable. Stephen Whittaker  relishes his role as the sinister, scheming Rochford,  Richelieu's Angel of Vengeance.

 A highlight is Bruce Kerr's loopy King Louis X111.  He skips and prances, flaps like a bird and prattles like a naughty child. Penelope Bartlau, Kat Stewart  and Belle Armstrong  play the three female roles with style and skill.

There are some cute nods to the low budget that get a laugh or two. The Musketeers ride wooden stick horses. They engage is some goofy slapstick in fight scenes and the frequent contemporary references that get a hoot from the crowd.

This is a lively and witty production with an intelligent adaptation and clever acting. The design is a little clumsy and the location rather too cold and unsheltered beside the lake.

There are moments when the scene changes lagged and voices were lost on the wind but in general the three musketeers is a perky outdoor show for the family. Take a bottle of wine and a rug - or two.

By Kate Herbert