Thursday 20 February 2003

Snapshots by Peter Hardman, Feb 14, 2003

Snapshots  by Peter Hardman  

Gasworks Theatre, Feb 14 to March 2, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The cavernous space of the Gasworks Theatre is unforgiving. It needs to be filled. Snapshots, written by Peter Hardman and directed by Susan Pilbeam  makes a valiant attempt to fill the space but it still remains huge and hollow.

Hardman's play is constructed in a series of short scenes about seven people and their various and nefarious relationships. Their connections are sometimes shady business, unromantic love triangles, the meeting of artistic desires or just plain platonic.

Ben  (Alan King) is an ambitious land developer who wants to build 'eco-lodges' into the hills overlooking the glorious ocean views of an isolated and dying coastal town. His offer is accepted by the owner of the land ( Reg Gorman)  but he meets resistance from the town cop ( Robert Kelty) and Kerry,  (Peter Stratford)  a wealthy businessman who wants to build a hotel.

A stroppy, pretty young woman (Venta Rutkauskas) complicates the narrative by seducing all the men. Hardman's two stories sit uncomfortably together. The graft and corruption around the coastal property is at odds with the various sexual peccadilloes of the characters.

In order to represent the numerous locations for these relationships, Pilbeam moves the action around the nearly empty stage.
One potentially interesting device is that the design is not actually constructed on the stage.

 Location and atmosphere are created by slides of landscape, people or paintings on two huge screens. These are evocative initially. However, the slides lose much of their fascination and effectiveness by Act Two.

Scene changes are too slow. With so many truncated scenes and several narrative threads and styles running simultaneously, the movement between stories and locations needs to be swifter and more efficient. Even music covering some of the slower silent changes could assist the mood and pace.

There are some good performances from Stratford and Gorman but the quality of the acting is uneven and the pace unvaried. The characters are two-dimensional and their relationships are predictable and under-developed. In the end we do not have any sympathy for any of the characters. We do not care about them.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 19 February 2003

Somewhere Along the Way, Telia Nevile , Feb 19, 2003

Somewhere Along the Way  by Telia Nevile  

La Mama, Feb 19 to March 2, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

"How did it come about that all that remained of so much life was little squares of stained paper with pictures on?"

This quote from Captain Corelli's Mandolin  refers to photos and their ability to capture moments from the past and to trigger memories. Recollections of a past relationship are the basis of the short play, Somewhere Along the Way,  written and directed by Telia Nevile.

The performance has no linear narrative. It is a series of snapshots of a young couple (Clare Reynolds, OK Matt Kelly). Time is elastic.  We move backward and forward in time, seeing them at the beginning, middle and end of their coupledom.

We even see vignettes of their post-relationship accidental and uncomfortable meetings. The play begins with them happily ensconced in their relationship, puzzling over unfamiliar photos from their common past.

This is a gentle piece that does not challenge or confront us. It moves from one brief scene to another. Information about the pair trickles out over the forty minutes.

There is no attempt to make the characters substantial or to provide us with details of their time together. It is a sketch of the journey of a couple from meeting to parting. This leaves the piece a little unsatisfying and thin in parts.  But the performances are charming.

Kelly has an engaging, sometimes quirky manner. He manages to make the gauche young man both maddening and endearing. Both Kelly and Reynolds have a naturalness and warmth that draws us into the story. 

Nevile concentrates on the notion of memory. She draws parallels between memory and a jigsaw puzzle.  Piece is often missing.

The director employs some simple theatrical devices.  She uses back-lit screens, repeated scenes with variations in mood and repetitive movement sequences to show the demise of the relationship.

The piece is effective in many ways. Its weaknesses are in the lack of depth of the narrative and characters, the repetition and the jumpiness of the short scenes.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 13 February 2003

The Three Interiors of Lola Strong by Caroline Lee, Feb 13, 2003

The Three Interiors of Lola Strong by Caroline Lee  
 fortyfivedownstairs, Feb 13 to March 2, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

There is a quiet intensity in The Three Interiors of Lola Strong. It is a quality that emanates from actor-write, Caroline Lee in all her work. Her performance is compelling.

Lee portrays Lola Strong, an ambitious, risk-taking Australian architect of Italian background. We follow Lola through her several ( in fact five) interiors. All are constructed within the long,  narrow fortyfivedownstairs space. Each is the site of a new episode in Lola's disintegrating inner life.

At the opening, she greets us from a odium in the foyer with a speech launching her totally glass office building. Lola is confident, potent, invincible. This cannot, of course, last long.

In her second space, she is perched on her white porcelain bathtub dangling her white porcelain legs in the water. Slowly, in the cool, blue-lit water, she describes her bathroom, her scattered memories. When she reads a letter telling of her mother's death in Italy, she slides inevitably under the bath water. She is steeped in her shock and emotion by now.

The odd thing is that there is little palpable sense of grief or pain in this performance. The dense, often poetic prose, washes over us at times unheard. Lola is a different woman to us now .She is vulnerable and alone.

We trail after her to a large, open white and starkly lit space. We are in sunny Calabria to visit Carlo, Lola's brother. He berates her for missing their mother's funeral. She did not know, she pleads. How is this possible, we wonder.

Lola's sense of self is visibly shattering. We settle on camp-stools in the final room surrounded by enormous canvases of red desert sand and azure sky. Here, Lola is confronted with the grotesque impracticality and inappropriateness of her design for a courthouse in the desert. At last she faces the reality of her environment and accommodates it in her new bulding.

Anna Tregloan's  design is cheeky and takes advantage of the tiny spaces. Each is unobtrusively and evocatively lit by Paul Jackson. Roger Alsop's  subtle soundscape filters in and out of our consciousness, as it should.

If I have any quibbles they pertain to there being too many words at times. My other concern is that the many threads of of Lola's inner disintegration and reconstruction are not fully developed. There is no attention to the grief or loss. We are left unmoved by her story.

By Kate Herbert

Monday 10 February 2003

Mavis Goes to Timor, Feb 10, 2003

 Mavis Goes to Timor  
 by Katherine Thomson,  Angela Chaplin  and Kavisha Mazzzella 
 Playbox  and Deckchair Theatre, Perth
Malthouse courtyard 
Feb 10 to March, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Mavis Goes to Timor feels more like a good long chat with a few women than a play. There are various reasons for this. The story is based on the experiences of a mother and daughter, Mavis  and Elwyn  Taylor  from Yarrawonga.

In the play, Mavis (Anne Phelan) announces to her extended family at her 86th birthday party that she is going to East Timor to set up sewing centres for the women.

This is the core of the story. The writers, Angela Chaplin and Katherine Thomson, saw the documentary on SBS of Mavis's trip to the decimated country after its free election. The strength of the play is its truthful telling of the story. As Mavis, Phelan is charming, hearty and courageous.

Mavis herself is cheerful and motivated, undeterred by obstacles. Her only negative moment is the day she arrives in East Timor and sees the devastation of the landscape. The other two actors are also compelling. As Elwyn, Kerry-Ella McAullay  is delightfully cranky and opinionated.

 Her country ways, blunt speech and impatience endear her to us as she fights for the women of Timor. McAullay's singing voice is rich and melodic. Each song she sings is rivetting.

As the Timorese woman, Mariana,  Cidalia Pires  grabs our hearts. She reveals to us the indescribable loss, grief and near annihilation of these people. She represents their grim determination to survive and never to hand over their homeland.

Her speech about tossing her child over a razor wire fence in the United Nations  compound to save him is a glimpse into the desperation that drove these people.

Traditional Timorese songs are interspersed with original songs written by Kavisha Mazzella  and performed by Mazzella with Marco Quiroz  and a choir of about fifty.

The music underscores the dialogue that is further enhanced by original video footage of the Timorese (Nancy Jones). Huge yellow containers create the flexible set designed by Michael Betts.  

This is a play in the style of the 1980's political theatre pieces. It is didactic and overtly political. The actors frequently talk directly to us in long speeches. Its message is clear: We abandoned the Timorese who helped us in the World War II.  It is time we came to their aid.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 5 February 2003

Marc Salem's Mind Games, Feb 5, 2003

Marc Salem's  Mind Games  
 Malthouse  February 5 to 23, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Marc Salem, in Mind Games, is audacious, confronting, charming - and wildly entertaining.  He reads minds. He insists he does no such thing but as far as we, the audience, are concerned, he reads minds.

The beauty is that Salem explains how he does it, that it is not occult. Then he blinds us with extraordinary and inexplicable deductions. We leave gob-smacked by his mysterious capacity. The show is exciting, compelling, hilarious and dramatic, all in ninety swift minutes.

Mind Games is not like Crossroads,  from American television.  Salem is an American psychologist who studied human behaviour and psychology for thirty years.

He talks at machine gun pace, peppering his banter with gags, ad-libs and snippets of explanatory notes on his method. He appears to demystify the process. Then he turns us on our heads with his spooky penetration of people's thoughts.

He begins with warm up number games.  He tosses his 'randomiser"  - a scrunched ball of paper - to three audience members who each think of a number. Somehow, the digits he wrote down beforehand replicate those of the audience members.

Much of his work has a strong visualisation component. "Think of a table, a vase, see a flower in it. What colour is the flower?" He teased a few celebrities in the crowd but was disinclined to use them on stage.

Salem, like a comedian, integrates random events. A mobile phone rings. He asks the unwitting caller to pick three numbers. Salem is correct again. He compels his on stage guests to think of a word chosen secretly from a book and then each letter of the word. He astounds us by guessing all three accurately.

Five others draw sketches. He guesses who drew which picture by asking them to deny they drew any of them. Amazing to our untrained eyes. He charms and chats as he predicts an addition of numbers that were written on a paper by randomly selected audience members.

But the piece de resistance has to be the finale. He is blind-folded. He invites two doctors to join him. ("It's a pair-a docs!" he quips.) One, ironically, is a celebrated research psychiatrist. Each borrows interesting objects from the audience.

Salem, still blind-folded, astounds us by describing personal objects held under his hand.  He simultaneously details holiday destinations written down by several people. Gob smacking, I say. See him.

By Kate Herbert