Wednesday 18 June 2003

Scaramouche Jones by Justin Butcher, June 18, 2003

Scaramouche Jones by Justin Butcher  
With Pete Postlethwaite
Athenaeum Theatre I, June 8 to 29 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 18

Pete Postlethwaite  is exceptional as the ancient clown, Scaramouche Jones in Justin Butcher's play, of the same name.

He is alone on stage for ninety minutes and his performance is rivetting. The warm, honeyed tones of his voice compel one to enter the world of this eccentric, tragic old entertainer. Postelthwaite leads us on a picturesque journey from the birth of Scaramouche on a fish monger's table in Trinidad  at the end of 1899 to his swan song on the eve of 2000.

The irony is that this silent clown is portrayed through a torrent of poetic language. His inner world is flooded with language. His public world is stony silent. Butcher's script is vivid, painting elaborate word pictures to evoke the world of Scaramouche.

Butcher's language is lyrical and rich, colourful but sometimes unnecessarily convoluted. Its complexity sometimes interferes with the character and his action. Because the language is so dense, there is very little stage action.

The play is set inside a circus dressing tent, designed by Ashley Martin-Davis.  Director, Rupert Goold  punctuates Postlethwaite's self-narration with moments of captivating clown mime. His all too brief dumb shows portrayed his mother receiving her brothel clients, a hanging and even his own death.

The most significant mime occurs when Scaramouche, as a grave-digger in a Nazi concentration camp, parodies the German guards for the children about to die by their grave-side. He creates for them in silence, their own execution scene. It is tragic, funny and moving.

Scaramouche Jones tells the politics and history of a century through the eyes and life of one outsider. He is born in poverty and love of a West Indian gypsy mother and an unknown Englishman.

When his mother is murdered, he is sold to a sailor then finally sold to a snake charmer with whom he works until adulthood. He has vague understandings of both wars, is almost seduced by an Italian prince, is rescued by his beloved Gypsies  and ends up incarcerated in Spandau prison  convicted of war crimes.

His eerily white face is his trademark. As he ages and moves from one episode of his life journey to another, he changes one white mask for another. His seventh is on arrival in England, a free man finally. He puts on a clown white face and never takes it off.

This is a poignant and absorbing theatre performed by a consummate actor.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 4 June 2003

Myth, Propaganda and Disaster ...Sewel, June 4, 2003

Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America
By Stephen Sewell  by Playbox Theatre  and State Theatre Company of south Australia
Merlyn Theatre, Playbox Theatre, June 4 to 2, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

In Stephen Sewell's new play, the protagonist, Talbot,  (Nicholas Eadie), may draw a long bow with his comparison of the current American government with fascism.

The title of Talbot's book is the title of the play: Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America. Talbot claims it is an academic essay not a criticism of the American government. Unfortunately secret powers disagree and his life is radically transformed.

The play is an overtly political statement on the new conservatism in Australia and America arising out of recent issues in the Middle East and the so-called New World Order  since September 11. Sewell uses the world of an American university as the vehicle to explore the fear, paranoia and racism that propel governments into increased security and intelligence seeking.

The play is essentially a witch-hunt, echoing McCarthyism in the 1950s. Somebody must be blamed. Let's make it the leftists and liberals.

Talbot, an Australian professor, teaches Politics in an MBA (Master of Business Administration). His fraught wife, Eve,  (Alison Whyte) writes scripts for the Hollywood machine while his Aussie mate (Tom Considine) wants a teaching job in the USA. Talbot's conservative department boss, Jack,  (Michael Habib) is manipulative and self-seeking. Jack's wife (Jacqy Phillips) is a whisky soaked rich tart.

The play is a thriller in part. A dangerous stranger (Greg Stone) with uncanny knowledge of Talbot, invades Talbot's office and home. Talbot is beaten, incarcerated and finally tortured. Is the invader real or a paranoid delusion? Is he being punished for talking to a student (Ming Zhu Hii  alone in his rooms?

The acting from the entire ensemble is intelligent and rivetting.  The production, directed by Aubrey Mellor,  is compelling with a striking, clinical design by Shaun Gurton  and stark lighting by Mark Shelton. The rising panic and frenzy is accentuated by David Franzke's  sound design.

Sewell's script is ambitious and effective in the most part. The first half is the more coherent. The later half becomes verbose and focuses on too many characters and minor story threads. All the characters are markedly dislikeable and they function generally as ciphers for particular views.

Some incidental characters seem extraneous, such as the psychiatrist (Phillips) and Jill,  (Martha Lott) the wife of the university lawyer. (Robert Macpherson) The rising tide of right wing activity in America and Australia's support of Bush is the target for this piece.

The outcome of this grim and gripping tale may appear unlikely, but are we so far from the secret service running clandestine agendas?

By Kate Herbert