Wednesday 30 July 2003

Ruby Moon, by Matt Cameron, July 30, 2003

 Ruby Moon by Matt Cameron   
Playbox Theatre  and Neonheart Theatre
 Beckett Theatre, Malthouse, July 30 to August 16, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 30

The topic of child abduction is not a comic one but Matt Cameron's cunningly written play,  Ruby Moon, manages to be successfully and sensitively grimly funny.

Aidan Fennessy's  sleek production boasts two exceptional performances from peter Houghton  and Christen O'Leary  as multiple eccentric characters who typify Cameron's style.

It is absurd and abstracted, reminiscent of some of his other plays, particularly the dark narrative of Footprints on Water. In addition to the pathos of pain and grief, it has some broad comic elements.

This bleak, fractured fairytale is about Ray (Houghton)  and Sylvie Moon, (O'Leary)  parents of Ruby, a six year old who disappeared wearing a red spotted dress while en route to Grandma's house at the end of a street.

Yes, the Red Riding Hood references are intentional. Fairytales are often violent and frightening.

 O'Leary plays Sylvie with the high-pitched peculiar tone of a woman about to snap. Sylvie pretends Ruby is alive, calling on the phone, knocking at the door or practising her piano in the next room. The grief of the parents is palpable and poignant.

Houghton, as Ray, is a man trying to hold not only himself but his wife together but glue is coming unstuck.

The pair play a daily routine of pretend and meaningless chatter after Ray comes home from work on the train. Anything to avoid the reality of Ruby's absence.

Both actors play multiple characters whoa re the couple's neighbours. The transform physically and vocally in moments with only a simple on stage costume change.

Houghton's rapid fire routine as Sid, the Clown, is a supreme moment of comic timing and caricature. His limping ex-soldier, Wizard and mad amateur astrophysicist are delightful.

O'Leary shifts from Dulcie,  the bible basher with a fake parrot, to Dawn,  the shabby baby-sitter. But her highlight is veronica Vale  a sultry chanteuse.  Her torch song is breathtaking.

Fennessy's direction is slick and pacey. Philip Lethlean's  lighting creates a landscape of moods, interiors and exteriors along with Christine Smith's cluttered flotsam set design.

Andrew McNaughton's music echoes the escalating madness of Ray and Sylvie's imaginations. Ruby Moon is a must-see in Playbox's season.

By Kate Herbert

Friday 25 July 2003

Dirty Butterfly, Red Stitch, July 25, 2012

By Debbie Tucker Green
Red Stitch Actors Theatre Rear 2A Chapel St. St. Kilda
July 25 to August 17, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 25, 2003

 There is an ominous feeling from the very start of Dirty Butterfly. We sense that someone is to be damaged irreparably.

English playwright, Debbie Tucker Green, tells her story about violence and voyeurism in two parts. The first peers into the world of the three young neighbours from an apartment block with very thin walls.

Jo (Kat Stewart) Amelia  (Ella Caldwell ) and Jason (Vince Miller) live adjacent to each other. Jason suffers with a stammer and is socially isolated. He spends hapless hours with an ear pressed to his dividing wall listening to Jo's sexual activity with her abusive boyfriend.

The opening act is abstracted. We see all three in the space as if in their own apartments but communicating directly as if in the same room. Jo tells that, in the early morning, she crept from her bed to crawl to the toilet, afraid to wake her volatile lover. She taunts Jason with her sexual exploits, knowing he is obsessed with her.

Amelia has already moved downstairs from her bedroom to sleep on her sofa to avoid the sounds of lust through her wall. She wants Jason to do the same. We wonder, are Amelia and Jason friends or ex-lovers? Do they know Jo or not?

Jo wakes up every morning feeling as if it is going to be her last. Each day she could be right but we do not know if we are about to witness her final hours.

The second act is shorter and more realistic as Jo arrives, early in the morning, bloody and beaten in the café Amelia cleans.

Kat Stewart is compelling as the beleaguered Jo. She explores a range that runs from the seductive to the shattered and victimised. Caldwell is sympathetic as Amelia, the young Cockney who wants to avoid all the horror of Jo's life but cannot seem to separate from her.

Miller plays the repressed and trembling Jason as an obsessional but sad young man. Martin White's direction accentuates the strangeness of the play and the fragmented nature of Tucker Green's dialogue.

The play intrudes on these miserable and fallible individuals' lives, peeling back the layers of their raw humanity. The lives of these three are as flimsy and vulnerable as the walls that separate their flats.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 22 July 2003

Call me Komachi by Christie Nieman, July 22, 2003

Call Me Komachi by Christie Nieman  
fortyfivedownstairs, July 22 to August 3, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The global social phenomenon of women's beauty as a commodity is the subject of Call me Komachi.

Although the three women written by Christie Nieman and played by Kaori Hamamoto  are Japanese, we recognise similarities to our own culture. Kinu,  a sweet innocent schoolgirl, finds a new best friend, Reika , in a new city at her new school. Reika has already lost her innocence. She has chosen "Enjo Kosai",  a sponsored relationship with an older businessman.

This distressing form of sexual usury of young girls became common in the mid-90s in Japan. Young girls leave their details on a message line and men call and select one to be their protegee  - or victim.

Reika is cheeky and charming. Her daddy adores her and calls her Komachi, the name of a great beauty, a famous Japanese courtesan. Reika can indulge her obsession with Valentino  and Vivian Westwood   haute couture  with finance from her middle aged sponsor.

Reika's attitude alters when she realises she can no longer avoid sex with her sponsor at one of Japan's Love Hotels.  He pays for her time and company. That means sex at lunchtime.

The third character is a traditional Geisha.  "I was born a hundred years to late," she pines. She paints her face in the mask of the Geisha, performs her Tea Ceremony.  and reveals her sad, secret love.

This woman is an object, the manifestation of "iroke", man's sexual fascination with woman. Iroke focuses on the fragile impermanence of "beauty on the point of collapse."

Kinu is the child yet to become the object or victim of the male gaze that Reika and the Geisha are. Kaori Hamamoto, a Japanese woman who studied acting in Australia, plays all three characters consecutively. She is convincing, particularly as Reika, the naughty provocative fashion victim.

First time director, Miki Oikawa  allows Nieman's monologues to take the focus. The problem is that there is little stage action and sometimes too much talking. Unfortunately, when the Geisha paints her face we are unable to see her or hear her clearly.

Although Call me Komachi is theatrically limited, it is a fascinating glimpse into one part of the world of women in Japan.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 17 July 2003

All Het Up, John & Fiona Thorn, July 17, 2003

Music by John Thorn,  Fiona Thorn  
Story & lyrics by Guy Rundle  John Thorn, Fiona Thorn
Chapel off Chapel, July 17 to until August 3, 2003 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

If you have ever been hyped up about a new love affair - and let's face it, who hasn't? - All Het Up will be a very entertaining night of song and humour for you.

Most of us have listened to songs that touch a chord or tell our own story, particularly when they are about love. We identify with the universal story of love requited and unrequited.

All Het Up is delightful identification music theatre. The audience relates to the relationship disasters and character foibles of the four protagonists.

Will  (Colin Lane) is an emotional jellyfish goes on a blind date to meet Kate,  (Fiona Thorn) a bit of a loony who talks marriage on the first date.

Kate's friend, Tash, (Jane Badler) is a one of those hippy fascists who demand everyone believe in their flaky ideas and is sexually adventurous. She meets Jack  (Jeremy Stanford) in a club. He is vain but groovy and good looking.

The love stories go awry when the two couples finally get together and their sexual histories slap them in the face.

The show is ninety minutes of original songs with some hilarious lyrics that rival Gilbert and Sullivan,  Cole Porter and Rogers and H.  for their cunning rhyme structures.

The songs cover a range of styles from perky forties tunes, Cha Cha , romantic ballads, duets, quartets and even one called Sex, the Madrigal - don't ask.

Titles include the Chat Up Cantata, sung by all four, What Goes on inside Their Brains, What About Those Pies  sung by the men trying to avoid talking abut being in love, Ring You Bastard  which most women will recognise.

Thanks for the Angst  is a peppy number followed by When the Bastard Becomes Tender Then I Melt. All are seamlessly linked by some smart and witty direction by Wayne Hope.  

The other linking factor is the café waiter, played by Patrick Cronin.  He is the chorus, the objective observer on the burgeoning relationships of the two couples.

John Thorn, Musical Director on piano, leads a small but exceptional ensemble of double bass, (Eli Firestone OK) drums (Jeremy Hopkins) and Patrick Cronin joins them on trumpet and percussion.

This show is clever, funny, musically delightful and a whole load of fun for anyone who ever fell in or out of love.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 16 July 2003

Below by Ian Wilding, July 16, 2003

A CIA(2)  production
La Mama, July 16 to  27, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Book a ticket now for Ian Wilding 's play, Below, by at La Mama. It has not only an exceptional script but superb acting and skilful direction.

Below was part of the 2000 Griffin Theatre  program in Sydney but in Melbourne it is to be seen at in the intimate space of La Mama in an evocative design by Peter Mumford. It is a gripping, gritty and often funny tale about Dougie  (Joe Clements) and John,  (Stewart Morritt ) two men from the North of England, and Dougie's rather simple Aussie wife, Sarah  (Lisa Angove ).

The two men work in a coal mine in an unnamed Australian town. The labour is gruelling, the mine dangerous and their spirits and health are failing.

Wilding peppers the darkness of their world with some uproarious humour. It highlights the tragedy of their relentlessly awful lives and the spider web in which they find themselves. Wilding unwraps the story like a Russian doll. Each time we think we know their lives we are  surprised by yet another snippet of information, another secret that one or other of the trio has withheld.

Dougie is a likeable spiv who likes to visit the whorehouse and the pub at night. John is more reserved and stays home with Sarah. There is more to this than Dougie knows. Their despair, ignorance and desperation lead to a series of fatal choices on all their parts. These people are doomed from the moment we see them kick off their shoes and suck back a glass of stout.

Clements brings a warmth and haplessness to Dougie, who, ironically, seems to hold the power in his home but is victimised at the mine.

Morritt plays John with a calm dignity and passion. He makes us hope John can achieve his dream to leave the mine and the horrid town. As the submissive and uncomprehending Sarah, Angove is sympathetic.

Director, Phil Roberts,  allows the characters, dialogue and relationships to do the work. He directs with a slick hand but does not impose any unnecessary colour on this already vivid story.

The pace is cracking and allows the natural dynamic range of the play to lead us on a helter skelter journey with these maddening, lovable and damaged people.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 3 July 2003

The Visit by Durrenmatt, MTC July 3, 2003

The Visit  by Friedrich Durrenmatt  Melbourne Theatre Company
Playhouse, July 3 to  August 2, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Simon Phillips'  production of Friedrich Durrenmatt's The Visit is a theatrical feast marking the return to the Melbourne stage of theatrical luminary, Zoe Caldwell.  after a nineteen year absence. It is vibrant, funny and dark, capturing impeccably Durrenmatt's grim cartoon style.

An ailing and aging woman, Claire Zachanassian,  (Caldwell) the wealthiest woman in the world, returns to Gullen,  her poverty-stricken village, to offer financial assistance in return for vengeance against her unfaithful former lover, Schill. (Alex Scott)

 The village initially abhor her request to kill Schill for her billion Deutschmarks but self-interest and greed rapidly overcome their moral dilemma. The play is a fine example of this 20th century Swiss playwright's "theatre of grotesque paradoxes."

Phillips directs it with theatrical vision, rhythm and pace. He invites us in to a bizarre and compelling world of absurd humour, quirky characters, dramatic tension, intrigue and moral dilemma.

The cast of eighteen is a well-oiled ensemble that draws together Australian actors of high calibre. In the foreground stands Caldwell in vivid colour. Her presence is statuesque and riveting, her timing precise and her voice fills the Playhouse.

Opposite her, playing Schill, Alex Scott returns to the MTC stage having been in the company's first production in 1953 with Caldwell. Scott seems almost not to be acting. His style is so subtle as the besieged old villager who must pay with his life for his youthful negligence.

The entire ensemble is exceptional playing eccentric characters but we cannot mention all eighteen here. Lewis Fiander  Kim Gyngell  Tony Llewellyn-Jones  Robert Menzies  and Alex Menglet play marvellously heightened characters.

Julie Forsyth  and John-Paul Hussey  provide a delightful clown pair and the children of Schill.  A high point is Jim Daly  and Bruce Kerr  as the blind eunuch musicians.

Gabriela Tylesova  designs the stage like a giant comic book. All is black and white - until Madame Zachanassian arrives in full technicolour. The stage landscape is lit evocatively by Nick Schlieper.

Ian McDonald's composition is a clever twist on Germanic music incorporating accordions and brass and beer house songs and dances.

The Visit is a fine example of Durrenmatt's play shaped by the hands of a contemporary director and a truly exciting ensemble.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 2 July 2003

Falling Petals by Ben Ellis, July 2, 2003

Falling Petals 
 by Ben Ellis  by Playbox Theatre  
 Beckett Theatre, Malthouse, July 2 to 19, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 2

Ben Ellis's writer's note states that the role of Falling Petals is "to make reality of metaphor" and suggests he wants to dispel stereotypes of the Bush.. He is unsuccessful in many ways.

The script is clumsily constructed, repetitive, inconsistent and often ridiculous. Its style flip-flops  between realism, cartoon, social satire, parody and contemporary grotesque. Its repeated attempts to shock us with explicit sexual action fail perhaps because we are jaded or unshockable.

There is little to recommend this play apart from a valiant effort by director, Tom Healey,  to make it up beat, interesting lighting by Daniel Zika,  a simple graffiti littered set (Anna Borghesi), chaotic sound (David Franzke) sand traverse staging.

The story is incoherent and characters are relentlessly dislikeable. Very quickly we care about no one and nothing.

Initially, there is potential for compassion or even a clear narrative intention. We hear about the undiagnosed death of a child. More mysterious deaths and panic ensue amongst the townspeople.

Teenagers, Phil  (Paul Reichstein) and Tania  (Caroline Craig) are desperate to do well in Year 12  escape the small town life to go to university in Melbourne. Their schoolmate, Sally,  (Melia Naughton) is uninterested in change. To save themselves and their tourism, the adults banish their children to bungalows or the elements.

The falling petals too obviously represent the deaths. Dying children may be a metaphor for the death of the rural sector but the parallel is laboured and awkward.

Characters are inconsistent. Phil tilts between blind ambition, weakness, obscenity, naïve virginal prudery and outright violence and verbal abuse. We see them travel no logical journey.

Sally goes feral and insane for no apparent reason. No other children seem to have had these symptoms. The panic provides an excuse for a lot of shouting and emoting. Tania is a shrieking, sexually driven harpy. None of these people have any redeeming features. 

The actors do their best with a shabby and thin script and repetitive dialogue.

Melita Jurisic  and James Wardlaw provide a range of adult characters but they are written with no depth or style so it is impossible to do much with them.

The message we are left with is that the most self-centred, arrogant, abusive and angry person will survive. This is an expensive piece of bad theatre.

By Kate Herbert