Thursday 28 August 2003

Women, Men, Nazis and Trucks, Aug 28, 2003

Women, Men, Nazis and Trucks  
by Gaylene Carbis  and Michael Griffith  
La Mama at Fitzroy Gallery, Aug 28 to Sept, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Women, Men, Nazis and Trucks wins the award for grabbiest title. It is not a single play but a collection of seven short works. The title is a composite of all seven although the word Nazis is a red herring.

Gaylene Carbis and Michael Griffith write pieces on topics from phone to cleaners, jealous wives, parting lovers and suicide victims. There are two directors, (Jess Kingsford, Michael Griffith) and eleven actors to perform pieces that are mostly solos or duos that run five to fifteen minutes each.

Carbis writes about relationship, jealousy and loss while Griffith uses on a lateral view of life. The quality of both acting and writing varies. The earlier plays are the strongest.

Breakdown (Griffith) is a disturbing and quirky verbal play on a recorded Telstra disconnection message that provides the only dialogue.

Two women (Rohana Hayes, Tracy Carroll) sit with phone headsets and are trapped in a circle of repetition of the message.

Helen Slaney  performs two solos by Carbis. What Happens Between Men and Women is a simple but fascinating retelling of the moment a woman drove her partner away in a mad, jealous argument.

Remnants  is a moving outpouring of grief for the mother who is unrecognisable in her dementia.

The longest piece is Suicide Row (Griffith). Failed suicides are caught in an ante-room between life and death awaiting recovery and unpeeling their trauma to their companions.

Threads of Modern Encounters  (Carbis) is a sad monologue by a woman (Georgie Bolton) caught in an abusive deviant sexual relationship. The text is complex but the performance lacks emotional range.

In The Truck, (Michael Griffith), two cleaners on their break (Helen McFarlane, Mairead Curran) reveal their personal obsessions. One is wrangling with her lesbian lover by phone. The other has a chronic habit of lying down under speeding trucks. Their dysfunction is compelling but the piece goes past its ending several times.

Last is Other Woman  (Carbis) A couple (Bolton, Lee McDonald) are trapped, as were the phone message women, in a cycle of jealous interrogation. Who is the other woman who phoned? It is a good idea that needs some further work.

The range of material in Women, Men Nazis and Trucks is interesting and directors keep the work simple and direct.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 26 August 2003

The Ishmael Club, Aug 26, 2003

 The Ishmael Club
by Bill Garner  and Sue Gore  
Where and When: Trades Hall, Aug 26 to Sept 13, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The Ishmael Club is a charming piece about bolshie  Australian artists around 1900.  It has a delightfully old-fashioned feel.

It focuses on the randy, Aussie artist from early twentieth century, Norman Lindsay,  (Robert Menzies) his sister Ruby Lind  (Asher Keddie) and his best friend Will Dyson  (Brett Climo). The play, written by Bill Garner and Sue Gore, gallops gleefully from around 1900 in Melbourne to just after the First World War  when Ruby dies of influenza.

Lindsay, one of Ruby's many brothers, was at the heart of a bohemian set that rivalled the Algonquin  set in New York and the Bloomsbury Group  in London around the same time.

With other radical and sexist artist egomaniacs, Lindsay established the ironic Ishmael Club. The members, only men of course, met at Fasoli's  Italian restaurant in Lonsdale Street,  Melbourne. They took on silly titles, engaged in impromptu music and song as well as bawdy plays written by the members.

This play has a rollicking good sense of humour and is cynical and irreverent about Lindsay and his rudeness, arrogance, dependence and his fruity sexual paintings of nude sirens. The three argue vigorously about art, politics and morality. But the play is really about the triangle of Ruby, Will and Norman.

It begins at the end of the tale. After Ruby's death, Will returns to Melbourne from his home in England. He meets Norman at Fasoli's which is now run by Mrs. Maggia (Faye Bendrups) daughter of the original owner. The resentment is palpable in the air between the pair and Ruby's absence is pajnful.

The play then leaps backward some years to their happy days of creating the Ishmael Club, to Norman and Will's mateship and Ruby's interruption of their friendship.

The egos of three artists, the complexities of their love for one another and the total inability to function as a trio is the core of the play.

The three actors make a fine ensemble. Keddie brings quiet dignity to Ruby. Menzies is a wonderful, vibrating, petulant, smug misogynist and Climo as Will, the meat in the sandwich, is mild-mannered, loving and talented.

Denis Moore  keeps the pace fast and the rhythms varied.

The Ishmael Club is a warm, funny and poignant piece of Australian history.

By Kate Herbert

Saturday 23 August 2003

Vietnam: A Psychic Guide by Chi Vu, Aug 22, 2003

Vietnam: A Psychic Guide
 by Chi Vu  auspiced by Footscray Community Arts Centre
 North Melbourne Town Hall, August 22 to 31, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Vietnam: A Psychic Guide is a happy and deceptively simple combination of the physical, visual and textual.

The performance is a short series of observations of Vietnam  by Michelle,  a young Australian-Vietnamese woman visiting the homeland of her father and travelling in and around Hanoi.

Her regular postcards to her father (Tam Phan) and friend, Kim,  (Jodee Mundy) in Australia create the spine of the spoken text.

The letters homes are read in both Vietnamese and English. Sometimes the two languages are spoken simultaneously, at others the translation runs consecutively.

Each individual postcard deals with a snippet of Michelle's experience. They read more as poetic short stories than as theatrical text.

But it is the visual and physical languages that are the most compelling. Director, Sandra Long,  uses the full length of the cavernous North Melbourne Town Hall to establish depth and perspective. The space is sparsely designed. (Phil Rolfe) Two enormous flats for visual projections (Massimiliano Andrighetti) are the body of the set.

The projections create a visual landscape of Vietnam through images that are textured, cartoon-like sometimes abstract sometimes representational. Scattered props suggest the Vietnamese environment: baskets, tiny stool and the myriad postcards delivered to father and Kim.

Jodee Mundy uses traditional corporeal mime skills to enhance the telling of the tales. Her movement is fluid and balletic, creating images lyrically against the background of the video imagery or as animated shadows behind the screens.

Chi Vu is on stage to read letter both live on a microphone or as a disembodied voice over. The effect Long creates is mysterious and unpredictable. Tam Phan is a charming presence as father. He is joyous and surprising. He even sings an Elvis song.

Two voiceless performers (Hanna Pyliotis, Melvin Dellosa) are on stage as haunting presences, silent deliverers of postcards and as echoes of the Vietnamese landscape, culture and people.

There is much to commend this production. Sandra Long's interpretation through movement and through word pictures and of images of Vietnam, are fascinating.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 20 August 2003

South Pacific, Production Company, Aug 20, 2003

South Pacific 
by Richard Rogers  & Oscar  Hammerstein  Book by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan   
The Production Company
State Theatre, Melbourne, Aug 20 to  24, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

South Pacific, by Rogers and Hammerstein, is chock-filled with memorable, singable melodies.

Although this concert version by The Production Company  is without all the bells and whistles of a full production, it is entertaining both musically and as a narrative.

Directors, John Diedrich  and Jo-Anne Robinson,  keep the stage action and choreography simple and concentrate on character and story.

The orchestra, conducted by Musical Director, Guy Noble,  is a fine ensemble that takes pride of place on stage.

Rogers and Hammerstein, with Joshua Logan, created this musical hit in 1949 based on James A. Michener's  Tales of the South Pacific.

Set on a Pacific island during World War Two,  it deals with not one, but two love stories.

Nellie Forbush,  an American nurse, falls in love with French plantation owner, Emile de Becque,  (John Diedrich OK) a widower with half-Polynesian children.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Joe Cable,  (Matt Hetherington) falls for an island girl, Liat  (Soolin Ong-Tan).

It is a story of romance and war with plenty of goofy songs and romantic ballads that spring readily to our lips.

I'm In Love With a Wonderful Guy,  Some Enchanted Evening  and Younger Than Springtime are classics in the romantic repertoire.

I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair  gives the sexy chorus of nurses a vehicle while There Is Nothing Like A Dame  is a rousing tune by the troupe of GIs.

A less well-known song, You've Got to Be Carefully Taught,  is profoundly critical of the racism inherent in the American culture and thus in Cable and Nurse Nellie.

Diedrich as the cultured, romantic Frenchman, has a warm voice, credible accent and plays Emile with dignity and simple charm.

Katrina Retallick  plays the unsophisticated Nellie with a perkiness and brightness in her voice reminiscent of Mitzi Gaynor  in the 1958 film.

As the enterprising and naughty GI , Luther Billis,  Marty Fields  brings a cheekiness and comic energy that allows the dynamic of scenes to shift.

April-Marie Nebo  has a wicked glint in her eye and richness in her voice as Bloody Mary, the Islander making a huge profit out of selling grass skirts to Americans.

Richard Jeziorny provides a simple, movable set design. Lighting by Philip Lethlean  spills vivid colour and textured surfaces onto a backdrop, creating the day and night sky of the island.

Although this production lacks some verve, it is a fun night of witty and energetic musical theatre.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 13 August 2003

Lindy Davies on directing As You Like It. Aug 13, 2003

Interview with Lindy Davies 
About her direction of As You Like It for Bell Shakespeare
by Kate Herbert
August 13, 2003

Even by phone, Lindy Davies  is a powerful, knowledgeable presence. In person, she is formidable and magnetic.

Davies is profoundly committed to the art of the actor. As director of Shakespeare's  As You Like It,  for Bell Shakespeare,  she can apply her process with actors who have never worked in her way.

The process is a way to penetrate the meaning of a play. Shakespeare's language provides a great challenge.

As You Like It is one of Shakespeare's most popular plays because, says Davies, "It is simply about falling in love... it is beautifully funny and engaging. We identify with and laugh at human frailty."

She has not made the play consciously modern but says the play is relevant to a modern audience because it is about people being "forced to leave a society that is repressive."

A feisty young woman, Rosalind, falls in love with the shy Orlando, falls in love with the shy Orlando,  who is denied his inheritance by a jealous brother and then banished.

 Rosalind is also banished from her tyrannical uncle's court. She escapes to the magical Forest of Arden  to seek her banished father.

"People escape a tyranny where people do not have the right to speak and go into a forest where they do.  It is a play about moral courage," says Davies.

The play, she continues, "embraces paradox and complexity rather than hanging on to polarity" and deals with "the notion of reconciliation."

Davies now teaches her directing process to actors as Dean of the School of Drama, Victoria College of the Arts. Acting might seem esoteric so let us peek into Davies ' rehearsal process. A typical day begins with extensive time on voice, "To make the language alive with a strong and supported voice."

Davies uses the physical training of Moshe Feldenkreis which " enables people to get in touch subtly with pathways in the body." Her work is 'kinaesthetically based" meaning the voice is connected to the rest of the body.

She may begin with a warm up using bamboo poles, walking meditation concentrating on breathing or a Japanese ritual of washing the floor.

These activities, before working with language are, says Davies, "related to becoming centred and clear so you can work in the space in a way where you can leave the world behind you and be open and available and become someone else."

Davies defines the term 'centring' as, "How you're feeling when you're cooking well… playing football…riding a bike…There's a flow about the body."

"It is about being in the centre of any action that you are doing while feeling strongly present and connected to what you are doin….you lose a sense of time."

With her process, "The most challenging thing for actors is you have to give up control." She wants actors not to decide how to say lines but to "find out how to be changed by the language, to discover the world of the play."

To help us understand she suggests, " Think about the very first time you said 'I love you' to a lover. The whole process is to find the pathway to find the way to say that. "

Language is so powerful," she says. "It immediately takes you into the world of the play." And Shakespeare's language is some of the most potent of all time.

As You like It, directed by Lindy Davies for Bell Shakespeare opens in Melbourne at the Playhouse Theatre on August 12

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 12 August 2003

As You Like It by Bell Shakespeare, Aug 12, 2003

As You Like It  by William Shakespeare   
Bell Shakespeare  
 Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne, August 12 to 23, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 12

As You Like It is one of Shakespeare's has the recipe for success. It is a romantic comedy that incorporates a magical forest, four pairs of lovers, two villains, one clown and a happy ending for all.

It is often played as a whimsical, playful, tricksy piece. Lindy Davies  production for Bell Shakespeare is a darker, more melancholy creature. The shorter first half is a dynamic interpretation with much light and shade.

The opening conflict between estranged brothers, Orlando  (Joe Manning) and Oliver  (Julian Garner) reveals Oliver's having snatched Orlando's inheritance after their father's death.

Meanwhile, Duke Frederick  (Robert Alexander) usurps the position of his brother Duke Senior, (Robert Alexander) and banishes Senior to the magical Forest of Arden. He then banishes Orlando, Rosalind and his own daughter, Celia. (Catherine Moore)

The heart of the story is the romance between Orlando and the clever, feisty Rosalind, daughter of the banished Duke Senior. The pair meet after Orlando's titillating, testosterone-filled wrestling with the Duke's champion, played with humour and power by David Hynes. Orlando and Rosalind play a sensual, albeit tongue-tied scene of fascinated new lovers.

What follows is a series of intrigues, disguises, chance meetings, deceptions, lovers scenes and songs.

Davies production reflects our times, the displacement of these characters having obvious parallels with asylum seekers and refugees. A strength and a tribute to both the actors and director, is the absolute clarity throughout of Shakespeare's language and meaning.

Jennie Tate's  design is a mystical landscape of fairy dells made from glittering torn fabric, mesh and rope. David Murray's startling, evocative lighting creates multiple worlds and atmospheres while Alan John's ()K) music provides yet another layer to the mood.

Joe Manning brings charm and bravado to lovelorn Orlando. As the object of his love, Alice McConnell is particularly good early but later lacks Rosalind's emotional range and taunting wit.

Robert Meldrum's  wonderfully detailed and wicked fool, Touchstone  provides wit, slapstick and a wise commentary on the foibles of humanity.

Robert Alexander  gives colour to both the villainous Frederick and his brother, Senior.

Sean O'Shea,  as the melancholic Jaques,  balances humour and darkness.

The rest of the ensemble is very good in multiple roles. David Hynes'  is impressive and his bell-like singing elevates the romantic mood.

The production loses its playfulness and dynamic range in the latter half although performances are still strong. The pace varies little and the less significant parts of the story have unnecessary weight.

As You Like It is a lyrical and often compelling piece of theatre suitable even for those who do not know Shakespeare.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 7 August 2003

Seeking Djira by Linda Javin, Aug 7, 2003

 Seeking Djira
by Lida Jaivin  Essential Theatre
 fortyfivedownstairs, August 7 to 17, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 7, 2003

Seeking Djira, by Linda Jaivin, is like Noel Coward  meeting Neighbours.  It is a comedy of manners that deals in a superficial way with the detention of asylum seekers.

If that sounds an odd combination, it is. This is not to say that a comedy about refugees is not a great idea. Humanity and humour can be effectively injected into even the most serious matters.

There are some laughs in the script from both the farcical story line and the silly characters. Four writers of questionable talent and literary stature ate thrown together in an Australian government subsidised writers' haven. When an Iraqi refugee seeks refuge in their cosy shelter each must decide on his or her political and personal position in the ensuing action.

The most successful element in this production is the character of Nabil,  (Adam McConvell) the desperate young man  who escaped from detention and is coincidentally, a published writer in his own country.

McConvell plays Nabil with warmth, charm and clarity. The character is the only one on stage displaying light and shade. The others are all various caricatures of ambitious, vain and ignorant pseudo-artists.

Vincent  (Paul Dawber) is a cravat-wearing poet and poseur who sees himself as a Don Juan. His ex-girlfriend, Alison  (Amanda Sandwith) is foolish, loud social climber with one published trashy novel and an incredible lack of awareness of the world or herself.

The juvenile playwright, Kennedy,  (Sophie Lampel) is the worst kind of pretentious, groovy experimental theatre writer. The climax arrives when the fourth writer, Lily  (Katrina Baylis) arrives. She is, conveniently for the narrative, the daughter of a member of the Immigration minister's staff.

The set (Peter Mumford ) reflects the farcical style in a row of doors placed on an awkward side of the space.

The direction attempts to heighten the broad comedy the actors end up using an overblown and uncomfortable style.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 6 August 2003

Two Suits and The Grand Opening, Aug 6


Two Suits and The Grand Opening  
by Paul Roberts and David Corbet
La Mama at the Courthouse,  August 6 to 16, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on August 6

Two Suits is a cheeky, surprising and clever piece of movement based humour.

Paul Roberts and David Corbet devised and performed this show. They wear business suits, perhaps the most inappropriate clothing for dancers. The suits only makes it all the more peculiar and entertaining when they start leaping, lifting, balancing and clowning in charcoal grey Peter Jacksons.

The pair do talk in the forty-five minute show but it is often a lead in to a movement piece and the most interesting work they do is purely physical. The opening scene is a movement duet that sets the tone for the following pieces.

The style is based in contact improvisation, a form of contemporary movement or dance built around performers being in physical contact, using each other's weight and energy to flow through the space in a duet. The work is mostly either whimsical or hilarious but there is one scene that is dark.

The second part begins with Corbet rehearsing a conference welcome address. This takes a quirky turn that builds a handshake into a series of startling lifts.

Roberts follows this with a solo piece that is probably the most clown-like and comical routine. He is bored at work but the music he turns on to alleviate his boredom send shim into a wonderfully contagious jazzy clown dance.

Another piece sees them dancing off the walls in a modern version of Donald O'Connor's memorable Hollywood routine. When Paul decides to change careers, he settles on film script writing. When David realises it involves having your name in the credits he is finally excited.

They act out the movies, the first is a sweet little love story meting of two businessmen who bump into each other in the street, shake hands and don't want to let go. The last is tinged with violence and menace as one man threatens another, forcing him to hand over his jacket, ties, shirt and finally his pants.

The show is warm, funny and the two performers are charming as all get out. Two Suits is worth a look and is an accessible way into understanding contemporary movement.

By Kate Herbert