Saturday 29 November 2003

Odditorium by Women's Circus, Nov 29, 2003

Odditorium  by Women's Circus  
North Melbourne Town Hall, Nov 29 until Dec 13, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 29, 2003

The Women's Circus continues its commendable work with women, old and young, in the community. Odditorium - best show title this year - directed by Andrea Lemon,  is more sideshow or vaudeville than a circus.

The audience is seated along one side with acts appearing on the floor, above us and even on the actual stage. After pre-show entertainment in the Supper Room  and sideshow alley, we are invited into the main hall.

The host for the show is Fanny Espinoza  played cheekily and with relish Lynette McKenzie. Fanny is a raunchy, faded star who spends much of the show extricating herself from a human parasite wrapped around her.

There are several group acts of peppy skilful women doing acrobatic balancing or choreographed pieces. One great idea is a duo performed on fabric hanging from the rig.  They are Toorak Tarts  who pose and drop banknotes as they social climb their way up the Tissue.  Another charming act on Tissue is after interval.

An absolutely mesmerising puppet piece depicts a woman trapped inside a birdcage being released by a tiny articulated figure. The puppet then releases a cow in a pink tutu from incarceration and into a life of show biz. wo cleaners do a funny, invisible tightrope act and some exceptional balances on a real ladder.

There are two animal acts. Two women train battery operated poodles and another rides through the space on a squeaky tricycle with a very timid kelpie and a red balloon. A goofy soccer-obsessed trio play soccer, perform balances and make us do a Mexican Wave  every time they score a goal.

There are a couple of trapeze acts. The Love Addict  dreams of falling in love as she dangles on high. Our host, Fanny, joins her Nordic Beauty on the trapeze for a wicked and lustful double act.

Four women work on low trapezes in slow motion whilst another sweet comic character scrambles desperately to climb up on a Cloud Swing. There is a martial arts fight scene on stilts, an acrobatic spider in a web and a mad, high-paced tap dance with accordion.

Odditorium is a simple and engaging show that demonstrates enormous amounts of commitment and love on the parts of director, trainers and performers.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 27 November 2003

Unleashed, NICA, NOv 27, 2003

by National Institute of Circus Arts  (NICA)

Sidney Myer  Circus Studio, NICA, Nov 27 to December 14, 2003

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 27, 2003

The seventeen exuberant and talented performers in Unleashed are the first graduates of the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) degree.

Unleashed, directed with great style by Neil Gladwin,  is a showcase of individual acts incorporating skills, character and simple scenarios.

The show is a spectacle with a monumental design, (Richard Jeziorny) complex and magical lighting (Phillip Lethlean) and eclectic, evocative music (Yuri Worontschak).

Luke Taylor's charming, juggling clown created a delightful relationship with audience and Tully Fedorowjtsch  charmed us with his drunk balancing a bottle on a paint scraper and amazing spinning meteors.

D.J. Garner's  act hanging from the Chinese straps  was a hit and Peter Booth and James Brown's Duo Acrobatica  combines awesome skill and James Bond spies.

Avan Whaite  creates a spectacular spider-like alien creature that crawls with great skill up a pole and over the floor.

There is some marvellously sassy aerial work. Daniel Power  combines balletic floor acrobatics with a sensual aerial work on the Tissue.

Kristen White  flies on the trapeze dressed as an unwitting 60s secretary complete with stilettos while Alonna Scott  lounges sexily on the Cloud Swing.

A very sultry aerial act with a tinge of the suicidal, is Leigh Marning  on the swinging hoops.

Eloise Green  is a roller-skating, hula hoop twirling 50s chick while Jess Love  plays a nervous girl tortured by hoops.

Chinese hoop diving with a martial arts flavour make Nathan Kell's  act and Hazel Bock plays a wacky, French gibberish-speaking clown who juggles a table with her feet.

Jesse Rowles is a spiv tying to control a rogue hat in his hat manipulation act while Scoot  Easson  clowns around on a walking ladder contending with a naughty spotlight operator.

Three men (Peter Booth, James Brown,  Jesse Rowles, Luke Taylor) contend for the attentions of the sexy gypsy dancer (Kristen White) using the Russian Bar - a flexible flat pole that works like a tight rope.

Unleashed is a great night out to see the work of this next generation of circus performers.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 26 November 2003

Babes in the Woods by Tom Wright, Nov 26, 2003

 Babes in the Woods  
 by Tom Wright  Playbox Theatre
 Merlin Theatre, CUB Malthouse, Nov 26 to Dec 13, 2003  
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 26, 2003

Tom Wright's pseudo-colonial panto, Babes in the Woods, is a rollicking good night. The audience came out smiling- a good sign.

This is not the style pantomime that features Neighbours stars. It is a tougher, less anodyne, more adult and political piece with a fine ensemble.

Running through the story of two abandoned children is a thread of criticism of our government, history and treatment of asylum seekers.

There is a play within a play. We see off-stage shenanigans between actors and then see them in the absurdist  panto story.

Auntie Avaricia,  the panto dame, is played within the play by the controlling drunken actor-manager of the company who is then played with relish by the extraordinary Max Gillies.  

Avaricia takes in her squeaky clean, recently orphaned niece, Ruby,  (Caroline Craig) and nephew, Reggie (Lucy Taylor).

In order to snaffle their inheritance, she sends her servants to take them into the forbidding Aussie bush and kill them.

The servants are a stupid, kindly and forgetful emu, Flapgherkin,  (Francis Greenslade) and his homicidal pal, Boingle,  (Julie Forsyth) a cruel, manipulative wallaby.

Add to the mix Avaricia's balletic, sensitive daughter, Phyllis  (Diane Emry) and her love interest, Jack,  (Eddie Perfect) the self-absorbed, heroic pioneer, and we have a tasty cast of characters.

The babes' story is a metaphor for Australian naivete. Politically, we are lost in the woods. Intercut with panto scenes are comical snatches of a jingoistic social history of Australia.

A mad dream sequence shows us our past fairytale old Baghdad. Gillies gives us a lesson in Australia's fight against terrorism - even before Federation.

The production, directed with a fine sense of clown and satire by Michael Kantor,  is riddled with anachronistic songs and absurd references.

We see Amanda Vanstone  singing Nutbush City Limits and Jack singing Hello, This Is Joanie.

Iain Grandage  plays wonderful, energetic panto piano live on stage. Lighting by Paul Jackson  paints a broad palette of evocative colour over a clever design by Anna Tregloan.

Gillies is a consummate lead with impeccable timing and Eddie Perfect has a rich singing voice and a wry humour as Jack. This hearty and lovable ensemble is clearly having heaps of fun.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 20 November 2003

Stitching by Anthony Neilson, Theatre@Risk, Nov 20, 2003

Stitching by Anthony Neilson
Theatre @ Risk

Black Box, Vic Arts Centre, Nov 20 to Dec 7, 2003

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Stitching, by Scottish playwright Anthony Neilson, evidently caused plenty of controversy last year in both Edinburgh and London.

Theatre@Risk takes up the challenge with Simon Kingsley Hill  and Alexandra Schepisi  directed by Lauren Taylor.  

The play is a brooding two-hander about a young couple who confront a change in their up beat lives when they discover the woman is pregnant. We can presume only not only the issue of abortion but the occasional graphic descriptions of ugly and aberrant sexual acts prompted the picketing by religious groups

The script has a few surprises and as many confusions in its development.  The final revelation makes some sense of the story. A series of short scenes are played in a cavernous Black Box and Taylor directs the piece simply.

The actors perform in an empty space facing each other in battle to salvage their relationship and decide whether to have the baby. When off stage they are still visible peeling clothing off and replacing it on the store mannequins placed at intervals around the outside of the audience seating.

The musicians (Jerome Haoust, James Cathcart) are also behind us pumping out percussive and sonorous music designed by Jethro Woodward.

Taylor uses the space well containing the intimate dialogue scenes in the space enclosed on three sides by audience. At other times the actors move to the curtained windows in the deep background.

Schepisi and Kingsley Hall give convincing performances as the fraught couple. Their relationship is credible while t heir sexual, intimate scenes are courageous and passionate.

Any problems are with the script rather than this production of it. Neilson, perhaps purposely, does not fill in all the blanks. The scenes that are inter-cut between Abby  and Stu's  attempts to solve their pregnancy dilemma seem at first to be a completely different couple. Then it appears they are scenes from their first meetings. Later we discover they are scenes from after their separation.

His dialogue is often smart and funny but sometimes repetitive. The scenes between the couple that occur after the end of their relationship seem to rely on shock value for their effect. It seems we are unshockable so his pornographic references are often adolescent.

I viewed this show at a preview and it will clearly sharpen up and the actors will work with greater confidence as it runs its season.

By Kate Herbert

Friday 14 November 2003

Red Shorts, Red Stitch, Nov 14, 2003

Red Shorts  
3 short play sby Therese Cloonan,  Patrick Van Der Werf  Chris Howlett 
Red Stitch Actors Theatre
Rear 2 Chapel St. St. Kilda,  November 14 to 23, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on N0v 14, 2003

Red Stitch Actors Theatre leaps into a new form of work with its Red Shorts program of short plays directed by Greg Carroll.  

Not only are the three writers winners of a competition, they are Australian. This is a first for Red Stitch who, until now, has staged only works from overseas.

The program is an eclectic trio of half hour pieces by three local writers, Therese Cloonan, Patrick Van Der Werf  and Chris Howlett.

Skin Deep,  by Cloonan, is theatrically the least successful. It is a series of short scenes beginning with Sally  (Laura Gordon  accusing her lover (Brett Cousins) of infidelity.

From that point the intention of the character is unclear and, indeed, that of the playwright. The script lacks structure and direction.

Sally talks to her dog and the Devil, (Verity Charlton)  the Other Woman, (Ella Caldwell)  and we hear her two dolls version of her life. It is all very thin.

Van der Werf's play, Shelter,  is a different kettle of fish and the best play of the three. It is well structured and layered with compelling characters, dramatic tension and taut direction.

Geoff (David Whiteley)  picks up Snake  and Jaz  a suspicious couple (Dion Mills, Ella Caldwell)  on the country road near his isolated house. After that things start to get dangerous and unpredictable.

Geoff's wife, (Verity Charlton)  is wary - and she is right. Snake is cunning, secretive and threatening. The story unfolds cleverly to reveal everybody's secrets.

Johnny Flip, by Howlett, is a quirky and funny take on the concept of determinism and fate. Fate (Whiteley) is both a mysterious cosmic force and a disgruntled public servant. He manipulates lives all day but is dissatisfied with his lot.

To spice things up he tries to alter the direction of boring little Johnny Flip's life. Awkwardly, Flip (Cousins)  is happy being a labeller living with a shop mannequin.

The performances are strong from the Red Stitch actors and Carroll keeps the pace moving and the energy high.

The entire cast of Shelter are strong but Mills, as the insidious Snake, is rivetting and frightening. Whiteley and Cousins are particularly good in Johnny Flip.

The scripts may have variable levels of quality but the evening is entertaining and a great new venture for Red Stitch.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 11 November 2003

Two by Ron Elisha, Nov 11, 2003

Two  by Ron Elisha
Soul Theatre Inc.
Theatreworks,  November 11 to 29, 2003 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Complex and intelligent writing with impeccable acting - there's a good recipe for a night at the theatre. Ron Elisha's play, Two, has both.

Two deals with a series of meetings in a basement in Germany during 1948,  between a Rabbi  (Bruce Kerr ) and a young woman, Anna (Anastasia Malinoff. Anna comes to the Rabbi, who survived the Holocaust,  to learn Hebrew in order to immigrate to the embryonic state of Israel.

Kerr and Malinoff are a finely tuned duo. Their performances are passionate, sympathetic and beautifully timed. The relationship between them is dynamic and, after the revelations of their respective dark histories, their communication becomes volatile and unpredictable.

Hell is a Jew without a God, says the Rabbi, although he already experienced his own hell in Auschwitz  where he lost his faith. The Rabbi believes only in the present. He also questions Anna's shallow views of what makes a Jew and why Palestine should be partitioned.

Elisha's script is witty, poetic, informed and informative. We even learn to understand snippets of Hebrew  along the way. The play slowly peels back the layers on these two lives and the totally different horrors they have lived. They keep from each other dreadful secrets each nursing his or her private guilt.

Director, David Myles,  heightens the hidden stories and secrecy by having the actors play some moments with their very eloquent backs to the audience.

Two deals with race, prejudice, forgiveness and the politics of language. It a cleverly raises the issues surrounding Israel and Palestine  without preaching.

The play elaborates on the issues of peace, morality, truth, race and philosophy by dissecting the Hebrew language. Each word has a life of its own and informs the story in a distinctive and lyrical way.

The simple and effective design, by Peter Mumford, ) of rough wooden slats and old furniture, provides an almost claustrophobic space for the actors.

Bronwyn Pringle's  lighting design sends dramatic shafts of light through the slatted roof and the doorway and the sound design ( Jethro Woodward  provides an ominous atmosphere.

The tone of the piece shifts effortlessly from the witty repartee to emotional outpourings to semantic discussions of language.

Two is a challenging and skilful night in the theatre.

By Kate Herbert

Friday 7 November 2003

Filler Up, Nov 7, 2003

Filler Up  
written by Deb Filler  and Lowry Marshall  
Fairfax Studio, Victorian Arts Centre Nov 7 to Nov 16, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 7, 2003
Published in Herald Sun, Melbourne, Nov 2003

Deb Filler's solo comedy show, Filler Up, may not quite fill up the Fairfax Studio but it is a diverting and engaging performance..

Filler tells her personal story with charm and vigour. Her story taker us from her family home in New Zealand to her adopted home in Manhattan. This gentle ride begins in her Holocaust survivor father's Jewish bakery in New Zealand where he bakes challah,  the traditional Sabbath bread.

Her great gimmick is that she prepares and bakes a loaf of challah on stage as we watch and salivate at the aroma of baking bread. She even feeds it to us as a finale. She peoples the stage with a parade of eccentric characters. The most successful moments belong to the boldest and broadest characterisations.

Her Aunt Vippy in New York is hilarious. Vippy is big, smy-voiced and open-hearted and Filler portrays her with love. Her eating disorder therapy group is also a hit as she transforms from Mindy Feldman, her twitchy Manhattan therapist, into various idiosyncratic over -eaters.

She plays her well-meaning but critical mother, her dizzy sister, grandmother, father, all her ex-boyfriends and girlfriends and a Greek chef at a diet spa. She sings songs with acoustic guitar, tells of her obsession with her weight, her journey into discovery of her lesbianism, her joy and despair at her demanding family. And always Dad's baking is in the background tempting her - and us.

The show is funny and at moments poignant as she talks about her father's recent death and his baking of bread in the concentration camp during the war. There are scenes that need tightening and the show could be a little shorter. Filler rattles around in this to large space but becomes more comfortable as she and the audience warm up.

This is identification theatre in a way, for all those who worry about their weight, sexuality - or perhaps just for those who crave a trip to New York and a loaf of Challah.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 6 November 2003

Ride by Jane Bodie, Nov 6, 2003

Ride by Jane Bodie  
at Beckett Theatre, Malthouse, Nov 6 to Dec 15, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 6, 2003

The storyline of Jane Bodie's witty two-hander, Ride, might be outside of some people's experience altogether. We can only hope so.

A young man and woman wake up naked in a bed together. They have no idea who the other is, how they met, how they got home nor whether they - um - actually had sex.

Both are hung over and suffering a frustrating selective amnesia. The important parts of the night before are obliterated.

The woman is performed energetically by Fiona Macleod. She brings to the role a vibrating anxiety and playful uncertainty. As her lover or non-lover, Christopher Brown  is delightfully underplayed and subtle. The two dance around each other emotionally. She tries to leave but her shoe is missing, and her bra, and her handbag and phone and, well, her memory.

Bodie's dialogue is swift, often hilarious and cleverly wrought. She never wastes a word.  Thoughts fly in unexpectedly and we are constantly surprised. The characters are beautifully observed, inner-urban ('It's Northcote but some people call it North Fitzroy') contemporary 20 somethings. 

They try to maintain distance while inwardly panicking about their apparent intimacy. They try to separate but end up playing scrabble on the bed where they had - or didn't - have sex.

Bodie, who also directs the play deftly, keeps the pace cantering along. Three scenes are defined by the shift of the bed on stage so we view them from a new angle each time. The design (by Simon Terrill, Jane Fullerton ) for the Northcote bedroom is established sparingly by the outline of a window frame, a plant and pile of bos and a mirror.

Music by Carl Pannuzzo  and evocative and unobtrusive lighting by Michele Preshaw  enhance the mystery of the play.

The beauty of the piece is in the unfolding of their secret selves to a virtual stranger with whom they feel strangely safe and comfortable with intermittent bursts of insecurity and doubt.

It is fascinating to watch two characters trapped by their own devices in a room in a single day as we follow their developing relationship from strangers to almost strangers. They could be an axe-murderers for all they know.

This is a delightful play with two warm and committed performances from Macleod and brown.

By Kate Herbert