Thursday 29 January 2004

Paris, by Jon English & David Mackay, Jan 29, 2004

Paris (Musical)
 by Jon English & David Mackay   
Stella Entertainment
National Theatre, St. Kilda, Jan 29 to Feb 7; Frankston Arts Centre  Feb 11 to 1, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 2, 2004
Published in Herald Sun 2/2/2004

Jon English and David Mackay's musical, Paris, is not about the romantic city but about Paris, the young Trojan who abducted Helen from Greece and transported her over the Aegean Sea to Troy.

Thus began the ten year Trojan War. Blind, selfish love sent a betrayed King Menelaus, Helen's husband, to seek revenge.

It all ends in tears when the Greeks, at the gates of Troy, feign defeat and leave a huge wooden horse at the gate as a tribute.

When Troy takes it inside it walls, Greek soldiers pour out, destroying Troy.

English and Mackay wrote this classic Rock Opera, twenty years ago but this amateur production is its premiere.

It is a lively score comprising ballads, comic ditties and driving rock numbers.

The eight-piece band, directed by Andrew Patterson, is a great asset with its tight arrangements and skilful musicians.

Peter Fitzpatrick directs over twenty principals plus ensemble and dancers. It is a youthful group with a few more experienced artists.

The sheer number makes staging a little awkward at times.

Jessica Enes plays the Prophetess, Cassandra, sister to Paris. Her voice is rich and her presence compelling. Her opening song, Head Without a Heart (OK) and, later, Oh, Paris, (OK) were thrilling.

Angela Scudi, playing Helen, is a year twelve student with a powerful voice beyond her years. Her performance is passionate although the character could benefit from a broader emotional range.

As Paris, Ben Spaull  has moments when his vocal quality is evident but he is straining in the upper register.

Amongst the men are several fine performances. Tony Appleby plays Ulysses  with great composure and a fine theatrical presence.

 Peter Dennis is a wonderfully villainous Agamemnon, and Phil Haby brings weight and dignity to King Menelaus. 

David Bramble is a feisty Hector and Norm Smart effective as Priam of Troy. Aaron Hughes is very funny as the plump drunk, Thersites.

Paris is an energetic and ambitious epic. English and Mackay engender a sense of love and danger on stage with both musical arrangements and lyrics. This new amateur company gives it a commendable first production.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 28 January 2004

A Thousand & One Night Stands, Barry Lowe, Jan 28, 2004

 A Thousand and One Night Stands 
 by Barry Lowe
 Performing Arts Productions Australia
Theatreworks, St. Kilda,  Jan 28 until Feb 14, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Jan 28, 2004

A Thousand and One Night Stands is a misnomer for this play about the sordid and tragic life of Jon Vincent.

The concept of the one night stand pales into insignificance in the light of Vincent's often violent sexual cavalcade.

His life involved years of male prostitution, a long career in gay porn, all sorts of addictive drugs and alcohol and several marriages.

Barry Lowe's  play is based on the book of the same name written by Vincent's friend, Hope A. Carson,  and conceived in the months before Vincet's death from a heroin overdose.

Aaron Smith,  faces the challenge of one hundred minutes on stage alone and naked, talking directly to the audience as Jon Vincent about his damaged, drug-riddled and nearly pathological life.

Vincent travels from potential US baseball star to porn star in his early twenties.

There is, admittedly, some morbid fascination for his tragic life, even for those who do not know his videos. The story is compelling in a perverse way.

Lowe's script is extremely dense with dialogue describing Vincent's past exploits. There is little action. Smith does not move from the single bed that is surrounded by hypodermic needles.

Such a torrent of expository dialogue is difficult for the actor to sustain and the audience to absorb. It leaves little room for theatrical or emotional action.

Director, Robert Chuter,  compensates with small stage action, constant doorbells and phones ringing and Vincent's frequent onstage drug taking.

Although Smith does not physically resemble the bulky, athletic Vincent, he makes the dialogue credible much of the time. However, he is inclined to maintain the same vocal rhythm and pace and his Southern accent is intermittent.

Some unsuccessful directorial choices are made with the background sound. Snatches of dialogue and songs are often out of place.

Anthony Breslin's  set design is effective with huge white drapes and hypodermics strung as curtains.

As part of the Midsumma Festival,  this production and its companion piece about Joey Stephano,  will appeal to a part of the gay community.

It might not be your cup of tea.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 22 January 2004

My Life as a Dyke 3 - More Tales From The Dyke Side, Jan 22, 2004

 My Life  as a Dyke 3 - More Tales From The Dyke Side   
by Nik Willmott  and Rachel Forgasz  
La Mama, Jan 22  until Feb 8, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Jan 22, 2004

Published in Herald Sun on Jan 26, 2004

Nik Willmott and Rachel Forgasz describe their sketch comedy very accurately as "simultaneously self-deprecating, affirming and downright silly." They are also very funny.

My Life as a Dyke 3 - More Tales from the Dyke Side,  is the third in their series of comedy shows for the Midsumma Festival.

Although it claims to be about lesbians, the jokes are universal.

It opens with Wilmott singing a silly song and follows up with the very memorable Professor  (Forgasz) presenting part three of her lecture series - Lesbianism 301.  

The Prof,  supported silently by her lab-coated assistant, Elizabeth, (Willmott) pontificates and prowls like a panther in a cage.

This year's lecture pertains to Breaking Up  in lesbian relationships. Forgasz plays the seductive and patronising Ph D who serves up hilarious advice and abuse with alacrity.

The next sketch is also a follow up of two popular characters from the previous shows and is riddled with great gags not only relevant to lesbians.

Susie  (Willmott) comes home after another disastrous first date with a woman who presented her relationship CV.

Her flat mate (Forgasz) attempts to write Susie's own CV until she realises that hobbies such as playing air guitar  and a patchy relationship history will never recommend Susie.

Scattered amongst the longer character sketches are numerous tiny one liners from Willmott that are very silly.

Forgasz, wrapped in a feather boa, sings an outrageously lascivious and naughty song that has to be seen to be believed.

A husband (Willmott) and wife (Forgasz) deciding whether their daughter is a lesbian is a clever scene that argues the positives of having a lesbian daughter.

The finale is their "Dyke Anthem" - a wonderfully cheeky adaptation of All That Jazz  from Chicago.  with Bob Fossey  style choreography. The clever lyrics name celebrities that they think should be lesbians.

Forgasz and Willmott are charming, relaxed and really funny. Their sketches are unusual and intelligently written and their characters are vivid and accurately drawn.

The pair has a wicked sense of humour and will try anything.

This is a show that gives you laugh out loud comedy about characters who just happen to be lesbians.

By Kate Herbert

Illegal Harmonies by Combo Fiasco, Jan 22, 2004

Illegal Harmonies  by Combo Fiasco   
Chapel Off Chapel  Jan 22  until Feb 1, 2004 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Jan 22, 2004

Published in Herald Sun on Jan 26, 2004
Combo Fiasco are splitting up after their upcoming national tour, so you need to see them now.

Sean Murphy, Tony McGill  and Charmaine Clements  have sung their clever harmonies for eleven years since meeting during the music theatre show, The Secret Garden.  

The trio sing tightly harmonised tunes accompanied by McGill on piano. A percussionist and double bass player back them..

Vocal and musical arrangements, by McGill and Murphy, are inventive and often surprising. Their a capella  version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow   has a soaring vocal quality.

Their repertoire comprises old favourites such as Sweet Georgia Brown  as well as less familiar or famous numbers.

This show is tailored to the predominantly gay audience for the Midsumma Festival so the group has re-jigged some lyrics accordingly for comic value.

Clements quips, "Gay men and single women in our thirties have a lot in common. We are both a disappointment to our mothers."

They then sing Mr. Sandman which takes on a new dimension with the lyrics, "Mr. Sandman bring me a man."

The wicked song, If There's God He's a Queen,   is followed by McGill's rewrite of The Wind Beneath My Wings.  Itis a satirical jibe at boring ex-partners. "Did you ever know that you're a zero?"

Murphy makes a feast of the naughty Come Ti Gusta Mi Pinga?  that asks, in Spanish, a question that would be very rude in English.

The show is slick and seamless, shifting from song to song with a little comic patter as cement between.

There are several beautiful ballads, some less familiar than others. Where Do You Go To My Lovely  is sung as a medley with a sad tune about Marilyn Monroe's  last night.

Clements sings the very pretty, Someone is on Your Side  from Sondheim's  musical, Into the Woods.

The comic highlight of the show is still Clements version of the satirical I'm on the Stage.  She plays the musical star who "can't carry a tune in a bucket," but lands the lead role.

It is sad to say farewell to the trio so get a look at them now before it's too late.

By Kate Herbert

Friday 16 January 2004

Hinterland, Matt Cameron, MTC, Jan 16, 2004

 Hinterland  by Matt Cameron  
 Melbourne Theatre Company
 Fairfax Studio, Jan 16 until Feb 21, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Jan 16

Published in Herald Sun on Jan 20, 2004

Hinterland is Matt Cameron's serious comedy that pokes fun at just about everything in Australian politics and society.  It is a very dark and very funny play with an exceptional cast and direction.

Cameron's style draws on European absurdism, echoing Beckett  and Ionesco.

This is a laugh out loud play with slick direction by Peter Houghton , complex and evocative lighting by Philip Lethlean  on a transformational design by Dan Potra.

It is set in a 1950s Australian home and office. Henry Quely  (Tom Long) and his wife, Olive,  (Christen O' Leary) are a parody of old fashioned family values. They repeat a well-worn script in their daily routine of spousal interaction.

Everything is hunky dory   - until their slightly scruffy home is raided by government Minister, Winsome Snell  (Helen Thomson) accompanied by Frank Gruel,  (Kim Gyngell) her volatile head of security.

The government is dodgy. It keeps the public in the dark about  - well, just about everything.

Cameron's parallels with the Howard government and its policies are blatant, evoking spontaneous laughter and applause.

There is a suppressed report - aptly named "The Cumbersome Report" - that criticises the government.

In the "Hinterland", behind hidden doors and in secret corridors, reside the Opposition who are shadowy and frightened replicas of the Government.

Each character in the visible world has a nervous doppelganger in the shadowy hinterland.

The message is obvious. Ignorance is not bliss; government is deceptive, obsessed with power; fear is the best controller; a little safety is no replacement for liberty.

This is a consummate ensemble of four comic and dramatic actors.  Long plays Henry  with a palpable sense of his trembling existential crisis and he transforms beautifully into his doppelganger's  macho bravado.

O'Leary's Olive is cold, fickle, manic and colourful until she shifts into the shadow Olive who is warm and sensitive.

Gyngell is mad and unpredictable as the violent and confused henchman, Gruel Thomson is sexy, dangerous as Winsome. This double act has impeccable timing.

Hinterland is a fine beginning to the MTC year and a feather in Cameron's cap.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 15 January 2004

Romeo & Juliet in The Gardens, Jan 15, 2004

 Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare 
The Australian Shakespeare Company
 Botanical Gardens,  Gate F, Dec 2003  until March 6, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Jan 15, 2004

Published in Herald Sun on Jan 19, 2004

Thanks to The Australian Shakespeare Company, we now have a long tradition of summer Shakespeare in the Park akin to cities such as New York.

This year Greg Carroll  directs Romeo and Juliet. The production is the similar to previous years but changes in casting and location and individual style and banter make it feel new.

As usual, the actors perform on the perfect set: the Botanical Gardens lush greenery and the twitter of occasional nights birds may not evoke Verona  in the fifteenth century but they provide atmosphere.

Actors enter from amongst the audience or through the foliage. Juliet appears as if by magic in the top of a tree for her balcony scene.

If you have been livings on Mars and do not know the story, here it is.

Romeo (Philip Cameron Smith) falls in love with Juliet, (Andrea McEwen) the daughter of a rival family. He kills her cousin, Tybalt,  (Brendan O'Connor) and it all ends in tears and death for both the lovers.

The adaptation makes Shakespeare accessible to everyone. It is colourful, cheeky and peppered with boyish banter and harmless Shakespearian innuendo.

Playing intimate love scenes outdoors is difficult but Andrea McEwen brings a delicacy and bright childlikeness to Juliet. Cameron Smith seems more at home in his scenes with Romeo's mates  than in love scenes.

A highlight is the rakish fight scene between Romeo's friend, Mercutio,  (Kevin Hopkins OK) Tybalt and Romeo himself. It is feisty, funny and has an edge of thrilling danger.

Ross Williams  plays Juliet's father, Capulet  is beautifully observed. He portrays him delightfully as a vain society father who is good humoured until he is defied.

Dennis Coard  finds a slightly bawdy and vulnerable edge to Friar Lawrence  while Anthony Rive  as Romeo's loyal comrade, Benvolio,  is a sympathetic and mischievous character.

There are dignified performances from Helen Hopkins as Lady Capulet  and Peter Hosking  as Romeo's father.

Christie Sistrunk  seems awkward as Juliet's impish Nurse  and looks too young for the role.

The incidental music and the additional songs add a new and contemporary dimension to the production. "A Pair of Star-Crossed Lovers" is a very singable tune with poignant lyrics.

Remember the woollies and a blanket. It can get cool out there.

By Kate Herbert