Wednesday 28 April 2004

The Frail Man by Anthony Crowley , Playbox, April 28, 2004

The Frail Man by Anthony Crowley 
Playbox Theatre

 Merlin Theatre, CUB Malthouse, April 28 to  15 May, 2004

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The Frail Man, by Anthony Crowley, is an ambitious play with many interesting ideas that are not fully realised in the script.

This premiere production succeeds in great part because of its fine acting ensemble, director (Aubrey Mellor) and creative team.

Crowley makes a commendable attempt to explore notions of denial in the Australian psyche.

We consistently avoid confronting issues of refugees, aboriginality and disability and we will suffer for this cowardice, the play suggests.

Stephen Saken (Paul Bishop) CEO of a major corporation is struck down with a mysterious and aggressive illness.

Meanwhile, he plans a merger with an Asian company, loses then wins seven million dollars while gambling with his wealthiest shareholder. (Tim Robertson)

Saken immediately and incomprehensibly donates the lot to his mate at the local church.

He is then accused of witnessing the murder of a Muslim woman outside his house and taking no action.

Awkwardly woven through this contemporary tale are two 18th century convicts (Colin Moody, James Brennan) later revealed as the precursors to the modern Ugly Anglo-Australian.

Their names, Gristlefuck and Cockwit are grotesque and Dickensian. Other characters also go my names reflecting their characters: Frost, Steel, Frail.

Shaun Gurton's stark, clinical design is suitably claustrophobic and Paul Jackson's lighting atmospheric and inventive.

Bishop is superb as Saken. His presence is compelling and his character credible.

Robertson is delightfully malevolent as the rapacious Arnold Frost and Sue Jones revels in her performance as the heartless Chairperson, Jennifer Steel.

There were other strong performances from Margaret Harvey as the cop, James Saunders as her disabled husband and Nikki Coghill as Saken's supportive wife.

Brennan and Moody are both dangerous and comical as the two convicts.

The metaphors in the play seem over-simplified and the script often confusing, cluttered with three unsatisfactorily linked story lines.

The CEO's mysterious fatal illness is finally revealed as a metaphor for the malaise in our culture and our denial of the Muslim world, refugees and other social ills.
So many issues are jammed into this story that it is difficult to discern its intention.

The problem is generally that Crowley's dialogue is unconvincing and characters are not three-dimensional. The play is like a parable but it lacks clarity.

LOOK FOR: Tim Robertson's beautifully underplayed detective, Henry Frail.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 21 April 2004

3 Headed Dog, April 21, 2004

  3 Headed Dog 
by 3 Headed Dog 
 Theatreworks, April 21 to May 1, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

3 Headed Dog is the name of a collective of performers and their first program of short works. All three pieces are charming, inventive and poignant.

Homebody, by Kate Hunter, directed by Merophie Carr,  portrays an exuberant, engaging physical clown. Hunter, dressed in a floral frock, pinny and cap, resembles a timid servant from Gosford Park.

Her entire piece involves a quirky, jerky little character setting up house. She carries, drags, pushes and wheels all sizes and shapes of suitcases. The cases become her little home. As she fusses and arranges them, she opens several to reveal not only her silky white undies and nighties, but entire rooms.

Inside one is a bed, another a bathroom and toilet and then the appliances and decorations start to appear: a broom, flowers, telephone, a soft toy for the bed.

Hunter's physical work is joyfully reminiscent of the French school of comic character.

David Wells uses both dialogue and contemporary dance in Corridor, a compelling examination of his visit to a hospital corridor. He accompanies his abstract movement with self-narration about his father's near fatal operation in a room at the end of a long corridor.

His verbal version of the story is inter-cut with his inventive physical interpretation of the same actions. Wells cues the music on and off at will with a brisk gesture to his technician.

After a sweet and funny beginning that explores the history, shape and line of the corridor, Wells takes us to a more sensitive place. He recalls the family pet, conversations with his father ad finally the dreadful and painful moment when a doctor walks down the corridor bringing bad news.

The last work. Lost in Tokyo, by Jo Davidson and Fiona Roake is perhaps the least successful theatrically albeit charming. Roake plays ukulele, electric bass, drum. They sing peculiar, amusing songs and Davidson relates poetic stories.

The high point is when two suitcases reveal shadow screens concealed inside their lids. The ensuing miniature shadow puppet piece is clever and enchanting.

LOOK FOR: Roake's bedroom and bathroom in a suitcase.

By Kate Herbert

Saturday 17 April 2004

Urinetown , MTC, April 17, 2004

Music and Lyrics by Mark Hollmann, Book and Lyrics by Greg Kotis
by Melbourne Theatre Company
Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre,  17 April to 15 May, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on 17 April

 Simon Phillips directs a cheeky, irreverent and funny production of the bladder-teasing Broadway musical hit, Urinetown.

The ensemble is skilful and adorable, the band exceptional under the musical direction of Ian McDonald and the whole is a cute parody of Broadway musicals.

During a drought, the water table is so low it is illegal to flush toilets.Caldwell B. Cladwell, (Gerry Connolly) a ruthless businessman, makes millions by compelling people to pay to use public conveniences on pain of exile.

After his father's exile to the grim, unknown Urinetown, heroic young Bobby Strong, (Kane Alexander) leads the rebellion to pee without paying. The obligatory musical romance is between Bobby and Hope, (Lisa McCune) the painfully optimistic daughter of villainous Cladwell.

Urinetown is a light-hearted, satirical jibe at government corruption and corporate greed. Nothing is taken too seriously. The vulgar title is meant to offend but the show is surprisingly inoffensive. This explains its huge Broadway success. Urinetown is stuffed full of blatant references to musical styles.

The opening number, It's a Privilege to Pee,  is pure Kurt Weil. The rebellion of the townspeople (should that be 'pee-ple'?) is a rip-off of Les Mis. There are echoes of West Side Story, Yiddish Klezmer music and a rousing gospel number, Run Freedom Run. The show constantly reminds us we are watching a musical.

Narrator, Officer Lockstock played with laconic wit by Shane Bourne, intermittently pre-empts the action with a wry aside.  He heartlessly convinces na├»ve Little Sally (Christen O'Leary) it is not a happy musical. Alexander has a powerful voice and compelling presence and McCune is the ideal sugar-sweet optimist.

Connolly is a wild, nutty villain and Rhonda Burchmore is raunchy as Miss Pennywise, the keeper of the loos. O'Leary is masterly as Little Sally and Mitchell Butel appropriately weaselly as McQueen.

Given the shows opened the same night, comparisons with The Producers are unavoidable but perhaps unfair. Who can compete with the comic genius of Mel Brooks and his unforgettable songs?

Urinetown has clever lyrics, jaunty music and an eccentric idea but the music, lyrics and book are not memorable like other musical hits.

This diverting production is beautifully directed and exuberantly performed.

LOOK FOR: The gospel chorus of Run Freedom Run.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 1 April 2004

The Ideas Men by Ridiculusmus, April 1, 2004 *****

The Ideas Men by Ridiculusmus

Melbourne Comedy Festival 
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre,  1 to 18 April, 2004

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Stars: *****

Ridiculusmus make me ache with astonishment each time I see them. Their lateral view on language, comedy and human nature is inspired.

David Woods ( and John Hough bring a welcome breath of imagination and theatricality to a Comedy Festival dominated by predictable stand up comedy.

The Ideas Men differs from the English duo's previous show, Say Nothing but it has the same compelling characterisation and leaps of logic.

Say Nothing dealt with the insanity of the Northern Ireland conflict.

The Ideas Men is a satire on overpaid corporate ninnies who construct seminars about nothing much - from even less.

Liam Brady (Hough) and Mike Mullet (Woods) are two idiotic ideas executives who are brainstorming plans for "a creativity role play seminar".

Not only do Liam and Mike have no ideas, they have no skills, no plan or strategy, no outcomes and even less hope.

Their day begins at nine with a rambling discussion about when and where to have lunch.

What follows is a desperate scrambling for creative outcomes - that one great idea that will break through all others.

What is fascinating is the total immersion of the pair in these mad characters. Mike (Woods) is an insecure, ineffectual man with scruffy hair, an irritating voice and bad breath.

Liam (Hough) is a reserved, critical and occasionally weepy little man. He plays with his Lego blocks as if his life depended on them and attacks Mike at random with personal slights.

Mike and Liam, in their desperate attempt to role play their way to a new idea, shift into other characters who may or may not exist in their corporate world.

They both role play Sue, their mythical secretary, who has a pronounced limp and tries to seduce both of them.

John McLouchlin is their oily boss who slides in irregularly looking for a product.

It is a fascinating and complex piece of absurd theatre.

 Hough and Woods confuse us by interrupting Liam and Mike's role play reality.  We are never certain whether the trouble Liam and Mike get into is real.

In Say Nothing, they performed standing on a suitcase for one hour. Here they ere either seated at two ends of a huge desk or galloping  around the entire Fairfax Studio.

The Ideas Men is unpredictable, crazy, intelligent, inventive and hilarious. Ridiculusmus is a jewel in the Comedy Festival.

LOOK FOR: Mike's brutal attack on his computer keyboard.

By Kate Herbert