Monday 22 November 2004

Loyal Women by Gary Mitchell, Red Stitch, Oct 22, 2004

Loyal Women by Gary Mitchell
Red Stitch Actors Theatre
Rear 2 Chapel St. St. Kilda, Oct 22 to November 14, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 22

The undercurrent of violence is palpable in Loyal Women by Irish playwright, Gary Mitchell.   

The play is a voyeuristic peek into the lives of women in the Ulster Defence Association, (UDA) the Irish Protestant paramilitary organisation responsible for many Catholic deaths since 1971.

Denny Lawrence's production explores this violence to some degree.  However, the style remains a little too actorly and middle class to capture truthfully the raw passion of these loyalist women of Northern Ireland.

Mitchell's script is grim, contemporary realism and Lawrence stages it in a naturalistic style. The tiny Red Stitch space is converted into a scruffy Ulster living room with a view into granny's room.

Brenda (Verity Charlton) lives with her hapless teenage daughter, Jenny, (Ella Caldwell) Jenny's crying baby and Brenda's demented mother-in-law, Rita. (Carole Yelland)

Brenda's wily, deceitful and cowardly husband, Terry, (David Whiteley) is back after sixteen years in jail for the murder of an IRA woman.

Brenda's living room is used for impromptu meetings of the local Women's branch of the UDA. This rabble includes their mature leader, Maureen, (Christine Keogh) the unpredictable, insidious Gail, (Kate Cole) and the volatile and stupid Heather. (Kat Stewart)

These women are dangerous, some desperate and all are violent and profoundly bigoted.

It is a mystery that the group is so deferential to Brenda who is obviously not interested in fighting. Brenda's history is cloudy and her husband's role in the murder he was convicted of is even murkier.

Terry tries to inveigle his way back into Brenda's life by any means. He threatens her boyfriend, Mark, (Brett Cousins) sleeps on her couch, steals her savings and enlists the support of Jenny and his mother, Rita.

Charlton gives Brenda some credibility but is not always convincing. Cole seems to soft as the violent Gail but this might be because the fight choreography is unconvincing. Stewart transforms into the rough and idiotic Heather.

Whitely makes the cowardly Terry appropriately dislikeable. Cousins, plays Mark as sweetly vulnerable while Caldwell is suitably gawky as the ignorant Jenny.

The two guest actors give very strong performances. Keogh is stately and quietly powerful as Maureen and Yelland plays Rita with the stubborn and silent strength of the ageing matriarch.

Mitchell's script is repetitive and the characters are often on one note but the story of bitter religious feuds is compelling.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 18 November 2004

My Secret Marlene by Matthew Aberline, Nov 18, 2004

 My Secret Marlene  
by Matthew Aberline  
La Mama, Carlton Courthouse,  to November 27, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Anna Voronoff's one-woman show, My Secret Marlene, is an ambitious performance. However, it is only partially successful.

The play, written by Matthew Aberline and directed by Bruce Naylor, presents an oblique view of Marlene Dietrich through the eyes of a fictional German woman, Lola.

Lola, now elderly and bed-ridden, was a Berlin cabaret artist with Marlene during the 1930s, the Weimar period of German art.

Marlene is never seen as a character but each of the parade of personalities Voronoff plays on stage is somehow connected to her.

Lola performed in a dingy cabaret show with Marlene but Lola presumed she herself, not Marlene, her lover, would be the artist discovered and whisked away to Hollywood,

As Lola, decrepit and poor, lies under her blanket, she speaks to Doroman, a shifty old fellow who is a mutual friend of Marlene and Lola.

Doroman reveals to us the puppet Lola, a precocious and perhaps abused child. What follows is Lola's own cabaret act, a provocative routine by Voronoff in a black corset and stockings.

We meet the slick manager of the cabaret club, Schmidt and the transvestite cabaret singer who insists it is his act that Marlene used to model her own husky, sensual image for Hollywood.

Lola is persecuted by the Nazis while Marlene sings and makes movies.

There are plenty of Marlene's songs: The Laziest Girl in Town, Lili Marlene, Falling in Love Again and snatches of others.

The play is too long and, although Voronoff works very hard to recreate all characters, she does not inhabit them sufficiently for the show to be successful.

The characters are ill defined and sometimes it is difficult to recognise which she is playing. Costume changes are not sufficient to clarify this.

The play drags on past its natural ending, has too many songs, too many finales and Aberline's script is too long and reveals very little about Marlene.

The music itself is effective. Voronoff is accompanied by the Schwanzkokopf Trio, a talented jazz group (Robert Jackson, Tim Hilton, Tom Fryer) However, a play with so many songs by one woman needs a strong singer to perform them.

My Secret Marlene is a valiant effort with some good ideas, but it is, in the end unsatisfying.

LOOK FOR:  The band

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 17 November 2004

The Sapphires by Tony Briggs, MTC, Dec 17, 2004

 The  Sapphire  by Tony Briggs 
Melbourne Theatre Company
Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre, from December 17, 2004

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on December 17, 2004

Tony Briggs play, The Sapphires, has an insubstantial story but it is charming and entertaining.

It is a play with plenty of music. An on stage, five -piece band, (musical direction, Peter Farnan) provides excellent funky soul accompaniment and atmospheric music.

Briggs uses a true story. In the 1960s, four young aboriginal women formed a quartet performing Soul and Motown tunes.

The group comprised members of Briggs family: mother, Laurel Robinson, and aunties, Lois Peeler, Beverley Briggs and Naomi Mayers,

In 1968, after the referendum including aboriginal people in the census, The Sapphires toured Vietnam, singing for US soldiers.

The play begins with a talent quest in a rural town Dave, (Stephen Lovatt) a singing manager with a slick line in self-promotion.

The singing sisters are still a trio. Gail (Rachael Maza) Kay (Lisa Flanagan) and Cynthia (Deborah Mailman) are mediocre until little sibling, Julie, (Ursula Yovich) surges on stage with a killer version of Aretha Franklin's  Respect.

Dave convinces the girls to tour Vietnam with promises of money, and accommodation. Conditions are not what Dave promised and they realise the war is too close for comfort.

Briggs' characters are not fully developed but they are well observed in their colloquial dialogue.

The four Sapphires are engaging and energetic. Yovich has a perfect voice for Motown and Maza belts tunes out with passion. Mailman can sell a song and Flanagan has a pretty tone.

They pump out pounding versions of Chain of Fools, Heard It Through The Grapevine, Higher and Higher, Stop In The Name of Love, with a fine medley of Soul classics as finale.

Director Wesley Enoch, drives the action, focuses on the music and maintains some dramatic tension in a story that has no significant dramatic through line.

Lovatt is convincing as the flashy manager, Wayne Blair is hilarious as Kay's AWOL fiance and the talent show host. Newcomer, Aljin Abella, (OK) is a compelling presence as Joe, the Vietnamese boy and Chris Kirby is delightfully underplayed as the US soldier.

The band (Farnan, Simon Burke, Piet Collins, John Favaro, Dean Hilson) make this a musical feast of Soul.

Set by Richard Roberts is flexible and evocative and costumes by Dale Ferguson are classic 60s.

The Sapphires is a play about fulfilling dreams and challenging stereotypes. It is a play about hope.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 16 November 2004

Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose , Nov 16, 2004

 Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose   
Arts Projects Australia and Adrian Bohm
Athenaeum Theatre I,   November 16 to 30, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 1, 2004

Justice and prejudice are thorny issues for contemporary Australia and Reginald Rose's play, Twelve Angry Men, although written in the 50s in America, taps into an emotional vein even forty years after its creation.

Guy Masterson He directs Rose's early version of the play that was first staged in London in 1964.

The script is based on the 1957 film version starring Henry Fonda and other luminaries. This followed an Emmy award winning original television play.

Masterson cast twelve excellent Australian actors and comedians to play the twelve men of the jury, including Marcus Graham in the Henry Fonda role.

The production transforms the stage of the Athenaeum into a stuffy, hot and claustrophobic New York jury room in 1957. The men are of the period, each with clearly defined and recognisable characteristics of 50s America.

The men sit on a jury to decide the fate of a 16 year old black boy who is accused of the knifing murder of his violent father.

 When a single juror (Marcus Graham) votes Not Guilty, frustration and tempers flare and the temperature rises even further in the jury room.

The script is intelligent, politically sophisticated, socially challenging particularly for the 1950 in the USA. Rose's characters are impeccably observed, each slowly revealing his social values and inner secrets.

Putting twelve opinionated men of diverse class, education and background into a locked room together provokes a gladiatorial atmosphere.

Rose contrives a cunning narrative. Juror number eight (Graham) suggests that he cannot, in good conscience, send a boy to the electric chair without talking a little about it first.

By tiny increments, he unfolds his concerns about the weapon, the time of the murder, the reliability of witnesses' statements and the ineffective defence attorney. Almost imperceptibly, the picture of reasonable doubt is drawn and other jurors change their votes.

Graham is rivetting as the mild but persistent architect. His vocal and physical presence is, as always, compelling. As his opposing voice, the stitched up stock broker, Peter Phelps is delightfully cool and rational.

 Henry Szeps as the older juror, is a still presence and Alex Menglet as the European matchmaker, is commanding while Aaron Blabey is hilarious as the voluble salesman and Richard Piper is convincing as the frighteningly racist juror ten.

Rob Meldrum, George Kapiniaris, Peter Flett, Nicholas Papademetriou, Shane Bourne and Russell Fletcher comprise the rest of a fine cast.

As Graham's character says, " Prejudice obscures the truth." Twelve Angry Men compels us to reconsider our own prejudices.

By Kate Herbert 

Thursday 11 November 2004

The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov, Nov 11, 2004

 The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov
translated by David Lan by Pieces Of Work
 fortyfivedownstairs November 11 to 28, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on November 11 to 28, 2004

This production of Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, is a happy surprise. The direction by Kate Wild is intelligent and sensitive to Chekhov's Russian comedy. She explores both pathos and laughter in the play.

The play was first performed in 1904, just one year before the first Russian Revolution and fifty years after the emancipation of the peasants.

The characters and ideologies of the period are clearly reflected in Chekhov's intimate little world of faded gentry, loyal servants, upstart peasants and radical students.

Virginia Denham is credible and compelling as Liubov Ranevskaya, (OK) matriarch of the Russian country estate that houses the titular cherry orchard.

Denham plays the role with charm and an effervescent cheer that frequently cannot mask Ranevskaya's grief over the loss of her husband, son and now her family's estate.

We are chillingly aware of her complete denial of the urgency of solving the estate's financial dilemma when she ignores Lopakhin's, (OK) (Paul Denny) warnings of the impending bank auction of the orchard.

Denny finds a suitable brusque kindliness as Lopakhin, the uneducated peasant, now self-made businessman, who advises Ranevskaya to subdivide the orchard.

Chekhov's play is riddled with dysfunctional personalities. Gaev (OK) (Phil Roberts) Liubov's brother, is a babbling, ageing gentleman obsessed with billiards and unable to accept his spiral into poverty.

He is uncle to her pretty, selfish and much adored daughter, Anya, (OK) played sweetly by Simone Ray, is perhaps the only realist in the family.

 Anya's adopted sister, Varya, is the plain, practical and oft ignored daughter of Liubov.  Melissa Chambers gives her a comic edge but plays her with sympathy, maintaining Varya's great passion.

The set design by Glendon Fletcher, (OK) is evocative, decking the long space with translucent stencilled white fabric that is torn down to represent the demise of the estate.

Music by a quartet of strings and a soundscape by Roger Alsop, enhance the atmosphere and evoke the period.

There are delightful comic performances from John Flaus as the muttering old, loyal and very deaf servant, Firs (OK) and Reg Evans as the voluble Simeonov-Pischik. (OK)

Thomas Milton is delightful as Yepikhodov, (K) the accountant with poor luck and Angus Grant plays the radical and idealistic student, Trofimov. (OK)

If you have not seen the Cherry Orchard, Wild's production is a good place to begin.

LOOK FOR: The excruciating moment when Lopakhin almost proposes to Varya.

By Kate Herbert

Saturday 6 November 2004

An Evening With Queen Victoria by Prunella Scales, Nov 6, 2004

An Evening With Queen Victoria
By Prunella Scales  
Fairfax Studio, Victorian Arts Centre, Nov 6 - 7, 2004. Ford Theatre Geelong, Nov 7, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 6, 2004

It is exhilarating to witness a fine actor transform on stage. Prunella Scales is Queen Victoria. 

Her capacity to metamorphose into this short stout woman who reigned over England longer than any previous monarch is astonishing.

Scales begins as Victoria in her last years but shifts suddenly and thoroughly to her youthful years. The transformation in Scales is striking as she tosses off the heavy blanket of Victoria's age, leaps from her chair and becomes a spritely, light-voiced girl.

We observe Scales visibly age both physically and vocally as she journeys through the years from Victoria's accession to the crown, her marriage to her beloved Albert, the birth of nine children, to Albert's death and her ensuing grief.

It is a masterly performance by a skilful actor. The play is much more than readings from a diary because of Scales' wry delivery and impeccable timing.

Every word in the show is Victoria's own from her letters and diaries. She was a prolific, dramatic and imaginative writer and revealed much of her inner life through her journals.

We see a passionate and intelligent woman who revelled in her duties as Queen, relied totally on her husband's love and support and fell into a dark depression for ten years after his death.

Director, Katrina Hendrey, creates an elegant and concise script with a clever structure that shifts in time and focuses on selected periods of Victoria's life.

The construction of a dramatic story from an enormously long life can be problematic because a biography rarely has a neat dramatic construction.  Hendrey avoids over-filling the narrative.

The inclusion of versatile pianist, Richard Burnett, and the thrilling tones of tenor, Ian Partridge, enhance the play. Burnett underscores scenes and plays music from Victoria's life.

 Partridge sings tunes reflecting Victoria's life, including Shumann, Mendelssohn, Rossini, Gilbert and Sullivan and even two written by her husband, Albert: Schmerz der Liebe and Der Ungeliebte.

To highlight Victoria's period of isolation in Scotland served by her faithful Mr. Brown after her husband's untimely death, Partridge sings The Sun he is sunk in the West, with words by Robbie Burns.

The Evening is elegant, delightful, soothing, charming and witty and Prunella Scales' performance is intelligent, wry and compelling.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 4 November 2004

A Moment on the Lips by Jonathan Gavin, Nov 4, 2004

A Moment on the Lips by Jonathan Gavin
Maelstrom Productions Old Council Chambers, Trades Hall, Carlton, November4 to 27, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Jonathan Gavin's play, A Moment on the Lips, weaves a compelling and complex pattern of lives and characters, all of them women.

The acting from all seven women is impeccable. Our astonishment at never having seen any of them on stage in Melbourne is explained by this being a Sydney production and most being graduates of WAAPA in Perth..

Although there is no protagonist, the play has a central narrator, Victoria, (Nicole Winkler) who comments upon the action, moves us through different time frames and is the link between all the characters lives.

Victoria is a self-indulgent painter who lacks commitment and fresh ideas. Her barrister sister, Jenny, (Caroline Brazier) and is driven, overworked and supports financially both her own life partner, an academic called Rowena, (Alison van Reeken) and Victoria.

Rowena's adopted sister, Bridget, (Ansuya Nathan) is Indian by birth, a devout Catholic and confused about her sister's lesbianism and her own Indian heritage. Bridget meets waitress, Dominique, (Jesse Spence) who has a spooky, intrusive, genuinely psychic way of knowing people's deepest thoughts and fears.

Emma, (Susie Godfrey) is a glossy commercial news presenter plagued by threats from a crazy viewer. Her ex-lover, Anne, (Julia Davis) is the only married member of the group and it becomes clear she is a manic- depressive.

We see these complicated, intense, troubled,, exhilarating women over a period of time. They argue, lose friends, patch things up, meet for dinners and coffee. There is a pregnancy, a death, a journey, a breakdown and many reunions. As the characters say, "It is the little things."

Gavin gives us a sense of real women in ordinary and extraordinary situations. His dialogue is witty, credible and passionate. Director, Kim Hardwick, sets a lightning pace and keeps the rhythms varied throughout the play.

Godfrey is delightfully wry as Emma finding a balance between her brittle exterior and vulnerable centre. Spence is charming as Dom and manages to make her New Age, psychic insights and benign advice seem normal.

Nathan and van Reeken capture the troubled relationship of sisters and Davis brings warmth and energy to Anne's fragile personality. Brazier is grounded and sympathetic as Jenny while Winkler allows us to like even the volatile and self-interested Victoria.

This is a captivating production with exceptional skill. We hope Maelstrom visits Melbourne more often.

By Kate Herbert

Monday 1 November 2004

VCA Post Graduate Directors' Season 2004, Nov 1, 2004

VCA Post Graduate Directors' Season 2004  
Family Running For Mr Whippy by Catherine Zimdahl   
Have I None by Edward Bond  
VCA School of Drama, Dodds St Southbank (OK)November 1 to 16, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The VCA Post-Graduate Directors' Season comprises five scripted plays. Here is a taste of two.

Director, Kelly Somes, chose by Catherine Zimdahl 's Family Running for Mr. Whippy. The play is an abstract, comical view of a suburban, Australian family viewed through the bemused eyes of a teenage daughter. (Emily Taylor)

Somes contracts the cavernous VCA theatre with a witty, deceptively simple design. (Paulina Avellendeda-Ramirez) The design heightens the ordinariness and fragility of the family and defines its home with child-like chalk drawings on the floor.

A chalk picket fence surrounds them, a screen door is sketched on the floor, teacups are outlined on a table and the letters B. B. Q. scribbled on a blackboard are Dad's 's pride and joy. (Michael Frencham)

The Girl struggles to understand her parents' mixed messages and confusing behaviour. The Mum (Holly Myers) and Dad alternately adore or attack their son (Ben Franzen) and daughter. They revel in their tea ritual, cleaning, the new barbecue and Dad's mowing.

Somes cunningly uses a Chorus as various outsiders trying to invade the home: annoying Doorknockers, complaining Neighbours, a buzzing blowfly and The Worries that haunt the Girl's troubled sleep.

Gorkem Acaroglu directs Edward Bond's short play, Have I None. The play is futuristic, sharp-edged and eccentric. Sara (Amanda Falson) and Jams (Thomas Milton) are a young couple dressed identically in prison-issue orange suits.

Their lives are regimented. The authorities control the food they eat, the work they do, all social activities and even their allocation of stark white furniture. They are allowed no personal papers or photos and the past is abolished. People suicide en masse in this world.

They bicker like children over trivialities and when Grits, (Sean Barker) a scruffy traveller, arrives on their doorstep declaring he is Sara's brother, their ordered lives spiral out of control.

Acaroglu, like Somes, defines the house space. Jacqueline Lee's design is a cage-like framework. The shadows of a table and two are painted onto the floor. In this rigid home, even the reflections of objects are fixed.

The play is funny, sometimes compelling, shifting from social satire to a darker, more threatening tone as we watch Grits imprisoned, Jams panicking about his job and Sara joining the ranks of the many suicides.

LOOK FOR: Three more plays 9-16 November: Tattoo  by Dea Loher, Miss Julie by August Strindberg, Stone by Edward Bond.

By Kate Herbert