Friday 25 February 2005

The Big Con by Guy Rundle, with Max Gillies, Feb 25, 2005

 The Big Con  by Guy Rundle  
Produced by Malthouse Theatre, Arts Centre & Sydney Opera House

 Dinner & Show, ANZ Pavilion, Arts Centre 6.30pm until March 12
Show only, Malthouse Theatre, March 15-April 3, 2005

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The stakes are high and the political barbs fly thick and fast in The Big Con.

Max Gillies performs a series of more savage than usual satirical impersonations in this brutal attack on Australian political conservatives.

Gillies is united in his assault with cabaret singer, Eddie Perfect, who punctuates Gillies characterisations with caustic songs.

Script and lyrics bear the stamp of the scathing wit of Guy Rundle, whose background as comedy writer and political magazine editor are evident in his ferocious and shamelessly Leftist script.

The landslide win of the Howard government, the rise of conservatism in federal politics and the absurd infighting of the ALP provided a platform for new and even more bitter comic criticism.

Rundle's rage at our political situation is palpable and penetrates the comedy.

The stage is decorated as if for a conservative Think Tank called, ironically, The Centre for Independent Analysis. Host, Eddie Perfect, introduces various right-wing speakers, all played by Gillies in exceptional make-up. (Nik Dorning)

"We're spending the night on the right side of the fence," sings Perfect.

The first half is almost unbearably brutal and Gillies portrayal of arch-conservative radio talk back host, Alan Jones, is ferocious.

What follows is Keith Windschuttle, the only fictional character, (unless I've have missed the real Keith) a radical left- turned extreme right-wing historian.

Windschuttle's rewriting of history reeks of David Irving. He discounts the Holocaust, most deaths in World War One and calls the Stolen Generation "borrowed."

Rather tame by comparison, is Alexander Downer portrayed as an incompetent kindergarten teacher type having trouble with his visual aids.

Gillies plays Tony Blair making excuses and wanting to be loved, George Bush misusing words and video characters including Phillip Ruddock and Rupert Murdoch.

These are followed by a hilarious impersonation of Amanda Vanstone who tours her road show, Amandatory Detention.

Tony Soprano brings a Mafia-style "warning" from the US government. John Howard sniggers with contempt about the total power invested in him by his new control of the Senate.

This is not a show for the faint-hearted and will offend some people - even those on the Left. The Big Con is irreverent, acerbic, combative and impassioned.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 23 February 2005

Cyrano de Bergerac, Edmond Rostand, MTC, Feb 23, 2005

CYRANO DE BERGERAC by Edmond Rostand
Melbourne Theatre Company
Where: Playhouse, Arts Centre, Wed Feb 23 until April 2, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on FEb 23, 2005

Published Herald Sun Feb 25, 2005 in Amusements

`FATE is cruel. I look like a circus but I'm stuffed full of poetry,'' quips
Cyrano de Bergerac in Edmond Rostand's play from 1897.

Simon Phillips' production features David Wenham as
Cyrano, the noble, heroic, churlish French soldier and poet who suffered the indignity and anguish of being born with a ridiculous, enormous nose.

Rostand's play was a throwback to earlier verse plays, but its lyrical, romantic and touching story won French audiences. It remains a classic.

It takes liberties with the real Cyrano's story. Cyrano is secretly in love with his childhood playmate, Roxane (Asher Keddie), but never reveals his love because he knows he's ugly and undesirable.

Instead, Roxane enlists Cyrano's help in her infatuation with Christian (David Lyons), a pretty but stupid soldier in Cyrano's regiment.

Both the comedy and tragedy of Cyrano's unrequited love are played out in the colourful and heartfelt love letters he writes for Christian to send Roxane.

The play can be heartrendingly poignant as well as rollicking, fighting and comical.

This production is entertaining but lacks the emotional range and overwhelming passion of Rostand. The stakes seem too low and sometimes gags interfere with the lyricism and passion.

This might be in part because of the lightness of Andrew Upton's adaptation. It provides funny, modern references and witty rhymes but seems self-consciously contemporary.

These problems may improve as the season goes on. The play is an epic and might need time to even out its bumpy edges.
Wenham is engaging and warm as Cyrano but perhaps a little less dangerous and impassioned than we might expect of the character.

The sword-play is rather tame and the acting is uneven among the soldiers, but there are several strong performances.

Alex Menglet is deliciously eccentric as the poetry-obsessed baker, Ragueneau. Stephen Ballantyne brings warmth to Cyrano's dearest friend, Le Bret, the most realistic character.

As De Guiche, the arrogant commander of the soldier and ardent suitor of Roxane, Hayden Spencer is able to bridge the absurdity of his early foppishness and his later earnestness. Bob Hornery, Gerry Connolly, Julie Eckersley and Carita Farrer all play delightful cameos.

A violinist, Michael Harris, provides vibrant, original, almost gypsy music composed by Ian McDonald.

A vivid, exotic and complex design by Gabriela Tylesova integrates the proscenium arch into diverse scenes.

This production is definitely entertaining but not the definitive, poignant version of Cyrano we might expect. 

By Kate Herbert

Caption:  Nose job: David Wenham (left) as Cyrano with Gerry Connolly.
Illus:  Photo
Column:  Entertainment
Section:  AMUSE
Type:  Theatre Review

Monday 14 February 2005

Debbie Does Dallas-The Musical, Feb 14, 2005

Debbie Does Dallas -The Musical

Adapted by Erica Schmidt, music by Andrew Sherman, conceived by Susan L. Schwarz 
Three Amigos Productions

Athenaeum Theatre 1, Melbourne, from February 14, 2005

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

One could not describe Debbie Does Dallas - The Musical as a critique of the politics of pornography or sexuality.

In fact, it straddles (pardon the innuendo) soft-core porn and sketch comedy with a sprinkling of teen television soap opera tossed in.

The show, directed by Peter Ross, was adapted by American, Erica Schmidt, from the actual old an d infamous porn movie of the same name.

The sexual antics in the stage show - we presume, not having seen the original - far less lurid but perhaps almost as titillating to some audience members.

The concept fits in with the recent surge of sexual lifestyle parodies that include Menopause the Musical and Orgasm the Musical as well as those two comedy shows about how babies kill the sex lives of mums and dads.

Debbie Does Dallas is entertaining and boasts a very talented and versatile cast of eight singer-dancers. The three men and five women relish the raunchiness of this over-the-top parody of dim-witted cheer leaders and thick-headed footballers.

Debbie, played with zest by Lisa Adam, a high school cheer squad captain, must raise the cash to finance her trip to join the prestigious Dallas Cowboys cheer squad.

With her four pals, Lisa (Zoe Ventoura) Roberta, (Beck Corley) Donna (Georgina Hart) and Tammy (Emma Hawthorne) she forms "Teen Services", a company that provides, for cash, any services wanted by men. You guessed it! The men all want sex.

The choreography is raunchy and slick. The peppy pop songs get better and funnier as the show progresses.

 Debbie sings Ten Dollars Closer each time she makes another ten bucks from her sexual favours to the polite but hungry sports store owner. (David Keene)

The boys belt out I Wanna Do Debbie with its less than subtle innuendo and the girls sing Bang Bang Cheer.

The three men shift character often and effortlessly playing not only the dopey footballers but all the men who "employ" the girls for their services.

The women have fun playing an array of witless teens. Particularly strong are Adam as the ambitious and relentlessly cheerful Debbie and Ventoura as the deliciously bad and disloyal Lisa.

There are some tasteless jokes and some content that might be offensive to some, but the whole show is a bit of a light laugh.

Kate Herbert

Tuesday 8 February 2005

Little Black Bastard by Noel Tovey , Feb 8. 2005

 Little Black Bastard by Noel Tovey  
 Midsumma Festival
 Black Box, Arts Centre, Feb 8 and 9, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

It is chastening to hear a life story of an artist who has overcome terrible adversity to become a successful performer.

In his solo show, Little Black Bastard, Noel Tovey tells his gruelling and inspiring tale on a near empty stage surrounded by enormous photographic images. The photos depict Tovey and his family as well as his friends from the theatre who included Mary Hardy, Bunny Brook and John Truscott.

There is little stage action, physicalisation or characterisation but, intermittently, we hear voice overs that represent Noel as a child, his mother or characters from Tovey's life in the streets of Melbourne.

Although the show lacks dramatic structure it is the personal quality of Tovey's delivery and our awareness of the poignant truth of his telling that captivates the audience.

His tale of dragging himself up by the bootstraps began in Melbourne in the 1930s.

 He was born to a part-African Tivoli performer father and a part-Aboriginal mother. It ends just after Tovey leaves Melbourne by boat to realise his dreams of a career on the stage in London.

In between, here are audible gasps of shock and sympathy for the little boy who was born into poverty and hunger, called "little black bastard" by the kids at his Catholic school.

At four years old he was raped by his uncle, neglected then abandoned by his drunken and incompetent parents and, finally, adopted by another opportunistic sadist.

He survived a life on the streets as a rent boy - a gay prostitute - survived Pentridge and found a strange niche in the bohemian quarter of Melbourne's clubs and cafes and theatres.

His dreams lead him to train in ballet, singing and acting. He was cast in his first professional performance by sheer luck and the rest is Tovey's history.

The Fellowship that lead to the research that produced the autobiography gave birth to this show of the same name.

It is a moving tribute to a man's steadfast desire to lift himself out of the darkness in the light to achieve his dreams.

By Kate Herbert 

Friday 4 February 2005

Pugilist Specialist by Adriano Shaplin, Red Stitch, Feb 4, 2005

Pugilist Specialist  by Adriano Shaplin  
 Red Stitch Actors Theatre
 Red Stitch Actors Theatre, Rear 2 Chapel St, St. Kilda, Feb 4 until March 5, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

From America movies, we recognise the highly skilled US Marines, tough, no-holds-barred combatants.

Adriano Shaplin's play, Pugilist Specialist, eavesdrops on four Marines preparing for a "Black Op" in the Middle East.

The operation is an assassination of Big Stash, (Big Moustache) code named The Bearded Lady. It is obviously Sadaam Hussein.

The four characters are peak performance fighters.  Lieutenant Emma Stein (Kate Cole) is the Marines' poster girl, always sent for photo opportunities and promotion.

She is thorough, committed, feisty and is not usually sent on the secret missions known as Black Ops.

Lieutenant Studdard (Dion Mills) is a considered and controlled communications expert who, it is hinted, is a tough homosexual.

The third Soldier is Lieutenant Travis Freud, (Richard Cawthorne) a loud, foul-mouthed, sexist Southerner with a competitive streak.

He baits Stein with his chauvinism, taunts Studdard about his sexuality and challenges him to a hotdog-eating contest. Freud is machismo embodied and he obeys all orders.

Colonel Johns, (Kenneth Ransom) their commanding officer, is a demanding and challenging leader who, we suspect has a secret agenda.

Most of the play takes place during their preparations. We witness their first meeting when the three soldiers are still guessing at their upcoming mission.

When the Colonel finally briefs them they are surprised that their mission is an assassination. There is plenty of bravado, competition, rising tensions and verbal sparring.

What follows are secret meetings in which they argue about methods, weapons, communications devices and the timing and location of the kill.

All four actors are energetic and punchy in the roles. Shaplin's dialogue is smart, acerbic and rapid with the edginess and satirical quality of a New York comedy writer.

It is a very American play that does not resonate readily with the Australian sensibility.

The characters have unlikely but very entertaining arguments on philosophical points.

Greg Carroll directs the play with no on-stage physical action but the drama builds to the final scene, the proposed killing.

The stage is darkness except for pin lights attached to the actors' headsets.

This scene might be more effective if shouting had not obscured the tension. Also, the stated frisson of sexual tension between Freud and Stein was not visible.

The rhythm of the play is a little out of balance. The cuing is slow for dialogue written to snap and crackle.

Pugilist Specialist is a witty and vigorous representation of four dangerous fighting people.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 3 February 2005

Beowulf, adapted by David Malikoff, Feb 3, 2005

Beowulf adapted by David Malikoff
 Trades Hall,  February 3 to 19, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 3, 2005

There is a richness of style in David Malikoff's adaptation of Beowulf, the Old English poem.

Malikoff, using a blend of several translations of the original text, narrates and enacts the story of Beowulf, the mighty warrior of Geatland who journeys across the sea to kill the monster, Grendel, that terrorises the Danes.

Single-handedly, he wrests the arm from the fiendish Grendel who subsequently dies. Beowulf is then pitted against Grendel's vengeful and monstrous mother whom he beheads in her own underwater lair.

The warmth and rich texture of Malikoff's voice lends great range to the tale and colours the panoply of mythic characters he portrays.

Paul Plunkett directs Malikoff imaginatively. Simple physical shifts and variations in vocal quality and accent conjure each character and define their differences.

Beowulf stands erect and regal with a deeply resonant voice. The ancient King Hrothgar (OK) of Denmark, is a frail old man and Hrothgar's best warrior is a taunting drunk.

The stage is peopled with characters both human and monstrous.

A wide upstage screen of wood and canvas houses three painted images: cliffs, a portrait of a King and a huge sword. (Linda Martin) The design (Malikoff)  is simple but creates complex moods and locations.

Differing levels are created by one small, low rostrum downstage and a banquet-like table and benches upstage.

The lighting (Paul Plunkett, David Byrnes) is evocative. Multiple floor lights create eerie atmosphere and deep shadows. The screens are lit from behind and the table from below to dramatic effect.

This poem is a masterpiece of its time that still holds an audience enthralled. The interpolated fragments of the original text echo with the lyrical tones of the Germanic-sounding Old English.

Some may recognise the sounds as the language spoken by the Elves in the Lord of the Rings. Indeed, Tolkien was a translator of Beowulf into modern English language.

Malikoff is a charming, skilful and relaxed performer who takes us on a mystical and mythical journey through the chambers, dungeons and banquet halls of Old Herot, the home of the Danish King.

The story resounds with the sagas about heroes and laments the death and dearth of warriors with spirit and courage to lead their people against evil.

It is an epic tale told by one man in many voices.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 1 February 2005

Troy's House by Tommy Murphy , La Mama, Feb 1, 2005

Troy's House  by Tommy Murphy 
 La Mama, Carlton Courthouse, February 1 to 19, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 1, 2005

Troy's House, written and directed by Tommy Murphy, may have greater appeal to an audience of teenagers. 

The central characters are eighteen years old and adolescents may identify with their agonising over unsatisfactory teen sex, smoking bongs and getting stoned and plenty of swearing.

The show feels more like a university drama production and, in fact, most of the cast cite Sydney University Drama Society and Australian Theatre for Young people as their backgrounds.

The play was written in the late 1990s when the writer was only eighteen. The immaturity of the writer is evident in the problems in the script that seems nto to have been rewritten for its new season.

The story, such as it is, concerns four Canberra teens who recently completed Year Twelve and have no idea where their lives are heading although this topic is not satisfactorily explored.

Felicity, (Anna Yeo OK) spends all her free time at her childhood friend, Troy's (Michael Hammell OK) place because there is absolutely no discipline there. Her new, unsullied boyfriend, Ben, (Robin Hart) is shocked by the environment.

The house is a filthy chaotic dump, an ex-government house in the seedier suburbs of Canberra.

Troy's mother, Diane, (Lucy Wirth OK) is a loud, foul-mouthed, lazy slattern who makes a habit of poisoning her neighbour's cats and welcomes the local youth to use her house as a drop-in centre for partying, smoking dope, drinking nad having sex.

Troy is a dim-witted nonentity who enjoys Nintendo, growing marijuana, ferreting and pressuring his hapless girlfriend, Tania, (Julia Grace) into disappointing sex.

The characters are two-dimensional and Troy and Diane are simply caricatures who pull faces, shout and swear a lot.

Two actors (Felicity Barnes, Charlie Garber) wearing plastic wings, represent the inner thoughts of the teenagers but this device never quite reaches its potential.

The direction is often awkward and lacks any specific style. The play is uncertain whose story it is, much of the dialogue is expository and the journeys of the characters are unresolved and incomplete.

The scene in which the four kids slip into a confused and drug-induced haze is the most successful and entertaining.

Some of the issues might make useful material for discussion amongst teenagers but this play needs some more work to give it any weight.

By Kate Herbert