Thursday 24 March 2005

By Night We Tremble by Susan Alexopoulos, Feb 24, 2005

  By Night We Tremble  by Susan Alexopoulos 
 La Mama, Feb 24 to March 13, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

It seems safe to assume that By Night We Tremble is based in the personal experience of the writer, Susan Alexopoulos.

The story is told from the point of view of a young woman (Alexopoulos) who, for the first time in her short but colourful love life, is dumped by her lover. (Tim Stitz)

The style is abstract and absurd and is written in an almost stream of consciousness style. It is an outpouring of grief and pain about loss of love.

It is more successful theatrically when it does not take itself seriously. Much of the time the dialogue is indulgent and immerses itself in platitudes and introspection that have little theatrical impact.

Two other actors portray the young woman's mother (Georgina Capper) and father (Stitz) but they also shift into playing the young woman and her lover.

Capper is quirky as the young woman's mother and suitably provocative as the young woman in love.

The direction (Julie Waddington & Thomas Papathanassiou OK) provides some imaginative physical representations of the sexual antics of the young lovers both in love and in separation.

The broad caricatures of mum and dad become repetitive and smack of the 1950s. Both parents live in a state of rage at the loss of their youth and sexuality and loss of control over their recalcitrant daughter.

Dad wears a daggy, old cardigan and constantly sprays a can of Air deodoriser. Mum wears an apron made of mothballs and her despair drives her to continually throttles.

Their aim is to make their daughter grow up to be sensible and responsible, just as they have had to do

The entertaining moments come with the inermittent sardonic reflections on the uncontrollable behaviour of those who are left by lovers.

The young woman comically bemoans the fact that she succumbed to begging her partner to stay, a behaviour that she always loathed in others.

"Loneliness is a great repellent," the actors intone ironically and repeatedly.

Lighting designed by Peter Heward provides an evocative atmosphere of murky blues and mauves.

The show is underscored with eclectic music including an impassioned tango.

There are certainly some interesting images and ideas in At Night We Tremble. but in the end, it feels less like theatre and more like private therapeutic  writings.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 22 March 2005

Necessary Targets by Eve Ensler, March 22, 2005

Necessary Targets by Eve Ensler 
 CUB Malthouse, March 22 until April 10, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The horror of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia is brought home to us again in Necessary Targets, a play by Eve Ensler.

It is a moving, chastening and at times funny play that penetrates beneath the surface of statistics and horror stories, revealing the humanity of the survivors. 

Although both men and women suffered in this conflict, it is the women who are the focus. It is a story about not only the Bosnian women but about the two American therapists who travel to Bosnia to work with traumatized female victims of war.
J.S. (Vivienne Garret) is a psychiatrist who is out of her depth with war trauma. She wears Christian Dior in a war zone.  Her initial, comically patronising attempts to engage the women in arm's length psychotherapeutic sessions fall flat. When she engages with and feels for them, she is far more successful.
In competition with J.S. is Melissa, (Caitlin Beresford-Ord) a tough young woman counsellor experienced in war trauma but who is more concerned with recording the women's stories to include in her new book than with genuinely helping them.
Ensler highlights the ordinariness of the women who are damaged by war. It could be one of us. Their homes, families, work and play are destroyed by the conflict.
The diversity of the Bosnian women reflects how the war impacted on all levels of society.
Zlata ( Rosie Lalevich) is a successful and wealthy paediatrician who is vehemently opposed to these American outsiders pillaging the women's hearts and minds.

Nuna (Bojana Novakovic) is a youthful girl, interested in fashion, music and having fun. Jelena ( Danielle Antaki) is boisterous and cheerful despite the violence she experiences at home by her husband.

The oldest woman is Azra, (Jill Mc Kay) a farmer who pines for her cow and wishes to be buried on her farm.
Each woman slowly and unobtrusively reveals her own harrowing story but it is Seada (Kym Vercoe) whose story is the climax of the play. Seada carries a bundle of rags that she treats as a baby. Her denial and disassociation are painful to witness. The cruel revelation of her story is achingly tragic.

Pete Nettell directs the play with a deft hand using a multi-purpose and spare set design by Wayne Harris. Recorded Slavic music and dim lighting evoke an exotic but dangerous atmosphere.

The cast is all capable but several performances stand out. Lalevich as the indignant Zlata is a potent presence and Antaki is delightful as the drunken Jelena. Novakovic, as Nuna, is charming and joyful. But it is Vercoe's moment of revelation as Seada that breaks our hearts.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 17 March 2005

Shakespeare's Villains by Steven Berkoff, Melbourne, Feb 17, 2005

 Shakespeare's Villains by Steven Berkoff
Her Majesty's Theatre, Melbourne, Feb  17 to Sun Feb 20, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 17, 2005

If you are an Oxford Shakespearian purist or, as Steven Berkoff describes it, "an iambic fundamentalist", you might be offended by Berkoff's unconventional playing of the Bard.

His performance of Shakespeare's Villains is irreverent, unpredictable and delicious. His style is witty, impulsive, indulgent and profoundly entertaining.

The stage is empty of set and props but he fills it with substance using his potent physicality.

He colours Shakespeare poetry with his vocal acrobatics, the rich velvet of his voice soaring and resonating.

Dramatic moments are inflected with comedy. Her rolls Macbeth's Scottish "r' with relish and playfully portrays Hamlet marching the endless corridors of Elsinore, calling to his mother. He conjures images of Gertrude and Lady Macbeth with sensual, visual descriptions of their femaleness.

The choice of villains is not obvious. Hamlet and Shylock, both often played as victims, are amongst them. 

Villains, Berkoff suggests in his impassioned commentary that links scenes, may be deformed or starved of love, (Richard III) jealous of others' love, (Iago) crave power in addition to love, (Macbeth) or be overwhelmed by mother's love (Hamlet).

Iago, Othello's subversive adviser, is "a mediocre villain" because he merely fiddles with the lives of people close to him, not even doing the killing himself.

Richard III is "a genius villain". He is proud and confident as he plans his villainy, covers his sins and murders many powerful and powerless royals.

The soldier, Macbeth, is "a wannabee villain". The fact that he has love in his life from his ambitious and manipulative wife, Lady Macbeth, gives him pause. She is the catalyst for his villainy.

Shakespeare's Jewish moneylender, Shylock, from The Merchant of Venice, Berkoff tells us, has been sanitised in the playing over the year to accommodate the 20th century delicacy about racial stereotypes. Berkoff depicts him as a vengeful cur that has been kicked too many times.

Hamlet is "an intelligent villain." He is erudite, a student of philosophy, so he can pontificate and procrastinate in his seething vengeance until he kills Polonius.

The King of the Fairies, Oberon, is more charmingly naughty than evil in his plans to make his wife fall in love with a wild beast.

The evening is stuffed with ironic and acerbic references to critics, famous actors, academics and politicians. It reveals a great deal about Berkoff's magical technique and charismatic, if slightly dangerous, personality.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 16 March 2005

SubClass 26A, February 16, 2005

 SubClass 26A
 fortyfivedownstairs  February 16 to 27, 2005

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on February 16, 2005

SubClass 26A is an evocative representation of the plight of refugees in Australian detention centres.

Six performers, directed by Bagryana Popov, depict the refugees' experience using abstracted movement, repetition, fragmented dialogue and extracts from government document.

Stark lighting (Richard Vabre) includes fluorescent overhead lights to create a clinical environment for these isolated and desperate figures in the almost empty white space. (Anna Tregloan)

Percussive music (Elissa Goodrich) creates a simple soundscape to enhance the hollowness of the atmosphere.

This is not a narrative-based work but, rather, a series of oblique reflections upon the experiences of our refugees.

We witness them being moved about meaninglessly, forced into chairs, trying to understand incomprehensible and foolish instructions from three warders. (Simon Ellis, Nadja Kostich, Natalie Cursio)

Their days are regimented. They are called to meals, English lessons and interviews. Much of their time is spent waiting. They wait for news, information, answers, letters and for notice of their next visa interview.

Mostly, they wait for someone to believe them and not to treat them as criminals.

Although there is no single narrative thread, there are three detainees we come to know.

One is Abdullah Abdullah from Afghanistan, (Rodney Afif) the second is an Iraqi refugee (Majid Shokor) and the third a despairing young woman who suffers profound grief. (Ru Atma)

They are interrogated, never abused but abandoned, ignored, pushed from place to place, disbelieved and mistrusted.

There are some charming and funny vignettes. The two men (Afif and Shokor) play soccer and are joined by the male warder (Ellis). However, it turns into a power battle.

There are ironic references by the female warder (Kostich) to the movie, Pretty Woman, which seems light years away from the experience of the refugees.

The final images of Abdullah are poignant when he is demanding to be heard, fighting for his dignity and finally giving up when he hears his visa is rejected.

The piece becomes a little repetitive and is perhaps longer than it can successfully sustain but it is definitely an interesting if not penetrating view of the refugee situation in Australia.

By Kate Herbert

Tyranny by Barry Dickins, March 16, 2005

Tyranny by Barry Dickins 
The Builders Initiative
La Mama, March 16 to April, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Many of our successful playwrights, including Barry Dickins, began their writing in the late 60s and 70s at the Pram Factory.

Robert Reid's project called The Builders Initiative is founded on the commendable am to invite those playwrights to write new scripts to be directed by artists from the current theatre generation.

Ironically, Dickins seems to have incorporated something of this notion of old and new artists into his new absurdist play, Tyranny.

An elderly writer and intellectual, Eros Clare (Sharon Kershaw) nurtures a clutch of young wannabe artists who call their group, Dyspathy. She provides them with writing workshops, stimulating discussion and access to her rambling old mansion.

She is eccentric, decorative, successful and generous to her protegees, particularly the two boys, Henry (Mike McEvoy) and Johnny (Gareth Davies).

Eros is painfully unaware of their secret contempt for her and their clandestine plans to murder her and take all her money nor is she aware of the power of their girlish leader, Sandy. (Frances Marrington)

When they do attempt to kill her, she believes she should forgive such "fascist indiscretions of the younger generation."

Of course, in typical Dickins style, all of this horror is embedded cunningly in elaborate linguistic meanderings and hilarious social and political commentary.

His characters speak in Dickins own version of urban Australian poetry. He melds the suburban image with the exotic or the lyrical.

We meet a Zulu on Heidelberg Road; Mr. Richards, (David Pawsey) the grocer-butcher, quotes World War one poet, Wilfred Owen; the Bible and the Australia Council are in the one sentence; and Manet's Dejeuner Sur l'Herbe features during a picnic.

Dickins' writing obsesses about education, language, thought, politics, art and youth. He challenges our crumbling world and loss of faith and values. These young people are morally bankrupt, acquisitive and self-obsessed. Tyranny is a scathing attack on youth.

The set design (Jamie Clennett) of white painted junk clustered up the back walls is inventive.

The cast and director work courageously with this chaotic and intense script. The problem is that they do not seem to understand Dickins' style and are not quite in control of his language and intention.

The dialogue is complex, requiring clear articulation. At times, the actors are inaudible or incomprehensible. It also lacks his signature slapstick and satirical quality.

However, it is delightful to see a new Dickins with all its shambolic glory.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 15 March 2005

The Yellow Wallpaper, from Charlotte Gilman Perkins, March 15, 2005

The Yellow Wallpaper  by Charlotte Gilman Perkins 
Adapted by Anita Hegh and Peter Evans
Where and When: Store Room, March 15 to April 3, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The confined, empty black space of The Store Room echoes the claustrophobic feelings of The Yellow Wallpaper.

Anita Hegh portrays a woman in an escalating psychological crisis. She is virtually incarcerated in an upstairs nursery in a crumbling country house.

Her isolation from friends, society and her beloved writing, enforced by her loving husband, is intended to speed her recovery but, instead, triggers a terrifying fall into delusion and paranoia.

Director, Peter Evans, with Hegh, adapted this electrically charged performance from Charlotte Gilman Perkins' 1892 novella of the same name.

Evans and Hegh use cunningly simple theatrical devices to create the layers of the story.

Hegh, dressed in a battered bridal gown, tells the woman's tale in the first person in a direct address to the audience. Her controlled narration is punctuated by random gasps that highlight the woman's rising panic and barely masked hysteria.

The woman enters and re-enters through the doorway as if she is re-enacting a contrived or rehearsed version of herself and her story for us.

She walks and speaks with dignity and rigid control, smiling awkwardly to deceive her husband and herself. Each day that passes we see her initial control of her demeanour and speech degenerate.

The peeling yellow wallpaper in her nursery prison obsesses her. Its pattern shatters all aesthetic rules. Perkins' poetry is vivid and compelling. It is "a smouldering, unclean yellow," with a pattern of "lame, uncertain curves that suddenly commit suicide."

The woman describes the pattern as being like fungus, revealing strangled heads and bulbous eyes. But beneath the surface pattern she sees a creeping woman, trapped and trying to escape. It is this image that eventually takes over fragile mind.

Hegh is rivetting, vibrating with the despair and uneasy control of a shattered psyche. It is this desperate vocal and physical control of language and delivery that exaggerates the delicacy of the woman's mental state.

Evocative lighting by Luke Hails creates a series of dramatic spaces that highlight the feelings of entrapment and the vocal brightness of the woman's voice overs lend an eerie childlikeness to her plight.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 10 March 2005

Menopause-The Musical by Jeanie Linders, Feb 10, 2005

Menopause - The Musical by  Jeanie  Linders 
Produced by  G4 Productions, Lascorp, ICA and McPherson Touring
Where and When: Comedy Theatre, Melbourne, from Feb 10, 2005

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 10, 2005

Menopause - The Musical, written by Jeanie Linders, boasts a title that makes people laugh and wonder how one can write a musical about women's hormones.

Well, it is identification theatre. The audience, mostly women over 55, cheered at every reference to a menopausal symptom and danced on stage for the finale.

They identify with the characters who are all in their 40s or 50s. They are an executive, (Caroline Gillmer, a soap star, (Jane Clifton) a rural housewife, (Deidre Rubenstein) and a hippy. (Susan-Ann Walker OK)

These menopausal women meet in a department store then compare menopausal symptoms in song.

Despite the quality of the writing being limited, there being no narrative, nor any dramatic tension, the show is entertaining to its target audience - and perhaps their husbands.

The set is a wall of department store doors. There is simple 60s choreography and a few costume changes but essentially the show is a series of clever song parodies hooked together with daggy dialogue.

The Australian production is directed by Gary Young and choreographed by Andrew Hallsworth .

The four actors make a meal of the witty songs that puts new words about symptoms to classic tunes.

Gilmer belts out the opening parody to that Soul classic, Chain, Chain, Chain, which transposes into "Change, Change, Change- Change of Life".

There are songs about memory loss, over-eating, lack of fitness, fatness, sex, vibrators, face lifts, cosmetics, incontinence and confusion.

Gilmer sings, "I've got the night sweats baby this evening" and Clifton vamps with, "I'm having a hot flush, a tropical hot flush."

Walker bemoans her sleeplessness to the tune of I Will Survive, singing, " I -  I am awake." The audience shrieks.

Husbands not able to cope with the stress of the wife's mood swings are lyrics to the tune of In the Jungle: " In the guest room or on the sofa my husband sleeps tonight."

My favourite was sung to the tune of "Bill" and about anti-depressants: "Pills! I love you so I always will."

Menopause is fun - really daggy and little preachy, but fun.

LOOK FOR: Gillmer's Chain, Chain, Chain.

By Kate Herbert 

Wednesday 9 March 2005

Mamma Mia! (The Musical) March 9, 2005

Mamma Mia! 

Music by Benny Andersson & Bjorn Ulvaeus Book by Catherine Johnson

Her Majesty's Theatre, Melbourne, March 9 to  June 9, 2005

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The vibrant musical Mamma Mia! returns to Melbourne after four years with its nostalgic and eminently singable repertoire of ABBA pop tunes. Each song is a potential Eurovision Song Contest winner.

The opening night audience bopped and bounced in its seats to every beat and sang along with the catchy lyrics of Benny and Bjorn's immortal songs.

The beginning of the show felt a little uncomfortable. Some dialogue was too expository and there were occasional vocal pitch problems. These were overcome quickly.

The show hit its straps with the memorable Money Money Money, then Mamma Mia and Super Trouper.

The audience was delighted by every cunning segue from a line of dialogue into the opening lyric of a song.

Writer, Catherine Johnson, takes advantage of the impassioned, romantic lyrics, sung originally by Agnetha and Anni-Frid. Many ABBA songs are about relationships and lend themselves to a play about falling in and out of love.

The story is simple. Donna, played by the warm-voiced and passionate Silvie Paladino, (OK) runs a taverna on a Greek island. Her 20-year-old daughter, Sophie, (Kellie Rode) is to be married the next day.

The hitch is that Sophie, unbeknowns to her single mother, invited three of her mum's ex-lovers (John O'May, Bruce Roberts and Peter Hardy) to her wedding, hoping one of them is her unacknowledged dad.

Rode is perky and engaging as Sophie and her three "fathers" have fun with their goofy roles.

The show is stolen by the three older women on stage. (Paladino, Jenny Vuletic, Emma Powell) They appear together as Donna's old girl group, Donna and the Dynamos, decked out in Shiny Elvis suits singing Super Trouper and, in the finale, You Can Dance and Waterloo.

Jenny Vuletic is unbelievably sassy and magnetic singing Does Your Mother Know. Paladino's The Winner Takes It All is compelling and the final of I Do I Do I Do is delightful.

There are two huge dance numbers. Voulez Vous is a big chorus number in the taverna and under Attack is a marvellously quirky underwater dream sequence in wet suits, fluorescent goggles and snorkels

The second half is a musical rocket.  The audience stood and danced and sang in their seats during the finale. So should you.

By Kate Herbert for 1 pages: