Thursday 23 June 2005

Footfalls by Samuel Beckett, la Mama, June 23, 2005

Footfalls  by Samuel Beckett
La Mama at Courthouse Theatre, June 23 until July 2, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The haunting words of Samuel Beckett's Footfalls are heightened by the shuffling walk and  inner torment of his haunted character, May (Lisa Angove).

The short play is written in three section, each divided by a fading light and a resonant gong, like that used in a Buddhist temple or a high mass.

Angove, as May, is alone on stage. Her performance is compelling as this inwardly tortured character.

May's wretched existence is elaborated in the three parts of the play as she drags her bent and crippled body back and forth cross the tiny, lit space.

She is dressed in rags, her face haggard, mouth gaping and chewing at her toothless gums despite being only in her forties.

The late Ralph Wilson originally directed the play but Phil Roberts has remounted it.

In part one, May paces painfully as she speaks to her ninety-year old mother (Joyce Glynn) whose voice drifts out of the darkness.

May is solicitous to her mother, asking if she needs hr position changed, her sores dressed. Her mother is equally concerned about May's wellbeing.

In the second movement, the disembodied voice is no longer the mother. It tells the mysterious illness and malaise of the child, May. Meanwhile May paces and gapes.
The third movement that May calls "Sequel". Images of church and the symbolic crucifix or cruciform of the church are evoked and May's agony is replicated in the agonies of Christ.

Angove is exceptional in this role, finding a depth and resonance to the role. Her physical and vocal control make the play eerie and place the character somewhere between the worlds of the living and the dead.

Beckett's existential nightmare is evoked with frightening clarity in this production.

Lighting by Silvana Ianello provides an almost claustrophobic space for the tormented may to trudge her weary and interminable path.

The rhythmic and languorous pace of the movement and voice highlight the anguish of May, child and woman.

By Kate Herbert

Friday 17 June 2005

Acts of Loneliness by Bridgette Burton and Christina Costigan, June 17, 2005

 Acts of Loneliness  
by Bridgette Burton and Christina Costigan 
Store Room, June 17 until July 3, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

These two short plays are both two-handers about two women who are invading each other's space and engaging in psychological games.

Not Forgotten, by Bridgette Burton, is a faintly menacing play in which Rebecca ( Tiffany Davis), having a quiet Friday night at  home awaiting take away Thai food, .is interrupted by Louise (Christina Costigan).

Louise purports to be a market researcher on unusual home visits. It transpires that the pair went to high school together but Rebecca has absolutely no recollection of Louise nor of much else of their common past.

What is peculiar and somehow dangerous, is that Louise recalls every detail of Rebecca, her achievements, her failings, school record, ambitions and even her talented and popular dead brother, Josh.

There is clearly a hidden history between the pair and we watch it unfold as Louise forces herself upon Rebecca, prodding and pressuring her to remember or admit that she bullied Louise at age 14 and 15.

Director, Kelly Somes, sets the play in a tiny, claustrophobic square of space with the women stepping inside each other's boundaries constantly.

Burton peels layers of their lives and secrets away to reveal that Louise is far more manipulative and controlling than we thought. She reveals she loved josh, followed him around and finally she declares that she knows the details of his apparent suicide.

 Shifts the pair's status and allows the role of intimidator to swap between the women as she unravels the plot.

In the second play, One on One written by Costigan,.Jane (Costigan) sits in a café reading, only to be interrupted by a stranger, Georgia, ( Davis) who sits at her table and proceeds to question her about her book, her drink, her family - everything.

This turns into a game with each of them women moving chairs and positions as in a board game. Roles swap, the interrogator changes, the status shifts as the game changes rules.

This play is the less successful of the two. The absurdist form works at times but the dialogue is often contrived and awkward with too much emphasis on word play and associative ideas.

Costigan and Davis are competent performers and Somes directs them tightly in the two plays.

The themes of solitude and invasion are common to both plays and each writer explores them in slightly differing styles.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 16 June 2005

Dirty Dancing by Eleanor Bergstein, June 16, 2005

 Dirty Dancing by Eleanor Bergstein 
By Jacobsen Entertainment/Lion's Gate Films/Magic Hour Productions
Princess Theatre, Melbourne, from June 16 until November, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 16, 2005

The phenomenon of Dirty Dancing fandom escaped most of us until it recently hit the stage. Fans of the movie attended it repeatedly and are doing so with the stage show.

They speak the characters' dialogue, cheer particular lines such as, "Nobody puts Baby in the corner," and, if there were room, they'd be dancing in the aisles.

Frances "Baby" Houseman, played engagingly by Kym Valentine, is a naïve American teenager who is going through a Coming of Age experience.

 Baby is an honest, cheerful child  interested in Civil Rights and joining the Peace Corps. She supports Martin Luther King's civil rights movement.

While spending the summer of 1963 at Kellerman's resort hotel, Baby deceives and defies her father, (Tony Cogin) and mother (Helen Buday) by helping a hapless dancer (Nadia Coote) obtain a backyard abortion.

Baby becomes the secret dance partner of the Kellerman's most popular dance instructor, Johnny Castle, (Josef Brown) then falls in love with him. Johnny is a talented but poor young man with magnetic powers of attracting wealthy women.

The show is called a play with music but it is the sensual dancing that is its feature. However, it lacks the erotic quality of the original dancing between Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey.

Valentine is a charming presence and Brown a magnificent, sensual dancer. What is missing is chemistry between them so the show lacks passion and palpable sensuality.

In unison with the flexible, contemporary design (Richard Roberts) and lighting (Nigel Levings), director, Mark Wing-Davey, uses transformational projected imagery to create an elaborate sense of location.

The music of the early 60s provides a vivid background but it is the songs, Hungry Eyes and I've Had the Time of My Life that send the audience wild.

The cast is strong. Leonie Page is compelling as the rapacious Vivian Pressman and Jeremiah Tickell is delightful as the geeky, relentlessly cheerful rich boy, Neil Kellerman.

The story meanders in the second half but is rescued by the grand finale with the talented singing duet, Christina Tan and Ben Mingay. And massed dancing.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 9 June 2005

Lucky by Toby Schmitz, June 9, 2005

Lucky by Toby Schmitz
La Mama  June 9 to 26, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Toby Schmitz's play, Lucky, is an anti-hero's journey. We travel through a day and a night with the luckless protagonist as he wrestles with his grand dilemma.

Lucky (Simon Kearney) stole $12,000 from his petty crim boss, Pauly (Pier Carthew) who runs a casino called Scalia.

We do no know why Lucky stole the money nor where it has gone but he has 24 hours to provide the cash or another of his limbs will be broken by Muzzo, (Glen Hancox) Pauly's muscle.

As Lucky scrambles to beg, borrow or steal the cash, he stumbles through the filthy underbelly of Sydney, through streets, parks, taxi ranks and trains, bars and clubs.

 He encounters drunks, addicts, madmen, criminals, whores, rock stars, joggers and even that annoying guy who does your windscreen at intersections.

Director, Emma Valente, uses a grotesque style to illuminate the down beat urban landscape and scruffy characters.

This is a difficult play to stage as it has multiple entrances and exits and costume changes. Valente attempts to solve this problem by placing the costume rack on stage so actors can grab outfits as they rush by it.

Schmitz's script feels like a play written by an observer of the criminal scene it portrays rather than a participant.

It seems over-written and, at times, indulgent.  The dialogue often rambles and characters' eccentricities are used for laughs rather than to reveal their psyches.

The nine performers work hard for two hours but the outcome has mixed success.

 One inspired element is Kate Davis's magical design comprising countless clock faces and mathematical symbols scrawled on tiny blackboards.

Another is the upstage glass door that creates a room outside the walls of La Mama.

As Lucky. Kearney is a low-key foil to the other loonies he encounters. He appropriately underplays Lucky's demented obsession with numbers and The Twist and his search for cash and his girlfriend (May Helen Pirola).

Syd Brisbane is a strong presence as the old man who introduces the play with a poetic prologue and each scene with a chalk board title.

The show is about 30 minutes too long. Chunks of dialogue need cutting and the scene changes and the pacing of some scenes need tightening. There is too much shouting in place of passion, by many of the actors.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 2 June 2005

The Wall Project By Theatre@risk, June 2, 2005

The Wall Project 
written by  Ben Ellis, Tee O'Neill, Tom Wright  
By Theatre@risk
At fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, to Sun June 5, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 2, 2005

The process of creating The Wall Project, by theatre@risk, attempts to utilise rather than resist the brief rehearsal and rapid development time usually available in theatre.

Three playwrights, Ben Ellis, Tee O'Neill and Tom Wright, were invited by director, Chris Bendall to each write a short piece stimulated by the theme of "The Wall". The diverse pieces were then spliced together.

Each writer approached the concept from a different angle.

Wright's story is a poetic view of three female convicts (Anastasia Malinoff, Jesse Spence, Odette Joannidis) travelling to Australia in the hold of an English ship of the Second Fleet. They are preached at by a pious captain (Ernie Gray) and abused by a crazed sailor (Simon Kingsley Hall).

The Foundling (Spence) is raped and gives birth to a deformed child she believes to be Christ.

Wright creates a "prison with no walls", a world in which these women are trapped by virtue of their class, gender, status and poverty.

In O' Neill's play, a woman (Joannidis) awaiting her fiance in a park encounters a terrified, escaped sex slave (Spence). Meanwhile the woman speaks by phone to a corporate executive (Anastasia Malinoff) obsessed with market forces and profit.

A story built around the restrictive bureaucracy and suspicion in a mythical Democratic Republic is the focus of Ellis's play. We see a refugee, (Joannidis) a guest of the Republic (Spence) and a famous actor (Gray) all being treated with varying degrees of respect by the Interpreter. (Malinoff)

Meanwhile a disabled boy (Kingsley Hall) unwittingly wears a bomb for a radical group.

The production is more interesting in concept than execution with varying degrees of success in the writing. Tom Wright's scenes are the most effective and affecting blending the lyrical, mythical and epic and stretching the boundaries of reality.

The other two stories become confused by intentional collisions of styles and sometimes banal social commentary.

Bendall cuts the pieces together so that the whole show moves swiftly. A brown paper sign torn from the wall titles each scene.

Isla Shaw's set design finds a marvellous solution to the awkward fortyfivedownstairs, space. Two fragments of wall frame the performance space and strips of brown paper mask the off stage areas.

Kelly Ryall's original sound is evocative and threatening while Adam J. Howe's lighting defines space and tone.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 1 June 2005

Boulevard Delirium, Paul Capsis, June 1, 2005

Boulevard Delirium  
Concept by Barrie Kosky  Malthouse Theatre
Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse  June 1 to 26, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 1, 2005

Paul Capsis certainly wowed the opening night audience of Boulevard Delirium. They stomped and stood and called for two encores.

The show, first staged in 2001 at the Vienna Schauspeilhaus, bears the unmistakable stamp of director, Barrie Kosky.

Boulevard is a musical cabaret with Capsis, Australia's most unusual drag act, performing chanteuses of the 20th century in front of a band of five versatile musicians.

Capsis's impersonations are not pure imitation, although his vocal skills replicate Judy Garland, Janis Joplin, Billie Holiday and Marlene Dietrich impeccably. It is more the spirit of these damaged women that he captures.

Kosky has Capsis interrupt his characterisations with grotesqueries, local references and mad antics that make the show a marvellous soup of eccentric styles.

Costume changes are minimal. Capsis begins in top hat and tails. With each character he shifts his hair up or down, adds a headband for Marlene, hairpins for Garland. He puts a flower behind the ear rolls up sleeves for Holiday or tosses his white shirt rakishly off his shoulders to play Joplin.

The changes between characters are swift and inventive.

He begins with a few numbers as his own character, Queenie. Get Away, an 60s disco tune looks like the Hot Gossip pole dancers. Fat Daddy is probably the raunchiest tune of the night.

As Garland, he roves the stage in her later life signature drugged and drunken state and sings warped and despairing versions of Putting on the Ritz and Forget Your Troubles.

He drags his face into a grotesque parody of a bad face-lift as Marlene while he sings Boys in the Back Room.

There is a Soul Sister in the middle of the show who was not clear - perhaps Aretha. Then we saw the apex of the evening; Capsis as the doped and mesmerising Billie Holiday singing Don't Explain with poignant beauty.

As Joplin he tore up the stage and hit his rock and roll peak singing Don't Turn Your back on Love.

The band of five was exceptional, setting the tone for the songs and characters, squeezing sounds from not only the usual guitars, keyboard, bass and drums but from piano strings, singing saw, accordion and violin.

Musical Director, Roman Gottwald, leads Chris Bekker, Geri Shuller, Tom Fryer and Niko Schauble in a romp through contemporary styles with exceptional skill.

Boulevard Delirium is an exciting and energetic evening that showcases the talent of Capsis perfectly.

By Kate Herbert for 2 pages: