Friday 30 September 2005

The UFO Show by Uncle Semolina (& Friends), Aug 30, 2005

The UFO Show by Uncle Semolina (& Friends)
The Store Room, Aug 30 to September 18, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Aliens and UFO's seem to fascinate this modern world stripped of faith and fairytales. The UFO Show provides a light-hearted view of alien visitations.

The production is short with some comical vignettes and goofy situations. The cast of six are energetic and lively but the problems in the show arise from its devised development process.

The final product looks like a series of workshop ideas strung together with a rather tenuous plot about a hapless young man on a journey.

Leo Sprinkle (Luke Ryan??),a water tester the government water board, visits a small town to test the viscosity  of the water.

From the moment he arrives, nothing seems quite normal.

The Alderman (Ben Grant) and his secretary (??) are symbiotically connected and peculiar; the three hotel receptionists (Edwina Wren, Jennifer Priest, Naomi Steinborner) are alternately giggly and obstructive; and the re seems to be nothing on the seventh floor of the  hotel where his room should be.

Leo's world shifts and reels through time and place. We see him in a basement, a bathroom, in a video store run by a famous French oceanographer or talking to a UFO expert. ( Mark Tregonning??)

We flash back to him as a child frightened by nightmares or as a child taunted in school for his strange obsession with lizards.

Leo is even probed y two big head aliens as any self-respecting alien hunter would hope to be.

The show seems to be based on a grab bag of stimuli and information about aliens, UFO sightings, UFO freaks, retrieved memory hypnosis and other oddments. It becomes a little tired after thirty minutes.

The quirky segments outweigh the more eerie, atmospheric parts but the whole piece does not amplify our relationships and attitudes to aliens to any significant degree.

The cast have fun and commit totally to this strange little show. Director, Christian Leavesley, stages the piece amongst the theatre chairs while the tiny audience watches from the stage space through a picture frame as actors duck and dive between and over the seating.

There are entertaining moments and some cute ideas in The UFO Show but the whole is, in the end, fractured and unsatisfying.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 29 September 2005

Material Mouth by Carolyn Connors, Sept 29, 2005

 Material Mouth by Carolyn Connors
 La Mama, Carlton,  Sept 29 to October 9, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Carolyn Connors, directed by Margaret Cameron, performs a contemporary voice piece that is not strictly a musical performance.

Yes, it includes two songs, both sung with ukulele, but the emphasis is on the acrobatics of the voice, its range and flexibility as an instrument apart from its strict application to song.

Connors uses various humming, chanting, howling, screeching, speaking and singing vocal qualities at various points in the work

She opens with silence and stillness, standing by the staircase taking in her audience. Throughout the entire program she exudes warmth and placid stillness. Every action si deliberate and each vocal vignette another eccentric take on sound.

After donning a bizarre cloth hat that covers her eyes, she intones burbling sounds, using her finger on her lips to mutate the high and low pitches.

In an extraordinary piece, she sits in front of several wine glasses topped with pieces of tin foil and ululates towards them, making them resonate and vibrate to her voice. The shimmering sound of foil accompanies her soprano pitch.

Anything is fair game if it makes an interesting sound. Connors runs her finger around the rim of the wine glasses to make another ethereal sound to counterpoint her voice.

With only her voice, she recreates the tonal quality of a pipe organ. Ten, while three tiny music boxes play Fur Elise, she dresses in a fluffy white gown, then plays Fur Elise on her ukulele followed by a simple jazz-influenced song - yes with lyrics.

She lies upside down shining a strobe torch into her mouth and uttering random sentences about communication in a guttural grotesque voice.

Her song about swimming, during which she is dressed in a fascinating old one piece bathing suit, is accompanied by ukulele and the gentle live splashing of water in the foot bath in which she stands.

Her final song, with ukulele, is a cheerful pining to go to Ireland. Connors leaves us with a smile on our faces as her voice fades on the way up the La Mama staircase.

Material Mouth is enjoyable in all sorts of unusual ways. If you are interested in the powers and virtuosity of the human voice, it is worth a look.

By Kate Herbert:

The Proscenium by Margaret Cameron, Sept 29, 2005

The Proscenium
Written and performed by Margaret Cameron
Malthouse Theatre
Tower Theatre, Malthouse, Sept 29 to October 9, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Margaret Cameron's work is based on dream and memory and the concept of a theatrical moment as it is forming in both the mind and space.

In the darkness in a pool of light, lies a large stone shaped like a pumpkin. As we watch it, Cameron's honey-toned, amplified voice drifts over us in waves.

Her language is poetic and her movement minimal. She walks slowly on, stands alone on stage, wearing a raincoat and accompanied only by the stone and talks of her imagined space, her memories of childhood and he possibility of theatre.

The piece is short - only 40 minutes - and feels like a meditation, a stream of consciousness, a poetic investigation of the moment of creation and the collision of thoughts that occurs at that moment.

The theatrical space is a door that swallows space. The theatre stage is somehow a vehicle that allows artificiality and dreaming and legitimises despair.

Memories of a home with an unhappy marriage slide into the fractured meditation. A kitchen table, mother cooking, a feeling of isolation and poverty.

Mother is like ancient Atlas, carrying the entire world of the family on her shoulders.

The voice drifts on like a soothing, yet strangely despairing visual journey.

The child stands in a doorway and watches father being hosed through a window. The memory sees the room raining. We hear the sound of rain gently pattering above us and return in our minds to the room with her.

Some memories are gently comical. The child walks on stage as Fagan in Oliver and wins an award. "It is in the local paper," she smiles - and repeats, quietly proud of her childhood achievement.

The theatrical space is a fluid place. Time means nothing, words can be interpreted, images are reconstructed and then imagined, memory becomes the story. The solid meets the insubstantial.

In Cameron's  pondering the notion of theatre of memory, of perception, of reality and time, we are drawn into her interior world momentarily to consider this moment in the theatre and those moments in the pas; all this at the leisurely pace of dreams.

It  is a fascinating and disconcerting performance.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 28 September 2005

Oklahoma! The Production Company, Sept 28, 2005

Music by Richard Rodgers, Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein
Based on the play, Green Grow the Lilies by Lynn Riggs
The Production Company

 State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, Sept 28 to Oct 1, 2005

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sept 28

In 1943, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein changed the face of musical theatre with the invigorating production of Oklahoma!

It was the first musical play. Each song informed the story, the plot the music were cohesive.

Hammerstein adapted the book from Lynn Riggs unsuccessful rustic play, Green Grown the Lilies. He also wrote the lyrics and was joined in this, their first of many famous collaboration, by Richard Rodgers.

The show is thick with hit tunes. The title song, Okahoma!, is a rousing chorus by the company and possibly the most memorable which explains why Rodgers and Hammerstein changed their title to Oklahoma1 early in its run.

As the handsome cowboy, Curly, Ian Stenlake oozes charm and plays the role with an athletic and boyish seductiveness. His voice is resonant and true and his opening number, Oh What a Beautiful Morning, brought cheers from the audience.

He was joined in a jaunty and engaging rendition of The Surrey With The Fringe On Top, by Aunt Eller (Nancye Hayes) and Laurey (Lucy Durack).

Durack as Laurey, the object of both Curly and Jud Fry's attentions, is suitably pert and pretty with an attractive soprano. The duet between Laurey and Curly was a highlight.

The secondary love story between the fickle and silly Ado Annie and her beau, Will Parker, is played delightfully by Amanda Harrison and Christopher Parker.
Harrison captures the flightiness and spirit of Annie and sings with passion and humour. As Will, Parker is the good-hearted oaf.

Nancye Hayes holds the centre of the show together with Aunt Eller, the strong farming woman who is fiercely independent, protective and good-humoured.

Mitchell Butel takes the role of Ali Hakim, the roving pedlar, to new comic heights, playing him as a heavily accented Persian womaniser. His comic timing is impeccable and his passionate Persian goodbye is hilarious.

As the loutish villain, Jud Fry, James Millar gives the character some humanity and creates a tragic if not lovable creature. Millar's rich baritone makes Jud's song, Lonely Room poignant.

Terence O'Connell directs this concert version with a slick hand, keeping scene changes swift. Orchestra Victoria plays superbly under Guy Simpson and
Alana Scanlan's choreography is a feature in Laurey's dream ballet and the chorus number, Kansas City.

Even without all the bells and whistles, this concert Oklahoma! Does justice to a great musical.

By Kate Herbert

IAN STENLAKE                         Curly
CHRIS PARKER                         Will Parker
LUCY DURACK                           Laurey
JAMES MILLAR                          Jud Fry
AMANDA HARRISON                 Ado Annie
MITCHELL BUTEL                      Ali Hakim
NANCYE HAYES                         Aunt Eller
GARY DOWN                              Andrew Carnes


Director                                              Terence O’Connell
Music Director                                    Guy Simpson
Choreographer                                   Alana Scanlan
Sets & Costumes                               Richard Jeziorny

Music by Richard Rodgers
Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Based on the play Green Grow The Lilacs by Lynn Riggs

Musical numbers: “Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin' ”, “The Surrey With The Fringe on Top”, “Kansas City”, “I Can't Say No”, “Many A New Day”, “It's a Scandal! It's An Outrage!”, “People Will Say We’re In Love”, “Pore Jud Is Daid”, “Lonely Room”, “Out Of My Dreams”, “The Farmer And The Cowman”, “All Er Nothin' ”, “Oklahoma”.

Broadway productions:
May 31, 1943 – May 29, 1948, St. James Theatre (2,212 performances)
May 29, 1951 – Jul 28, 1951, Broadway Theatre (100 performances)
Dec 13, 1979 – Aug 20, 1980, Palace Theatre (302 performances)
Mar 21, 2002 – Feb 23, 2003, Gershwin Theatre (413 performances)

Thursday 22 September 2005

Singing Telegram by Michael Frencham , Sept 22, 2005

Singing Telegram by Michael Frencham 
Tusind Tak Productions
Melbourne Fringe Festival
  Store Room, Nth Fitzroy, Sept 22 to Oct 8, 2005

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Michael Frencham is a 30 year-old actor who spent several years working as a singing telegram. This is his story.

Mike talks directly to the audience about his evolution as a singing telegram. He was a student needing work, he saw the ad, he attended an audition in a dreary, industrial location.

The telegram agent who becomes a recurrent character in the show, is brassy, pushy Lexy. "Rhymes with sexy," she quips. Do you get the picture?

A Lexy, Frencham sucks hard on a mime ciggy and grimaces at us through the smoke. She is really declasse' but manages to get her clutches into Mike who needs the cash.

His first Gorilla-gram is a disaster. He faces an 18th birthday party and when he finds the birthday boy he is in his birthday suit doing the unspeakable alone in his room. Mike wants to quit but Lexy is persuasive.

He then becomes Elvis for Aunty Jan's 50th birthday and has a liaison with Elvis-obsessed Aunty Cheryl after the gig. The loveless Mike might be on to the good thing, he thinks.

As his Elvis impersonation improves, the work keeps coming.

Clearly, a show on its preview can be a bit bumpy but there are some glaring problems with Singing Telegram that will not necessarily change after more runs of the show.

There is some comedy to be had from the desperate life of a singing telegram but it might be better suited to a stand up routine. It certainly needs more substantial material to make it theatre.

Mike's parallel story of his relationship to football and his father's obsession with Mike's childhood success is unsuccessfully rendered through a series of voice overs and slides of Mike on a footy field with the under 12s.

These interludes read more as an excuse for Mike to go off stage to change telegram costumes than as a significant second layer to his story.

Perhaps a less literal representation of the telegram characters, fewer costume changes and more depth in the issues arising from Mike's despair or more gags about his predicament might take the piece to a new level.

By Kate Herbert

Drink Pepsi, Bitch! by Eddie Perfect, Sept 22, 2005

Drink Pepsi, Bitch!  by Eddie Perfect
Malthouse Theatre

Beckett Theatre, Malthouse, Sept 22 to Oct 2, 2005

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sept 22, 2005

Cabaret performer, Eddie Perfect, is a glorious ranter.  He rants about Pepsi advertising and its vacuous spokesmodel. Paris Hilton. He rants about Oprah, IKEA, Cirque du Soleil, Ray Martin and call centres.

He rants through his original song lyrics and stand-up material. He is vitriolic about corporations, rampant consumerism, cynical marketing campaigns, advertising and our own apathy.

His targets are nto only high profile companies. H slams the hippy fascists, those scruffy ferals who come from middle-class families and demand we all ride bicycles, grown deadlocks and eat tofu.

Perfect is the perfect voice for all of this. He has a wicked humour, a cunning way with language and rhyme and an intelligent, backhanded political sensibility.

He also has a sparkling smile, oodles of charm and a cockatoo hairdo that defies gravity.

He has a gung-ho manner and no fear of reprisal. Even using the name of the cola giant in his title got him into legal strife. Big companies can use us but we can't take their names in vain it seems.

An accomplished trio of musicians backs Perfect's act. (Ben Hendry, Dustin McLean, Vincenzo Ruberto) His songs are jazz influenced with a few ballads and a latin number tossed in.

The titles give away his targets. Drink Pepsi, Bitch! Is his version of the new, in-your face marketing ploy for the cola company.

Where There's Will and Wave There's Ray is a scathing tune attacking Ray Martin's sugary coverage of the Tsunami.

I'm In Too Deep peeks into internet pron which brings new meaning to the term, Internet Service Provider.

Those poor sods who work in call Centres are not free of criticism in Thank The Lord for cal Centres.

And for those of us who have been lost or lost love in that endless furniture showroom that is IKEA, Perfect lets fly lament entitled, I Want To Go Home.

Oprah gets a serve in Where's My Flat Screen TV, a cry from the US suburbs desperate to fulfil the American Dream.

It is his finale that really hits home his message. Stop Being so Damned September 10 is an indictment of our cynicism and inertia in the face of 21st century horrors.

Perfect is shrewd, irreverent and a consummate performer. This show is delectable.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 21 September 2005

Not Dead Yet by Rawcus & Born in a Taxi, Sept 21, 2005

Not Dead Yet  devised by Rawcus and Born in a Taxi
Theatreworks,  until Sept 25, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sept 21, 2005 at 1pm

A Rawcus show is always a cheering theatrical experience and Not Dead Yet is no exception - despite its theme being death. Rawcus finds a wicked way to investigate humanity in all its pain and humour.

The company of able and disabled actors devised Not Dead Yet in collaboration with Born in a Taxi, a movement improvisation group. The production si directed by Kate Sulan (Rawcus ) and Penny Baron (Born in a Taxi).

The pair of directors skilfully plaits together a series of scenes in movement, music and simple dialogue.

The opening scenes are, indeed, raucous with the volume of the party music about to do some ear damage. As audience enters, the actors are concealed behind a single door where, we assume, a raging party is in progress.

Occasionally, the door opens, a party-goer tumbles out and we see the riotous carousing inside.

Later, we realise that the party is just one imagined view of the afterlife - a big party. Good so far! Other images of death follow of peace, confusion and joy.

We see Ray in his wheelchair ignoring answering machine message of condolence while he is comically almost buried beneath sympathy cards and flowers.

We see a glamorous God's random decisions about our destinies based on a wheel of fortune.

Abstract scenes depict people wandering confused and aimless, meeting friends by surprise, all represented  non-literally through repetitive  movement

Not dead yet is enhanced by evocative, gloomy lighting (Richard Vabre) and by
both a recorded soundscape ( Jethro Woodward0 and marvellous live percussion. Tania Bosak, Daniel Tobias).

The final scene was poignant and compelling. A heart wrenching song plays while four actors sit quietly on the floor. Others deck them in clothing and paraphernalia from an ordinary life: an umbrella, scarf, flowers.

It feels like a tribute to their lives and their passing into the next life, a farewell of sorts.

Not Dead Yet is based on a Chilean notion that members of their community who are disabled are revered as spirit guides of the soul as it goes form this world to the next - whatever it is.

This is a beautiful and moving basis for this entertaining and charming show.

By Kate Herbert

The Minutiae of Inertia by Tyler Coppin, Sept 21, 2005

The Minutiae of Inertia by Tyler Coppin
Melbourne Fringe Festival
  Store Room, Sept 21 to Oct 8, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sept 21

The Minutiae of Inertia, written and performed by Tyler Coppin, is a striking and incisive study of a child and his father over one traumatic night amongst many others.

Mum has left both father and son and neither dad nor his seven-year-old son can sleep.

This is the first night in seven years that dad has visited the child's room upstairs and he knows that the child's normal sleeplessness and screaming behaviour have kept his mother demented since his birth.

 Now it is dad's turn to manage the night terrors.

Jimmy has a vivid fantasy life in his lonely upstairs room where  he plays at crashing planes into the Twin Towers and chanting George Bush's name. He tosses tiny dolls off buildings o their death and then drives in remote-controlled fire trucks to the rescue.

His favourite toy is a homemade Incredible Hulk, complete with realistic pectorals.

Coppin brings to life not only Jimmy but Hulk who is a gruff ageing Hollywood actor with shattered dreams. Jimmy feels Hulk is a completely separate character from himself and when Hulk shouts, Jimmy tries to quieten him to stop dad coming angrily upstairs

 Meanwhile dad is below, in his resentment and despair, drinking his way through a case of pinot noir to drown his sorrows about mum leaving him, his lost ambitions and failed career.

 He too has fantasies, mostly reminiscences about his deceased parents and his own childhood.

Coppin's performance is exuberant, controlled, skilful and moving. He is credible as both dad and Jimmy and the Hulk is a highlight, sounding a little like Jack Nicholson meets Michael Douglas.

Jimmy wears kiddy's pyjamas which means all three characters are in pyjamas but, despite them, we see Coppin transform into dad and Hulk, shifting his voice substantially and his body subtly.

Coppin plays Jimmy with a bright naivete and intense imagination. Dad he plays with an initial edge of menace that dissipates as we realise his incapacity. He is a drunk we at first suspect to be volatile but realise he suffers the inertia of the title.

Coppin's writing is smart and dad's dark musings often sound like lyrical beat poetry.

Anna Borghesi's design divides the space simply into Jimmy's room -  a table piled high with toys - and dad's lounge.

Minutiae is a fine solo performance of a charming short play.

By Kate Herbert

I Get the Music in You, Queenie van de Zandt & Tony Taylor , Sept 21, 2005

I Get the Music in You 
By Queenie van de Zandt  and Tony Taylor

Melbourne Fringe Festival
 Store Room , Sept 21 to Oct 7, 2005

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Queenie van de Zandt is not only a great cabaret singer, she is hilarious too. Her solo cabaret/comedy show, I get the Music in You, is a delightful parody of a music therapist whose heart is not in the right place.

Queenie plays Jan van der Stool, a self-absorbed, conceited and blatantly rude singer who runs workshops to heal the inner self through singing. " Open the throat and open the door", she repeats.

With the relentless Jan on stage is Helen, Queenie's much abused accompanist, played completely deadpan and mute by David Young who looks outrageously funny in his flimsy dress.

Jan runs the workshop like a concentration camp warden or an authoritarian tuck shop mum. She demands everyone pay for their biscuits and coffee "The plunger coffee", she snipes, "is for Helen and me. The International Roast is for the rest of you."

When half a packet of bikkies goes missing, she is like a bird of prey seeking her target.

Jan is Dutch and her language is riddled with comical second language errors But nothing fazes Jan. She is in control and believes she can help her hapless students despite her blunt criticism.

Queenie, as Jan, introduces her victims onto the stage to sing and then transforms into these students herself. First she plays Carole who sings Shattered Illusions, a comic song about her bad choices of men.

Then she sings a truly beautiful love ballad as the painfully shy Kirsty. Finally she is Arthur, a lumpen thing who idolises Michael Jackson and sings Ben in a breaking falsetto.

Jan teaches us a series of very funny and literal interpretive dance moves to accompany The Wind Beneath my Wings. We all participate gleefully.

We discover our inner bell, learn to do the vocal exercise called the Vomit, hopefully without puking and learn that singing "the big note" at the end of a song is just showing off.

Queenie plays herself and other students at the end and sings a grand finale of songs including a marvellous rendition of Barbra Streisand's very difficult song, A Piece of Sky.

His show is a real laugh-out-loud hoot with some really powerful singing by Queenie.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 20 September 2005

Telefunken by Stuart Orr, Sept 20, 2005

 Telefunken by Stuart Orr
Table 9 Productions and Malthouse Theatre
The Tower, CUB Malthouse, Sept 20 to 25, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Stuart Orr is a compelling presence in his solo work, Telefunken. His show is a clever and eccentric blend of physical performance, multiple characters, Nazi propaganda, film footage, projections and soundscape.

The Telefunken world collides with the real world of World War Two history and contemporary  television but .it has more in common with a Grimm's fairy tale.

The central figure is Ralph Gerhard Mann, a young German soldier who is holed up in an abandoned Berlin cinema in the final days of the war. He addresses the audience as American liberation soldiers who he wants to leave.

Ralph is shirtless, a bare, emaciated figure in a cluttered chaotic environment.

Wires lead from his head to an rough,  old television set. Playing on a screen behind him are excerpts from Hitler Youth propaganda, Oprah episodes and footage of the Iraq war and George W Bush.

He tells a fractured tale, a movie script that he writes as he aits to be captured. It is about Erasmus, a Jewish boy who is tormented by other boys,becomes a soldier and finally transforms into a werewolf Nazi figure akin to Hitler and obsessed with Parisian negro jazz.

Orr's analogy is not quite clear but seems to raise questions such as - Is television fascism? Is its invasion of our minds propaganda?

Whatever the message , the execution is vivid, entertaining and cunningly wrought. Orr transforms between characters, using accents and physical transformations to people the stage with personalities.

He plays the characters in Erasmus story as famous actors: Michael
Caine is he grandfather, Brad Pitt is Erasmus and Schwarzenegger and Peter Lorre make hilarious cameo appearances.

Telefunken is performed impeccably and directed seamlessly by Barry Laing. The action is constant and the complexity of images and the shifting levels of time and place are handled cleverly.

It is a complex and cluttered world that requires phenomenal energy and continual transformations from Orr. He performs it effortlessly.

The evocative lighting ( Matthew Brber) and projected design is integral to the composition of the show. The video montage ( Orr and Thom Brandon) is intercut with delightfully simple pen and ink drawing (Eloise Bowden) representing Erasmus' journey in a children's book style.

Stuart Orr's Telefunken is comical, cynical, ironical and very entertaining.

By Kate Herbert