Wednesday 26 October 2005

Test Pattern by Angus Cerini , Oct 26, 2005

Test Pattern  by Angus Cerini 
by Platform Youth Theatre
Uniting Church Hall Northcote, Oct 26 to Nov  5, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Test Pattern is an abstract performance developed by the young artists of Platform Youth Theatre with writer, Angus Cerini and director, Nadja Kostich.

The script is non-linear and sometimes almost impenetrable but its convergence with the visual and physical layers of the performance is often compelling.

One significant element of the show is the set design by Marg Horwell. It is deceptively simple yet fascinating in the complex impact it has upon the huge, empty space of the church hall.

Rows of silken white fringe are suspended from ceiling to floor. We view the entire performance through these sheer, floating screens. Projected images (Michael Carmody) and snatches of dialogue shimmer and are refracted by the fringes and bounce off the rear wall.

Actors move through the fringing, along its corridors or run their fingers like children through them, disturbing their stillness.

All the performers are dressed in white slips, giving them all a fragile look.

The content is composed by Cerini from stories, real or imagines, from the young members of the company. Many are about death, trauma or illness. Some deal with more positive ideas about love, family or friends. As one actor says, It's really morbid".

Each of the cast, at one point lat ein the show, introduces him or herself with a brief personal story or reference to the process of developing the performance.

Kostich directs the group in a lyrical, movement-based form. Nothing is literal. Characters come and go. Dialogue is fractured and images drift in and out.

Richard Vabre's evocative lighting and the pulsing heartbeat sound design by Jethro Woodward create a further layer of complexity in this fresh, even raw, production.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 25 October 2005

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann by Neil Cole, Oct 25, 2005

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann  by Neil Cole 
produced by La Mama
Courthouse Theatre, Oct 25 until Nov 5, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 25, 2005

Much is documented of the Nazi extermination of the Jews in World War Two. Neil Cole's play, The Trial of Adolf Eichmann, deals specifically with the role of Adolf Eichmann, a Lieutenant-Colonel in the SS.

Eichmann was tried, in 1961, as a war criminal, found guilty and sentenced to death, for his participation in what was euphemistically known by the Nazis as 'The Final Solution of the Jewish Question'. 

Eichmann (Kevin Harrington) followed other Nazis by professing his innocence by virtue of the fact that he was just following orders. The evidence suggested that he was, in fact, the architect of the plan for extermination as well as the officer in charge of transporting Jews to the death camps.

The great strength of the production, directed by Alice Bishop, is the skill of its cast. Cole's script suffers from too much exposition but the cast manage the informational dialogue and weighty speeches well.

The play does not provide any new information about Eichmann and the dramatisation of parts of his life could more effectively illuminate his character, history or motivations.

Cole's play intercuts the courtroom trial with Eichmann's relationship with General Heydrich (OK) (Mike Bishop) and with the wartime experiences of Kitia Altman (Marcella Russo) and Arnold Erlanger, (Lee Mason) both European Jews now resident in Melbourne.

In fact, the play really becomes Kitia's story rather than Eichmann's.

Harrington portrays Eichmann as a stuffy, rigid, efficient bureaucrat. He is a petty little public servant who graduated from managing distribution of utilities to managing transportation of Jews to their deaths.

Russo almost steals the show with her sympathetic portrayal of Kitia, the Jewish survivor. Her description of the dead and dying on Kitia's arrival at Auschwitz is profoundly moving.

Bishop plays Heydrich as a cultured and arrogant Nazi while Don Bridges, plays Rossman, the German uniform manufacturer, with great sensitivity.

Jim Daly's first speech as the Jewish prosecutor, Hausner, was poignant and Mason's young Arnold provides a second, perhaps extraneous, example of a Jewish life turned upside down.

Newcomer, teenager, Lucy Honigman is credible in both her roles.

Perhaps this very didactic play could benefit form a more imaginative style of production to work against the very wordy script.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 19 October 2005

Red Dust Diva, Alan Hopgood, Oct 19, 2005

 Red Dust Diva by Alan Hopgood
 Chapel off Chapel. October 19 to 30, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 19, 2005

Lyndsay Hammond was half of the 80s voluptuous vixen band, Cheetah. 

She is now a solo blues singer. A fragment of her pub touring history is captured in Red Dust Diva, written by playwright, Alan Hopgood.

It is a risk making singers act but, to a great extent, Hammond pulls it off with the suppport of two fine actors, David Bradshaw and Simon Mallory. She plays herself in the play.

The show incorporates Hammond's original acoustic songs into a simple story set in a pub in Kalgoorlie * perhaps the blokiest pub in the country.

When she arrives for a three night gig, everything falls apart. Her agent-boyfriend dumps her, and disappears to Singapore with all her money and a new gal. The audience will not listen and she has no dough to get home. In short, it is a disaster.

Finally, with the support of Jeff, the cheerful publican, (Mallory) she wins over the toughest crowd of her life and makes an unusual friend in Tam.

T.Ambrose, or Tam as he is known, is a jovial drunk who likes to discuss existentialism. He is also a startlingly talented painter* when he is sober. He is a man of many idiosyncrasies but the most obvious is that he likes to paint while naked.

Hammond has an interesting, whiskey voice that has worked plenty of loud pubs. Her songs are a blend of blues and country. Most are cryin' songs in the blues tradition and each is entertaining although there is little variation between them.

She opens with The Wind is Blowing Through the Rooms in Our House, the song she tries to sing over the raucous pub crowd. She follows with It Can't Be True, a song about her lying boyfriend which her character writes in her dingy hotel room and performs to the pub.

The title song, Red Dust Trails, is a cruisy little tune about travelling in the desert territories. Hell is Just a Local Call Away has lyrics reminiscent of country singers as does I Just Cry For You.

The most interesting part of the story is about Tam, his exceptional talent and wicked humour. His character stimulated a song with lyrics such as, "He likes the bottle and he rolls his own."

The piece is a little static, stuck in a motel room but it is a cheerful show, filled with some cunning jokes by Alan Hopgood. 


Wednesday 12 October 2005

Le Dernier Caravanserail, Part Two Origines et Destines by Theatre du Soleil, Oct 12, 2005

Le Dernier Caravanserail, Part Two Origines et Destines
By Theatre du Soleil
Sydney Festival
Royal Exhibition Building  Wed & Fri, 7.30pm, Sat & Sun, 6pm. Oct 12 to Oct 16, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 12, 2005

Part Two of Le Dernier Caravanserail, has a different impact from Part One

We witness the uncompassionate treatment of refugees at the hands of the Melbourne Appeals Court. We see a compelling depiction of the Indonesian boat that was turned back by the Australian Navy and rescued by the Norwegian ship, Tampa.

Seeing all this through the eyes of Theatre du Soleil, a multi-racial French theatre company, is enough to fill us with shame and horror at the inhumane treatment by our government and armed forces.

Origines and Destines is a bookend to Part One: The Cruel River. We revisit characters we met in Part One, but see them in snatches of time out of chronological order, some preceding Part One.

This is the play about returning home. Many are deported, some escape only to be recaptured. The passion that drove them from home still connects them to their countries, families and pasts.

One Russian girl succeeds in journeying to England but her sister is returned to her Russian village where she is rejected by her father.

The Iranian political activist returns to Teheran to find her father crippled. We revisit the villains, the criminals and the manipulators who control the refugees' destinies.

The opening scene on the seething southern ocean, is spectacular and terrifying. Like The Cruel River of part One, the ocean takes lives and foils escape plans.

The same theatrical devices explore and explode the stories of more of this floating population of refugees.

Actors move on wheeled platforms as if disembodied. They run across the huge expanse of the stage, intensifying the urgency of these stories. Scenes take place in mobile caravans and huts, highlighting the temporary nature of these lives. The music and sound is rich, eclectic and the lighting evocative.

What is paramount is the desperation of real people and actual lives we view in these two productions. Theatre can shed light on the plight of these people but only government can change the rules.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 11 October 2005

Le Dernier Caravanserail (Odysees) Part One: The Cruel River by Theatre du Soleil, Oct 10, 2005

Le Dernier Caravanserail (Odysees) 
Part One: The Cruel River by Theatre du Soleil  
Sydney Festival
Royal Exhibition Building, Sydney, Oct 11 until Oct 16, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 11, 2005

The subtitle, The Cruel River, is a metaphor for all the journeys depicted in Le Dernier Caravanserail, Part One. Its cruelty is portrayed frighteningly in the opening scene.

Performers, directed by the visionary Ariane Mnouchkine, (OK) manipulate masses of billowing grey silk that represent the violent torrent of the river. The soundscape roars, the refugees, taking their lives in their hands, attempt to cross the raging water in a basket. Many succumb to the floodwaters.

What follows is a series of vivid and imaginative theatrical vignettes depicting episodes from the journeys of refugees from Central Asia and Eastern Europe to potential safety in France.

Theatre du Soleil based the production on interviews with Iranian, Afghani and Kurdish refugees. We hear their voices as their words, in their own languages, are translated on screen. The truth of their pain is palpable and provides a powerful, emotional foundation for this performance.

The design (Guy-Claude Francois) is flexible and exciting. The vast, empty stage transforms in an instant into a French Red Cross refugee camp, a hut in Afghanistan, a home in Teheran, the coast of Calais, a train track in France a village in Africa or a phone box in Moscow.

In this epic, we encounter victims of the Taliban, demonstrators against the regime in Teheran, a desperate Russian woman and her daughter. As well as the victims, we meet the criminals who control and abuse them. These refugees escape from one tyrant only to fall prey to another.

Inventive theatrical devices transport us in time and place. Each character is wheeled on a small platform and appears to float in space. A hut is turned on wheels to reveal a new scene. Escapees disappear down a pit. Trees float by on wheels.

The evocative soundscape (Patricia Cano, Yann Lemetre, Marie Heuze') combines with live contemporary and traditional Arabic music played live behind a scrim. (Jean-Jacques Lemetre) The actors, as is common in Theatre du Soleil productions, are visible through transparent curtains, changing costume and waiting entrances.

The enormous, multi-lingual cast of consummate actors, performs with passion and commitment, bringing to life, through this abstract form, a poignant story of loss, grief, homelessness and courage.

The horror of the lives of these individuals is paramount and I remind us of our own chequered history and questionable treatment of refugees.

By Kate Herbert

Sunday 9 October 2005

Vincent in Brixton by Nicholas Wright, Oct 7, 2005

Vincent in Brixton  by Nicholas Wright 
Red Stitch Actors Theatre
 Rear 2a Chapel St. St. Kilda. Oct 7 until Nov 5, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 7, 2005

It is unusual to see a totally naturalistic period piece on stage these days. 

Vincent in Brixton, written by Nicholas Wright and directed by Jonathan Messer is such a production. The iron stove, the tea, the potatoes, even the brussel sprouts are real. Initially, this is distracting, but as the character of Vincent Van Gogh is established, the play becomes absorbing.

The premise is that the 20 year-old Vincent, (Adam Hunter) before his career as a painter, worked for an art dealer in London and boarded in a house run by a kind landlady, Ursula Loyer, (Saskia Post) a schoolmistress and widow of a Frenchman.

Ursula's crippling depression presages Vincent's own future mental illness. He understands and accepts her black moods unquestioningly, qietly observing and protecting her.

Two scenes make the play intensely emotive and compelling: the suspenseful seduction between Vincent and Ursula and the tense scene on his return from Holland with his sister. (Olivia Connolly)

The writing in the first and last scenes is thinner and less successful. The ending seems unlikely and contrived. Ursula's depression seems connected not to grief or loss of love, but to Vincent's commitment to his own artistic career.

The claustrophobic quality of the late 19th century Brixton boarding house kitchen intensifies the intimacy of the central relationship if Van Gogh and his kindly widowed landlady, Ursula Loyer.

As Vincent, Hunter captures the naivete, romanticism and tactlessness of the young man, Hunter is more attractive than Vincent but his charm, honesty and awkwardness ring true.

As Ursula, Post is captivating. Her stillness and barely masked sadness are very moving.

The relationship between the two evolves gently with subtle glances and shared confidences over months. It is like a slow, intimate dance.

Messer's direction has a close focus on the central characters and takes care of the gentle rhythms of the developing relationship.

Nicholas Wright's script is dense with dialogue. He extrapolates on the three year period, about which little is known, during which Vincent Van Gogh lived in England. Wright uses Van Gogh's indulgent, religious, obsessional personality to create this intense world.

The play's success relies on the success of the two vital scenes and Red Stitch has a commendable production of it.

By Kate Herbert

Private Eye by IRAA Theatre, Oct 9, 2005

Private Eye
By Renato Cuocolo & Roberta Bossetti, IRAA Theatre
Melbourne Festival
 Hyatt Hotel, Melbourne,
Performances every 15 minutes, Oct 7 to 22, 2005

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 9, 2005

If you are booked to see Private Eye, stop reading now! It will spoil the experience.

Renato Cuocolo and Roberta Bossetti destroy the boundaries between actor and audience. The viewer becomes co-performer in this challenging, intensely intimate performance.

Private Eye, inspired by Film Noir and detective novels, is constructed around the notion of the watcher and the watched.  This is an accepted relationship in theatre but, in Private Eye, there is no theatre, only a hotel room on the 28th floor of the Hyatt.

There is also no distance between audience and actor, no traditional audience at all and, therefore, no agreed behaviour in this renovated relationship between audience and actor.

We begin in one hotel room where Cuocolo explains how he employed a private detective to follow his wife, Bossetti. We watch a DVD of the surveillance.

In a second hotel room, Roberta greets me. She offers me a drink and seats me on the double bed in a room with a magnificent view and, I notice, too  many mirrors. All is secret and mysterious.

She talks about how, as a child, she loved games and fantasies and that, as an adult, she continues playing games.

Some dialogue is scripted but parts become a slightly stilted conversation. The interaction is intimate, like close friends. Roberta lies beside me, sits too close, looks into my face like a lover craving understanding.

We sit on the bed. She relates stories and we share thoughts until the phone rings. It is Renato. The call is an intimate code.

I expect her to show me out but she opens a cupboard door and asks me to sit in a chair inside. It is a two-way mirror. I knew there were too many mirrors.

While I am hidden, another viewer leaves. I have been under scrutiny of an unseen private eye too.  Now, here I am inside the tiny room, preparing to watch another unsuspecting viewer as her relationship with Roberta unfolds

But this next relationship shows another, less intimate Roberta. The notion of games and fantasies now has a different meaning. Adult fantasy is quite different from childhood play and I watch it.

Private eye is confronting and bemusing, raising issues of privacy, voyeurism, relationship, personal safety and discretion. The edges are blurred in this intimate piece of reality theatre.

By Kate Herbert

Saturday 8 October 2005

The Odyssey adapted from Homer, Malthouse, Oct 8, 2005

The Odyssey by Tom Wright adapted from Homer 
Malthouse Theatre

Melbourne Festival
Malthouse Workshop, CUB Malthouse, Oct 8 until Oct 23, 2005

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 8

The profound yearning for and instinct to return home is the driving passion of this adaptation of The Odyssey. The need for home is universal and the obstacles to finding it are myriad.

The production, written by Tom Wright and directed by Michael Kantor, is epic in form as well as content. Odysseus (Stephen Phillips) journeys for many years, a victim of Poseidon's wrath, the vagaries of the winds and the motivations of those he encounters on each island on his wayward journey.

The cavernous factory-like workshop space at the Malthouse is converted into a performance space. Anna Tregloan's impressive design echoes the industrial building by using roof height metal scaffold and ladders with a circular metal grille on the ground.

Actors perform on the grille that is built over water. Its revolving action cunningly replicates the ship's movement and the swell of the ocean.

Kantor creates the monsters of Odysseus's travels in many ways. They appear physically through a huge, rusted door, or metaphorically in a cacophonous soundscape (David Franzke), original music (Iain Grandage) or dramatic lighting (Paul Jackson).

Four actors play Odysseus's exhausted and despairing sailors (Paul Blackwell, Francis Greenslade, Leon Ewing, Benjamin Lewis). The women play all the kindly and nefarious gods, beasts and sirens. (Belinda McClory, Rita Kalnejais, Margaret Mills, Suzanne McDonald).

McDonald plays Odysseus's protector, the Goddess Anthena, as a playful, golden-haired  child offering childlike advice. This interpretation of the virgin warrior goddess is strangely illuminating and magical in the hands of the luminous McDonald.

Narration by Homer, (Kris McQuade) links the scenes and resonant and evocative violin and song is performed by Jessica Ipkendanz. (OK) Her music of the sirens is transporting.

Each episode of Odysseus's travails is wrought in a lyrical and metaphoric style. The lotus-eaters are drugged by opium poppies, Cyclops is perceived only in operatic light and sound, a chorus line of women plays the denizens of the Island of the Winds. The sirens are anonymous brides, the cannibals squealing pig-like children and the witch goddess, Circe, is dressed as a German soldier.

The scenes with Odysseus's two lovers, Calypso, the half-god, (Mills) and Nausicaa, (Kalnejais) are the least effective. The opening of the play with these is confusing and confused.

The Odyssey is visually and aurally rich and evocative. It boasts a distinguished cast and is an inventive, often inspired adaptation of Homer's Odyssey.

By Kate Herbert

Friday 7 October 2005

Small Metal Objects, Back to Back Theatre, Oct 7, 2005

Small Metal Objects by Sonia Teuben 
Back to Back Theatre
Melbourne Festival
Flinders St, Station Concourse, Melbourne,  Oct 7 to 22, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 7, 2005

Small Metal Objects is a fascinating experience. The performance combines theatre with a very public form of eavesdropping.

The venue is Flinders St, Station Concourse where the audience is seated very publicly in a bank of seating facing the peak hour crowds rushing to catch their trains.

We put on a pair of headphones, under instruction from signs held up by the Stage Manager. Two voices are heard. At first it seems we are listening to a radio play.

Two men talk about their desires and needs. Gary, (Sonia Teuben) advises Steve (Simon Laherty) about his desire to find a girlfriend.

Slowly, members of the audience notice two figures standing and talking in the distance on the concourse. The dialogue seems to match up with their body language.

We are listening to their private conversation as they stand, the only still point in the Fluid, moving crowd.

Train travellers glance at the audience and rush on. Others stare as they pass. Some stop and watch us as if we are the show and others try to discern what we are viewing. A couple of courageous ones ask us what is happening.

Some of the public on the concourse become part of the show: a woman handing out flyers, teenagers smooching, the child who delightedly runs into the audience.

Gary's phone rings. It is the voice of Alan (Jim Russell) who cautiously asks to meet Gary to buy drugs. Alan eventually appears in the crowd, a man in a business outfit. He tries to pay Gary but his deal is stymied by Gary and Steve's reticence and their unwillingness to leave the concourse to collect the goods.

Finally, Alan calls for help from his friend, Carolyn, (Genevieve Picot) a $400 per hour psychologist who resorts to abuse once she realises Steve is not going to help them buy the drugs.

The collision of fiction and reality, of actors and commuters, of theatre and train station creates a delightful mosaic of narrative. We are allowed to enter several worlds simultaneously and to muse upon the place, the people, the event and our role in it.

One final compelling moment was when the actors took a bow and the audience applauded. Suddenly, the crowd parted like the Red Sea to clear a space for what they now knew to be a performance.

Back to Back Theatre is a company comprising actors both with and without intellectual disabilities.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 6 October 2005

Bloody Mess by Forced Entertainment, Oct 6, 2005

Bloody Mess by Forced Entertainment
Melbourne Festival
Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, Oct 6 to 10, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Bloody Mess is a marvellously chaotic performance that slides, intentionally, from neatly constructed comic routines and monologues into totally demented theatrical disorder.

Forced Entertainment, from the UK, develops its work through extensive improvisation with director, Tim Etchells.

Although the ensemble always uses eclectic forms, some productions are minimalist and structured.

However, Bloody Mess deconstructs and stretches the boundaries of theatre by fracturing meaning and disconnecting characters. It is as if everyone on stage is in a different show.

It looks like a muddled 1970s  group-devised production performed tongue-in-cheek with style and skill.

The opening sequence is the most coherent. Two men in checked suits, wearing traditional clown make-up, attempt to set up chairs.

One (Bruno Roubicek) places them logically in a row.  Another (John Rowley) keeps moving them until, finally, they are competing, running, tossing chairs and tumbling. It is an hilarious piece of comic business.

Seated in the chairs, actors describe their roles in an earnest, actorly delivery. They will be funny, romantic, desirable, real, the star, a therapist, enigmatic or bubbly. All this proves to be ironic.

The woman who wants to be desirable, (Claire Marshall) dresses in a gorilla suit the entire show and is a comic highlight.

There are two riotously depicted rock and roll roadies (Richard Lowdon, Ben Neale) who control the music and microphone.

Two men, (David Freeman, Jerry Killick) naked but for a huge silver star they hold, plan a beautiful silence which is mutilated by everyone else.

There is no meaning to this show. It is exuberant, messy, at times skilful, superficially unstructured, built on improvisation with no reference to narrative or linear character development, but obviously rehearsed.

Characters interfere with each other's scenes, interrupt at inappropriate moments, focus on their own lunatic purpose and together, they make a total mess of the stage by the end. It is strewn with lollies, tissues, water, popcorn and tinsel.

The usually invisible stage action becomes part of the show. A woman abuses the roadies for the music ruining her tragic scenes. (Cathy Naden) Actors dispute each other's choices. A woman runs through everyone's action, (Terry O'Connor) one calls encouragement from upstage like a cheerleader. (Wendy Houstoun)

Bloody Mess is a delight most of the time and annoyingly indulgent, confused, silly and boring at others. C'est la vie!

By Kate Herbert