Saturday 29 April 2006

The Rehearsal, Umbilical Brothers, April 29, 2006

The Rehearsal by Umbilical Brothers
Melburne International Comedy Festival
Athenaeum Theatre I, April 29 and May 6, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 29, 2006

The central conceit of the Umbilical Brothers’ new show, The Rehearsal, is cunningly simple; it’s not a show, it’s a rehearsal. The idea works most of the time but it is the final 20 minutes that deserve accolades.

The Umbilicals, David Collins (curly) and Shane Dundas (bald), perform on the cavernous Athenaeum stage with only a large screen behind them. They chat charmingly and casually to the audience, informing us that this is “just a rehearsal”.

They promise Drama, Action, Romance and Magic. In fact, they wield a little, pink magic wand to prove it.

There is some of the familiar Umbis’ mime and microphone sound effects. When David, in trepidation, answers the mime-door to greet the dissatisfied mime-sponsors, he is dragged bodily off stage to be beaten and then tossed back on stage – in mime, of course.

There are a number of recurring gags. Their impersonation of Arnold Schwarzenegger makes a few appearances, there is a plant in the audience who keeps messing up his cues and Dave insists on doing extra gibberish jokes.

Each time they refer to playing the Rod Laver Arena, a circle of light appears on the rear screen and they play a finger puppet show as if playing on the Arena as tiny dots in the distance.

David and Shane milk their idea of Velcro World for plenty of visual gags and they get mileage out of working with the audience “on several levels”. The audience on level seven is pretty glum evidently.

Dave says goodbye to his annoying, squeaky-voices alter ego who just will not go away.

However, it is the on-stage, live video cam that provides the final hilarious material. The pair uses the camera to create theatrical illusions. They overlap live images of their real selves with their projected selves so that space, time and reality are totally and hilariously distorted on the screen and stage.

The final video gags are achingly funny and cleverly wrought. David and Shane do battle with two giant, angry, martial artist teddy bears; the angry sponsors.

Of course, the teddies are, in the real world, two teensy hand puppets projected in monster-size - Mafiosi teddies. The ensuing Jackie Chan fight scenes between monster teddy and Dave are a treat.

The crowd shrieked and cheered the teddy fight. The slow start was forgiven.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 20 April 2006

The Jaundice Table by Glyn Roberts, April 19, 2006

The Jaundice Table by Glyn Roberts
Melbourne Comedy Festival
La Mama,  April 19 to 30, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 20

The Comedy Festival sees the emergence of all styles of new comic material of all standards. 

The Jaundice Table, written by Glyn Roberts and directed by Peta Hanrahan, straddles the genre of rambling male stand-up comedy, Beckett’s absurdist theatre and John Cleese in Monty Python. It is a blend that works in part.

Two men, (Josh Cameron, Jonathan Peck), seated on two chairs placed in the middle of the tiny La Mama space, engage in a stream of disconnected rants, obsessions, confessions, diatribes, reminiscences, bad jokes and fisticuffs.

It is akin to two streams of consciousness colliding in the dim recesses of two addled minds. Each character demands attention, each is preoccupied with his own inward monologue and both seem to be demented by too much testosterone most of the time.

They begin the show by running screaming from the theatre, leaving us waiting for them to circle the outside street block and return through the other door.

They then restart more sedately, discussing Josh’s writing a novella. But the conversation – if we can call it that – deteriorates into dislocated, and often funny rants about road accidents, Cameron’s passion for his ex-girlfriend, food, the arts and even puffins; funny birds puffins.

Their wrangling degenerate further into a slow-motion fist fight. Cameron’s frustration ends in his twisting his own nipple because, he says, “I want to feel something.”

Peck confesses he wants to borrow $30,000 to have a womb installed, not because he wants to be a woman, (God forbid!) but because he could do with the extra storage space or he could rent it out. Yes, the piece is getting more and more absurd. Squatters move in to his new womb and leave it in a mess.

The absurdity continues as these two men tussle to assert their power. The problem is that, although much of the material written by Roberts is funny, Cameron and Peck spend far too  much time shouting at us and each other. It is reminiscent of John Cleese’s angry chef (“It makes me maaaaaddddd!) or Basil Fawlty beating his Morris Minor with a branch but, in person, in a tiny space, it does not work for more than one scene.

In the end the pair simply look out of control. A little more subtlety in the direction performances might enhance the theatricality in this piece and add some comic layers.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 13 April 2006

LaLaLuna, The Shneedles, April 13, 2006

LaLaLuna by The Shneedles
Melbourne Comedy Festival
Umbrella Revolution, Federations Square, April 13 to May 3, 2006

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Wolf Bowart, member of the clown company, The Shneedles, from the USA, presents a delectable solo clown show called LaLaLuna.

The story begins with a sleepy little guy wearing his fleecy pyjamas and silky dressing gown (Bowart). He switches on the moon before he crawls under his quilt to go to sleep hugging his toy rabbit. To his dismay, the moonlight goes out and he must find a way to re-ignite the moonglow.  

The show is saturated with Bowart’s charming and consummate clown routines. The story is merely a vehicle for a series of slapstick routines, visual gags, illusions and juggling in the tradition of the classic French clown. He uses repetition, exaggeration, absurd and surprising sounds and perky gypsy or French music.

Every effort to ignite the light fails. Firstly, he tries to fly up to it on a unicycle. next, he attempts to climb a veritable Everest of old suitcases to pull on the light’s string. He searches for tools and finds a plumber’s plunger and uses it to listen to his heart, his head and then to the eccentric noises in the heads of audience members.

He finds a box of old light globes and excitedly tosses them around and, finally smashes the entire box.

Each time he fails to light the moon, he gets disillusioned then distracted. He carries on with his housework and his feather dusters become a giant bird. His shoe is the head of a big ostrich trying to reach the moon.

Objects magically appear from the wings or are suddenly animated; lights go on and off at will and sound effects seem to emanate from all sorts of silent and inanimate sources.

He finds himself in the land of opposites where things that should be light re heavy, those that should be light are dark.

He juggles ultra-violet balls of light in the darkness and pops balls out of his mouth. He uses his vacuum cleaner to inflate an enormous balloon only to stuff his head inside it and then his entire body. The audience of teenagers is delighted.

He animates a drawing of a ukulele and performs a duet of On Moonlight Bay with a young audience member who accompanies him on some carefully tuned whoopee cushions.

The highlight is the final cunning illusion of himself projected onto the improvised washing line screen. As he watches himself on screen, he hands himself objects, blows bubbles that appear to move between reality and the screen reality and, finally, his illusory self hands him a light globe.

The moon is relit, all is well with the world and now we can all get some sleep.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 12 April 2006

Miriam and the Monkfish, April 12, 2006

Miriam and the Monkfish
by Sophie Kelly and Tessa King
Melbourne Comedy Festival
Trades Hall,  April 12 to until May 7, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Sophie Kelly is a talented actor and very funny comedian. Her solo “live cooking show”, Miriam and the Monkfish, is a delicious satire of both Nigella’s luscious cooking show style and a privileged Armadale housewife’s bizarre worldview.

Kelly, as Miriam, sports a sleek, blonde bob, a white tennis visor and designer sunglasses perched atop her head. She could have just stepped out of a chic café in Brighton where she has sipped black coffee and avoided breathing in the calories from the cake display.

We witness Miriam’s desperate bid to prepare, at no notice, a seven-course meal for six of her husband’s property development clients.

Yes, there is food on stage and by the end it is all over the stage – and all over the hapless Miriam.

Kelly is captivating, playing the frantic Miriam with a supercilious smile and an affected Armadale vocal inflection. As she demonstrates her bizarre menu and innovative cookery techniques, Miriam reveals more of her neuroses than she would care to think.

The gags come not only from the witty, well-observed dialogue and mad cookery but also from Kelly’s portrayal of Miriam. Miriam tells us about her straitened financial circumstances, her obsession with weight-loss, her fear of “passive eating” and her determination to keep her pudgy daughter thin.

She sits in the fridge in order to shrink her fat cells. She plunges the frozen scallops into the toaster to sear them. She pierces a huge, raw snapper with skewers and fries a sad, single sausage on only one side. She licks her wonton skins and tosses her limp fettuccini into the bin when the recipe fails.

But it is the final scene, as the clock ticks away her last minutes before the guests’ arrival, that are the most hilariously out of control. When Miriam’s self-control abandons her, she gluttonously shovels melted chocolate, tubs of cream, chocolate sauce and the discarded fettuccini into her lipstick-smeared mouth.

She is a sad clown, a desperate housewife and a poignant sight as she wipes the chocky from her cheeks, the tears from her eyes and crawls back into the fridge.

Kelly is a compelling performer with a demented and very funny character in Miriam and the Monkfish.

By Kate Herbert

D-Cuppetry–Dance of the D Cups, April 11, 2006

D-Cuppetry–Dance of the D Cups 
by Emma Powell and Louise Steele
Melbourne Comedy Festival
 Trades Hall, April 11 to  May 7, 2006

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

What these two women can do with four boobs is amazing and a bit creepy too.

If you thought Puppetry of the Penis was a batty idea, wait till you see this. D-Cuppetry is the manipulation of bosoms to perform uses for which they were not designed or to represent objects to which they bear no resemblance.

Of course, the stunts Emma Powell and Louise Steele perform with their bosoms could not be done with, shall we say, youthful perky breasts. The manipulation requires a bit of flexibility, a degree of size (D or E cup) and a few years of gravity to make them viable, if you get my drift.

They begin with Everyone Loves Tits, a song that incorporates every slang name ever applied to breasts. Then we get to call out, “Show us your tits!” And they do.

Yes, the breasts are visible on stage but there is nothing terribly sexy about their appearances. They are twisted, like play-dough, into all sorts of uncomfortable shapes. The gasps and groans from women in the audience are audible.

After they remove the towelling bathrobes, the bosoms are on view being tortured for about an hour.

Their multiple uses in the home and at work are demonstrated. The dropping boob can be a replacement for the office stationery cupboard. Just secrete staplers, post-its and pens under them to hold securely and prevent theft.

Tuck socks under them and wave in the wind to replace the Hills Hoist and swish from side to side for the heavy-duty wash cycle of the Westinghouse. If you spill something on the kitchen bench, just whip out “Sponge-Boob” and wipe, or secure a dish underneath them for a dish-rack.

They can even serve a community policing purpose. Steele uses one as the nose of a sniffer dog searching for drugs. And, if you are looking for that unusual new job, the new version of a topless barmaid can pour a scotch from a bottle secured under a bosom or use them as a mini-bar.

There are “tit tips” for the sexually shy, for the woman who ants to wear a backless dress and there is a rather disturbing vision of “ the sound of one tit clapping”.

You will never, I mean never, see anything like this again. It is a hoot, or should I say hooter.

By Kate Herbert

Saturday 8 April 2006

Doubt by John Patrick Shanley, MTC, April 8, 2006

 Doubt by John Patrick Shanley
by Sydney Theatre Company presented by Melbourne Theatre Company
 Playhouse Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, April 8 to May 13, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 8, 2006

We know now that, in decades past, Catholic priests abused children, that the children did not report the abuse, that suspicion was diverted and priests were moved from parish to parish to avoid repercussions.

Evidence was, and still is, difficult to provide or confirm “beyond a reasonable doubt,” so priests escaped earthly if not divine retribution.

John Patrick Shanley’s crisp, witty and provocative play, Doubt, provides no certainty. Two of its characters may feel free of doubt but we are left with the aftermath of suspicion, hearsay and the sinking feeling that accompanies deception.

Doubt is a masterly theatrical construction of a moral dilemma, the plot cunningly created from smoke and mirrors. It is not epic but, rather, an intimate Socratic argument.

Christopher Gabardi is vibrant and compelling as Father Flynn,  the exuberant and athletic young priest appointed to the parish of St. Nicholas. He is a devotee of the liberal changes wrought by the Vatican II Council.

Jennifer Flowers is superbly laconic and wry as Sister Aloysius, the cold, determined and domineering head of St. Nicholas’ school and a member of the teaching order of the Sisters of Charity although charity is not her strong suit and Vatican II is disrupting her entrenched view of the Church.

Flowers is totally credible as the resentful, intelligent and possibly misguided nun, frustrated by her powerlessness in the face of the changing church and the ruling male clergy.

Her subordinate is Sister James (Alison Bell), a compassionate and naïve young teaching nun made vulnerable by suspicions planted, with dubious motivation, by Sister Aloysius. Bell has the cosy warmth of that rare nun who genuinely cares about teaching and children.

Any reputation is tarnished irreparably by the insidious undermining of the jealous, ambitious and resentful, or even by the well-meaning.

Sister Aloysius’ determination that Father Flynn is behaving inappropriately with an eight-year-old boy is founded on tissue-thin evidence, flimsy observations and wild assumptions that she presents as certainties. She is a dangerous animal, even using the boy’s mother (Pamela Jikiemi OK) in her vendetta. Everyone is vulnerable in the face of her heartless accusations and acerbic jibes.

Director, Julian Meyrick, keeps the focus on the relationships and arguments. Designer, Stephen Curtis’s brutal stone convent wall dwarfs the characters while the interior of Sister Aloysius’ office confines them under her control.

Doubt compels one to question one’s own “certainties”.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 6 April 2006

Dizney on Dry Ice, April 6, 2006

 Dizney on Dry Ice
by Nathan Curnow produced by La Mama
Comedy Festival 
Carlton Courthouse, April 7 to 22, 2006

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Dizney on Dry Ice, by Nathan Curnow, directed by Greg Carroll, is the first cab off the rank for the Comedy Festival and it is laugh-out-loud funny.

We can forgive the production for coming a little unstuck in a few later scenes because we laugh so much for the first hour.

Do not be put off by the premise, which is very silly; Marvin (Shannon Henriksson), a complete nong of a gangster, hatches an idiotic plot to steal the frozen head of Walt Disney from its top secret cryogenics facility at Disneyland.

His equally dim-witted, gangster-moll girlfriend, Wilma (Terri Brabon), wants to play Minnie Mouse, to whom she bears a striking resemblance, at Disneyland.

When his gangster boss, Wilma’s brother, Tony (Kevin Hopkins), gets out of gaol, Marvin is compelled, by the rest of the gang (Mike Bishop, Sean Barker) to participate in a bank robbery to make recompense for his errors in an earlier kidnapping. Unfortunately for the gang, the bank is run by “The Most Unrobbable Bank Manager of the Year” (Tony Rive).

Meanwhile, a couple of police assassins (Ross Williams, Justin Foster) go undercover as Amish farmers at Disneyland and a couple (Helen Hopkins, Brian Davison) plot to overthrow Disneyland from the inside.

The comic acting and direction are impeccable. Carroll focuses on the characters, keeping the stage empty but for a few chairs and indicating locations by simple projections on a scrim behind which actors also form tableaux of off-stage action.

Curnow’s dialogue is quick-witted, absurd, littered with gags but driven by the characters. It derives much of its humour from their sheer idiocy and references to US gangster movies.

Henriksson’s Marvin is a gem of a character with lumbering simplicity, high hopes and no brains. Brabon has impeccable comic timing and delivery playing Wilma with a shrill voice, open face and Minnie Mouse attitude.

Bishop, Hopkins and Barker make broad comedy out of the crims. Their scene miming pop songs in the car is screamingly funny. Rive’s bank manager is
a great foil for the gangsters.

Williams and Foster make a comical cop duo and William is inspired as Ben, the overwrought copper who suffers trauma after the death of his boss.

Hopkins and Davison have the hardest job although they are very funny. Their scenes are the most problematic in the script and need some work.

This first Com Fest show is worth braving the cold. It is hilarious.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 5 April 2006

It Just Stopped by Stephen Sewell, Malthouse, April 5, 2006

  It Just Stopped by Stephen Sewell 
 Malthouse Theatre and Company B
 Malthouse Theatre,  April 5 to 23, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 5, 2006

The world turns upside down in Stephen Sewell’s play, It Just Stopped. 

Until the final scenes, it is unclear what has triggered the social and technological nightmare being lived by Beth (Catherine McClements) and Franklin (Marcus Graham).

The production boasts fine acting from the cast of four, sleek direction by Neil Armfield, realistic contemporary design (Stephen Curtis), subtle lighting (Paul Jackson) and evocative sound (John Rodgers).

Like Moliere’s comedies of manners, It Just Stopped satirises the manners and affectations of a particular social class – the over-educated, smug American elite who engage in meaningless, cultural pursuits.

Sewell’s script is, at times, hilarious and inspired, at others confusing and downright silly. None of his characters has our sympathy and all are thoroughly dislikeable.

The play begins as a fast, witty duologue between Beth and Franklin. It is a battle of wits between two young, New York intellectuals. Their relationship is based on points scoring, barbed comments and thinly veiled criticism. This opening scene is very funny; its relentless pace drives the dialogue like a stand–up routine.

When Australian cardboard magnate, Bill (John Wood) and his subservient wife, Pearl (Rebecca Massey) arrive, the play takes a detour into what appears to be a bad Australian sit-com, then into an absurdist play and finally a grim, existential nightmare. The dialogue is often savage and punishing. Characters are engaged exhaustingly in continuous verbal conflict.

Graham is compelling as the tortured writer, Franklin. As Beth, McClements has the brittle edginess of the New Yorker. Wood revels in the broad comedy of Aussie tycoon, Bill, and Massey is suitably underplayed and wry as Pearl.

Sewell is clear on one thing: these people are slaves to their urban, contemporary, technological lifestyles. When the power goes off and the phones, computers, radios, televisions and elevators just suddenly stop working, they are prisoners of their own lives, incarcerated in their 47th floor apartment. What can they value when their orderly, affluent lives are disrupted?

We are faced with the horror of our potential future if we do not protect our environment from global warming, capitalism, marketing and consumerism, technology and selfishness.

We are compelled to muse upon why Bill and Pearl are so composed in the face of such adversity. They hint that they have other plans to avert the disastrous consequences of the techno-breakdown until finally, they reveal their awful plan for Beth and Franklin.

Without knowledge of what is to come, the play seems to fall apart at this point and tumble into silliness.

Some audiences will consider It Just Stopped a politically challenging statement. Others could find it as silly and pointless as its characters. It is probably both of these things.

By Kate Herbert