Thursday 31 August 2006

Mum’s the Word 2: Teenagers, Aug 31, 2006

Mum’s the Word 2: Teenagers
Mum’s the Word Collective

 Comedy Theatre, Melbourne, from Aug 30 (no closing date)
Tues 6.30pm, Wed to at 8pm, Wed 1pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 4pm

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Identification theatre is the only way to describe Mum’s The Word 1 and 2 and to explain their success. 

The majority of the population either has, had, or will have teenage offspring and the rest knows someone who has them. The audience laughs and groans in unison at the familiarity of the horror stories about teens.

We sympathise with parents dealing with rudeness, drinking, drugs, sibling rivalry, lying and sneaking – you name it, teens do it and parents suffer it.

For this reason, all sorts of flaws in the structure, writing and direction of the show are ignored. There is limited physicalisation of the mainly monologue based stories. The show is like a washing line upon which loosely connected stories are threaded.

What makes this production is the exceptional cast. The five engaging and funny women (Marg Downey, Rebecca Gibney, Jane Hall, Colette Mann, Louise Siversen) hurl themselves bodily into the characters written by and based on the lives of the Canadian team.

Siversen’s is both sympathetic and hilarious, playing the mother who contemplates having an affair and a range of wacky character that highlight her versatility.

Mann, in her inimitable cheeky comic style, plays the naïve mum who hopes her daughter is celibate but gets about in sexy Madam Lash gear for dad.

Hall plays the mum who fears her daughter will turn into herself at age 12. Her scene buying her child her first bra is charming.

There are some more serious issues raised about parenting. Downey is convincing as the demure mum who faces the challenge of breast cancer and Gibney’s character battles to manage a drunken, out of control son.

As a group, the five manage to make goofy choreography and costumes look hilarious in Don’t You Wish Your Girlfriend was Hot Like Me and Here Comes Menopause.

The stories are about the little successes and bigger failures of parenting, the pressure on relationships, the loss of identity of mothers and the constant abuse parents face at the hands of the monsters that have replaced their sweet little kids.

Much of the writing is predictable and sometimes pedestrian and the staging in unimaginative but this cast makes the show entertaining. If they cut half an hour out of the show, it could be a stronger piece.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 30 August 2006

The Wages of Spin by Version 1.0, Aug 30, 2006

The Wages of Spin by Version 1.0
North Melbourne Town Hall
Aug 30 to September 9, 2006
Wed to Sat 8pm, sat 4pm, Sun 3pm,
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 30

The Wages of Spin, a documentary-style political theatre production by Version 1.0, is a complex and acerbic analysis of Australia’s participation in the War in Iraq.

The production is a hybrid of theatre and visual media, using both live performance and video to replicate the mass of news information and its manipulation at the hands of both politicians and television journalism. Much of the dialogue is from verbatim transcripts from interviews with politicians and other commentators.

We hear re-voiced snatches of Howard and Bush’s election victory speeches, excerpts from public documents, senate committee proceedings and opinion pieces. The play revisits the futile search for weapons of mass destruction, the AWB wheat for weapons scandal, the failure of the occupation to bring peace and Private Jake Kovko’s death.

We experience information overload, just as the on-screen, vox-pop interviewees report. We are overwhelsmed by a seemingly endless scrolling list of casualties in Iraq, Iraqi civilians outnumbering military almost twenty to one.

In this mock television studio, we watch a reporter read a timeline of Australia’s involvement in the war. Interspersed with invasion details are those of Delta Goodrem’s love life and health, highlighting the awful irony of our obsession with celebrities that eclipses the death and destruction in a war zone.

Every image is layered. In the opening scene, we witness the confronting image of a hooded prisoner walking across a bed of nails. Slowly, we realise his dialogue is that of Senator Robert Hill evading questions about whether Australians were involved in “interrogations’ in Iraq.

The production crew (Ingrid Siversen, Katy Green, Dan Pardy) accompany
three performers (David Williams, Kim Vercoe, Stephen Kinder) on stage. All are dressed in army fatigues. The war permeates everything.

Williams’ direction has a swift energy. The three performers present the material and characters with a wry, often grim humour and capture the confusion of the electronic media without losing the clarity of their investigation.

The complexity of the issues is intensified by the manic action on the floor. Video artist, Sean Bacon, with a bank of monitors and mixers, edits video footage before our eyes. The set is scooted around the stage, cameras appear from nowhere, images appear on a giant screen or smaller monitors. Our every move is being documented.

The Wages of Spin is fine and challenging entertainment.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 23 August 2006

Yanagai! Yanagai! MWT, Aug 22, 2006

Yanagai! Yanagai!
by Andrea James, Melbourne Workers Theatre
 North Melbourne Town Hall 
Aug 22-26. Portland Aug 29, Shepparton Aug 31, Echuca Sept 1, Upwey Sept 8, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 22, 2006

Yanagai, in the Yorta Yorta language of the Murray River (Dhungula) region, means “Go away!” One can presume it was frequently used when the white squatter, Sir Edward Curr, arrived in the region in 1841.

Since 1860, the Yorta Yorta people have continued to fight in courts for land rights for their tribal lands in the Murray region. Consistently, their claims were denied, most recently in 2003 in the Hight Court. It took nineteen seconds, says the play, to deny thousands of years of history.

At present a claim is being prepared for the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

The play depicts 150 years of failed claims, degeneration of the land through farming and drought, maltreatment of the Yorta Yorta by the white justice and welfare systems, families separated and tribal sites ignored.

Despite these negative issues the play, written and directed by Andrea James, is entertaining with a definite edge of hope.

Such a play serves the educational purpose of reminding us of issues surrounding aboriginal land claims so we can choose to forgive some of its artistic limitations.

James’ script draws together the stories of Uncle Albert (Tony Briggs/bryan Andy OK), the spirit called Munarra (Lisa Maza), Edward Curr (David Adamson) and the High Court hearing in 2003.

The most affecting and effective thread is Uncle Albert’s story that reveals his passion for his country. Briggs plays old Albert sympathetically. We are moved by memories of his “stolen” childhood, of his little sister, Amy’s (Lou Bennett) drowning when she tried to escape the welfare and we are entertained by his enduring obsession with catching the giant Murray cod.

Witnessing Albert facing the High Court highlights the judicial rigidity and lack of understanding of the values of the Yorta Yorta.

Curr is depicted two-dimensionally as a cold, cruel white invader. Little is learned of him because he is merely a symbol for colonial abuse of power.

The spirit, Munarra and her canine protectors (Bennett and Andy) provide some insight into the creation story of the Dhungula River but the portrayal of the tale looks too much like a children’s play.

Philip Lethlean’s lighting, with Adrienne Chisholm’s design that was inspired by Lin Onus’s artwork, create a soothing world of river and trees.

The staging and direction lack physicality and imagination but the production is thought-provoking and urges action.

By Kate Herbert

Saturday 12 August 2006

The Boy From Oz, with Hugh Jackman, Aug 11, 2006

 The Boy From Oz
Music & Lyrics by Peter Allen, Book by Nick Enright  
Rod Laver Arena until Aug 11 to 13, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Hugh Jackman is so deliciously charming he is almost edible. Even playing Peter Allen, the King (and Queen) of Camp, he is the sexiest creature south of Mars.

He pranced and minced on stage and, when he peeled off his sequined shirt, he triggered squeals of delight from a phalanx of women. They dived over seats to touch him as he cavorted in the aisles.

Jackman has that indefinable quality that makes a star. In addition to his remarkable stage presence and vivid characterisation of Peter Allen, he has a strong and passionate singing voice and impeccable comic delivery.

He deserved his 2004 Tony for this role and, when he does his ironic screen test as James Bond, the audience clearly thought he should have the role. Talk about versatile: from Las Vegas camp to sex symbol spy.

The original production, with a clever book by Nick Enright, adhered to a narrative. This arena production incorporates segments with Jackman addressing the audience directly, dancing and flirting with a couple of men in the crowd, doing topical stand up about Mel Gibson, Leighton Hewitt and even giving us the footy scores.

Accompanying Jackman is a glittering chorus in wild costumes by Roger Kirk. Jackman sports a parade of outfits in sequins, lame and other shiny stuff. The finale, I Go to Rio, includes an array of giant martini glasses, pineapple headdresses, feathers and flesh to put Mardi Gras to shame.

Chrissy Amphlett, as Judy Garland, captures the tremulous, tottering star in her final days singing, All I Wanted Was The Dream. Wendy Toohey bears an uncanny resemblance to Liza Minnelli capturing the Minnelli’s spirit in the Bob Fosse inspired Cabaret scene.

Colleen Hewett’s powerful, husky voice was profoundly moving in Don’t Cry Out Loud and Murray Bartlett’s rendition of I Honestly Love You is heart-wrenchingly beautiful.

Director, Kenny’ Ortega’s eclectic choreography with Kelley Abbey fills the stage with colour and the onstage band is tight and versatile.

The show depicts the light and shade of Allen’s life. We see the child’s budding showmanship, his rise to stardom, marriage, divorce, the death of his partner and his father’s suicide. But, throughout, Allen’s music plays a leading role. The crowd adored the patriotic I Still Call Australia Home and Jackman’s encore of Once Before I Go was a fitting farewell.

All hail Hugh!

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 8 August 2006

The Tempest, Bell Shakespeare, Aug 8, 06

The  Tempest by William Shakespeare
Bell Shakespeare

Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre, Aug 8 to Aug 19, 2006
6.30pm Mon, 7.30pm Tues to Sat

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 8, 2006

The Tempest, Shakespeare’s final play, can be problematic to stage. It mixes genres, incorporating elements of comedy, romances and his political plays.

It begins with Prospero’s (John Bell) plan for revenge, a history of royal usurpation, a shipwreck, a plot to assassinate the King, another to kill Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan who now reigns over a deserted island. It ends with reunion, reinstatement and a marriage. In between are slapstick, drunkenness, magic, romance, music, a banquet and a masque.

Peter Evans’ production is set on a confined stage resembling a room wallpapered with images of a densely wooded forest (Robert Kemp). It opens with an effective storm scene on Alonso (Paul Bertram), the King of Naples’ ship. As the ship sinks, the passengers shout in panic through high portholes.

The forest creates depth and the contracted stage space reflects the confines of the island. However, the actors still rattle about uncomfortably in the small space. Many scenes are performed in a deliberately static, stand and deliver style, particularly those between the royal party.

Alonso’s grief leaves him almost inanimate, Sebastian (Andrew McDonnell) and Antonio’s (David Whitney) murderous subterfuge is tepid and Gonzalo’s (Ron Haddrick) concern sounds like preaching.

The interpretation lacks the magic and illusion intrinsic to the play. The production lacks resonance and imagination and Shakespeare’s rich dialogue often has no dynamic energy.

The scenes between the drunken Stephano, (Tony Taylor), the jester, Trinculo, (James Wardlaw) and Caliban, Prospero‘s slave (Nathan Lovejoy) begin with energy but the comic business becomes repetitive. Lovejoy, playing Caliban as a scruffy, awkward adolescent with a Mohawk, has little of the grotesque or dangerous.

The strongest scenes are those with Prospero and his daughter, Miranda (Freya Stafford). Bell brings Shakespeare’s text to life, balancing gravitas and humour in Prospero, giving him a fragile humanity that counterpoints his power. Stafford gives Miranda life with a delicate childlikeness.

Less successful are the scenes between Miranda and Ferdinand (Stephen Phillips) perhaps because Phillips is often left gaping at magical illusions wrought for Ferdinand’s benefit.

Which brings us to the magic of the island. Saskia Smith, as Ariel, Prospero’s airy spirit slave who awaits his freedom, is certainly ethereal in appearance and much of Ariels’ magical quality relies on her singing. 

But the illusions are invisible, the music (Basil Hogios) a little too stereotypically spooky and the stage too domestic to transport us into the world of the magical isle.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 2 August 2006

Not Like Beckett by Michael Watts, Aug 2, 2006

Malthouse Theatre 
Beckett Theatre, Malthouse
Tues & Wed 7pm, Thurs 1pm & 8.30pm, Fri 8.30pm, Sat 2pm & 7.30pm
Aug 2 to 20, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Not Like Beckett, written by Michael Watts, is a little like Beckett – Samuel Beckett, that is. It deals with the absurdities of the human condition, an individual’s existential crisis, with isolation and despair. It also steeps these darker issues in a soup of slapstick and vaudeville – just like Beckett.

Watts’ script begins quite tamely then, in the hands of the versatile and eccentric Russell Dykstra, escalates into a cacophonous, outrageous and often hilarious ride.

Dykstra, wearing white face like Roy Rene as Mo, plays Wally Walloon Beckett. Wally declares he is a rabbit – and a stand-up comedian. Here begins the absurdity. This well-bred rabbit sports a rabbit-hunter’s metal leg-trap and is now trapped on a mountaintop surveying the beauty of his family’s adopted land. He calls for his beloved wife, a native bilby called Boo Boo, but she is nowhere to be found.

In his pain and delirium, Wally relates his history and flashes back to his lonely childhood, his discovery that he was funny, his heady days as a comic telling rabbit jokes and his marriage out of the rabbit family to the lowly bilby.

Just as we start to feel the play has nothing more to say, the show takes a startling leap. Wally appears in an outsize bunny-suit, in black face with a very good aboriginal accent and shocks us with a stand-up routine built on violent and racist gags about bilbies.

Suddenly, we are in the world of power and abuse and it becomes clear that this play is taking a turn for the grotesque and the political. We have an allegory about the invasion of Australia by Europeans and the subjugation of the aborigines.

An artist will try anything for his art, a comic will demean anything for a laugh and a colonist will invade anything for power and territory.

Dystra’s great clown skill is the highlight of the latter half of the play. He gags, dances, sings, gambols about on the Yellow Peril look alike and entertains us with his antics.

Anna Cordingley’s design, based on a replica of Ron Robertson Swann’s sculpture, Vault, (Yellow Peril) is an angular rabbit warren that provides hiding holes and many levels from which Dystra performs his vaudevillian routines.

Director, Michael Kantor, allows Dykstra his head and the second half rocks along at a cracking pace.

Not Like Beckett leaves one appalled by the things at which we can laugh.

By Kate Herbert