Wednesday 25 October 2006

Peepshow, Marie Brassard, Melbourne Festival, Oct 25, 2006

 Peepshow by Marie Brassard
Melbourne Festival of Arts
Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse,  Oct 25 to 28, 2006

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 25, 2006

The tentacles of Marie Brassard’s fascinating solo performance, Peepshow, draw one in from the first moment she speaks. She is a consummate performer.

Peepshow, like her exceptional show, Jimmy, combines storytelling with the idiosyncratic style of Brassard, Alexander MacSween’s complex sound technology and lighting by Simon Guilbault.

Although performed on a stage empty but for a carpet and a single chair, Peepshow is transformational, transporting us from story to story, place to place and changing character and gender in a nanosecond. We see and hear Little Red Riding Hood playing in the woods then the Big Bad Wolf who beguiles Red then eats her grandmother.

She transforms into the broken-hearted young woman, the wily seducer and cad, the sad masochistic teacher, the girl who finds herself in a bondage game with a stranger, the rejected young gay man and the child afraid of the monsters she hopes are not under her bed. Finally, she becomes the monster himself lurking dejectedly in his labyrinth, or perhaps in the recesses of our minds.

Brassard does not create characters with the naturalistic physicalisation often employed by actors but with subtle shifts in position, a lilting dance, a pose on the chair. In an instant and often mid-sentence her voice, manipulated by MacSween’s real-time application of multi-effect processors, becomes the “other”.

The personal tales are compelling; some are predators, others are prey. We are absorbed into their psyches, touched by the child’s innocence, by the teacher’s horrific self-mutilation, the girl’s loss of love and we are frightened by the immorality of the seducer and the real danger of the monster under the bed.

Brassard is fascinated with the world of wonder or otherness. She takes to the extreme the notion that we absorb elements of those we encounter and she executes this by swallowing the voices of man, woman, child and monster. She peoples the stage with a parade of characters that merge and evolve magically from her voice.

Lighting and ghostly filmic imagery create environment and atmosphere but it is Brassard who casts the spell on us.

Peepshow may have less resonance than her previous show, Jimmy, but this is another bravura performance by the charming Brassard.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 19 October 2006

Objects For Meditations, William Yang, Melbourne Festival, Oct 19, 2006

Objects For Meditations by William Yang

Melbourne Festival of Arts
Arts House, North Melbourne, Oct 18 to 21, 2006

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

William Yang’s monologue is like a soothing, guided meditation. 

Accompanied by Paul Jarman’s evocative woodwinds, he stands almost still before a table laden with his own special objects, speaking slowly and deliberately about his life as a marginalised, homosexual, third-generation Australian-Chinese artist.

But although this sounds indulgent, there is no whining. He shares with us object after object, describes how he received them and then ambles on with his unadorned stories of friendship, art, sex, war, disenfranchisement and travel.

Yang is a photographer - a very good one. Behind him, on two enormous screens are projected his beautiful images, both still and moving, depicting the places, people and objects. We are shy voyeurs into the minutiae of his life.

We begin in his cluttered Sydney apartment. Through the photos, we witness the growth of his balcony plants and the saplings, see his birdbath and are warmed by his love of plants and visiting birds.

Throughout, Yang reveals snippets of Daoist philosophy and its relationship to his life. His list of Daosit guidelines reads as something like: be real, live simply, embrace others, desire little. It is a reminder of how heavily we walk upon the land and how complex our lives become.

We are introduced to his favoured objects: a little shrine from the Dalai Lama, a Canadian Indian Dream catcher, his mother’s plate, a weed pot from his friend, Jill or a steaming replica of a mountain in China.

Each object is connected to a friend or a place that appears larger than life on screen. We are intimates now, in Yang’s world. We see his lovers lounging on his sofa or naked on his bed. We meet his mother as a young and an old woman. We travel to a collective farm in Maleny, Queensland, where his friend, Jill, after forty years, still lives her warm and generous hippy lifestyle. We meet Gerhard, Yang’s German groupie and his family.

Yang is committed to seeking out indigenous peoples and investigating the disenfranchised. Merv Bishop, an aboriginal photographer, leads Yang through a shattered town in Northern Australia. On tour in New Zealand, Yang meets and photographs the powerful faces of Maoris. In Canada he compares the plight of the Native Canadians to the Stolen Generation in Australia. In Singapore he celebrates the Chinese heritage and recognises the fate of the native Malays.

Objects for Meditation is a charming and gentle reminder that there is more than one way to perform and more than one way to live.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 18 October 2006

Voyage by dumb type, Melbourne Festival, Oct 18,2006

Voyage by dumb type
Melbourne Festival of Arts
Playhouse, Arts Centre, Wed 18 to Fri 20 October, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

“Voyage really takes you on a trip,” says a member of the Japanese company, dumb type. This performance does seem to have a great deal in common with LSD trips, perhaps more than with terrestrial journeys.

dumb type is a Japanese avant-garde troupe with its origins in performance art and this is still evident twenty years after its inception. Although its founders chose to comment on socio-political issues, the style and form has become significantly more abstract, non-verbal and conceptual now.

Voyage is fascinating to watch for its technical skill, beautiful imagery and complex technology, but the production lacks heart. There is no emotional connection and an audience struggles to make meaning of its series of disconnected vignettes.

It is also a savage assault on the eardrums. The recurrent, roaring soundscape, reminiscent of a jet engine at ten times normal volume, is unbearably and, frankly, dangerously loud. The sound literally rattles one’s bones.

This noise accompanies the opening scene in which, in near darkness, a frail woman moves like an insect in a slow, sustained dance in front of giant, round inflatables. The scene is disturbingly nightmarish.

A more playful scene follows. Two women, wearing miners’ headlamps, are lost underground. Their journey through darkness is represented in contact movement as they crawl over each other to reach their destination. Their quest is accompanied by the sound of stones being raked into pathways by two men.

A woman searches a map under a flickering light bulb then lies across her desk typing airline departures on an electric typewriter. Flight numbers and destinations are projected on a huge screen.

The more lyrical, often mesmerising scenes involve a young woman lying on a blanket on the gleaming reflective surface of the stage. With each new film projection she appears to be floating in a lapping ocean, a snowy mountain scape, fields of flowers or windblown trees. In a childlike voice she wishes for everything she ever wanted.

Another playful travelling vignette is the dance of the air stewardesses. They create a jolly dance set against a stark silence broken only by the clatter of their high heels.

An astronaut floats amongst clouds, snow travellers roll across an icy landscape and the frail woman returns, flailing gently in a dark and alien environment.

Voyage has much in common with performance art and dance but it is the kind of theatre that makes an audience of the uninitiated feel stupid for not understanding it. Why should they?

By Kate Herbert

Saturday 14 October 2006

Now that Communism is Dead My Life Feels Empty, Oct 14, 2006

 Now that Communism is Dead My Life Feels Empty
by Richard Foreman
Malthouse Theatre

The Tower, Malthouse, Oct 14 to Oct 28, 2006

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The chaotic nature of Richard Foreman’s script, Now that Communism is Dead My Life Feels Empty, is at its most effective in this production when the acting and direction are at their most controlled. 

When all the elements are out of control, the piece becomes an incomprehensible, loud and punishing theatrical mess.

Yes, Foreman purposely designed his award-winning theatrical form (He dubbed it “Ontonological-Hysteric Theatre”) to reflect the fragmentation of thought and the complex and diverse realities that are presented to us in the world, all of which can be perceived in different ways.

However, because there is no narrative and no consistent characterisation we, the inveterate meaning-makers, struggle to attend to the entire show. It becomes mentally exhausting so we abandon all hope of drawing its threads into a whole. My neighbour simply went to sleep.

Max Lyandvert, known best as a composer, not only directed and composed the soundscape, but he designed the set. He heightens the on stage chaos with random sounds of dogs barking, machine guns, white noise and voice overs. The constantly changing set of chairs, boxes, white paper and small scaffold towers is accentuated by Luiz Pampholha’s (OK) severe and dramatic lighting.

The play is described as a satire but a great deal of comedy in the script that is missed by Lyandvert. Fred (Benjamin Winspear) and Freddie’s (Gibson Nolte) interaction resembles the absurdist comedy of Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon and other clown duos. However, the jokes fly by unacknowledged or inadequately explored and the grotesque comedy sometimes becomes simply ugly.

The actors work very hard in this play. Their work is often stylised and contained but becomes more hysterical as the play continues, but there is too much shouting and the thumping of their running feet on the floor of  The Tower becomes annoying.

There are resonances of the chaos that followed the Fall of Communism, of the McCarthy trials and of revolution. The most sustained image, unfortunately, is of a blow-up sex doll that becomes a real woman (Rebecca Smee). She is disturbingly described as a dog, kept in a box, chained, gagged and bandaged, mysteriously appearing and disappearing, silent and servile.

Given that Foreman is a much-awarded writer in both the US and France, perhaps there is more theatrical merit in this play than is apparent in this production.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 12 October 2006

Tragedia Endogonidia: BR. #04 Brussels, Melbourne Festiva,l Oct 12.2006

Tragedia Endogonidia: BR. #04 Brussels
Societas Raffaello Sanzio by Romeo Castellucci
Melbourne Festival of Arts
  Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, Thurs to Sun until Oct 15

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

There are always conflicting views on contemporary theatre but there is no doubt that Tragedia Endogonidia is compelling, disturbing and possibly confusing for some.

Societas Raffaello Sanzio perform non-linear narrative without classical characterisation or dialogue.
Director, Romeo Castellucci, creates challenging, often confronting theatre that investigates concepts rather than stories.

This episode, BR. #04 Brussels, is perhaps more horror than tragedy. Its violence reflects atrocities witnessed in war or sadistic human rights abuses more than it does the ancient Greek notion of tragedy.

We have a visceral response to the all-too-realistic, savage beating by two police officers of a nearly naked young man. The horrific quality is heightened by the unemotional attitude of the officers and the chilly theatricality of their pouring a bottle of blood over him before reducing him to a bloody pulp.

There is virtually no dialogue apart form a mumbled prayer from the battered man as he struggles inside a plastic garbage bag.

The vulnerability of humanity is distilled in the stark, cold, white marble space, reminiscent of an enormous, bathroom or torture chamber. A tiny baby, lying alone on a blanket looking bright, perfect and adorable, is a counterpoint to the barbarity of the beatings.

An ancient, wispy-bearded man tremulously searches the clinical room - for an escape route or perhaps for meaning? He dresses in priestly robes then in a police uniform. Perhaps we are seeing the aged future of the violent officer.

A cleaner, who appears unaware that she is on stage, slowly and quietly mops the tiles. Both she and we, the audience are the objective observers.

The Angel of Death is a masked child and two Edwardian women seem to be part of the dying man’s delusional dreamscape.

There is also grotesque comic imagery: the old man wears a bikini, a policeman strips to his underwear, a woman in an Edwardian gown extracts her tooth with string, the old man disappears into his mattress.

The punishing soundscape (Scott Gibbons) intensifies the sense of actual and impending danger with the persistent roar of a hurricane. As we watch, we reflect on violence, tragedy, humanity, despair, grief and death.

The show closes with incomprehensible movie credits: life is fleeting, just like a film. But it is the squirming, bloodied body of the beaten man that is seared on the memory.

Tragedia Endogonidia manages to somehow be both meditative and distressing.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 11 October 2006

Apple + Charlie: the story, Oct 11, 2006

Apple + Charlie: the story
by Nadine Cameron, Music and lyrics by Nadine Cameron and Cam MacIntosh

Melburne Fringe Festival
Wesley Anne, 250 High St Northcote, until Oct 14, 2006

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The Fringe Festival provides an arena for artists to experiment in a public. Great works can be created on the smell of an oily rag.

Despite the best-laid plans (and other platitudes) and some musical talent, Apple + Charlie just does not cut it as music theatre. Nadine Cameron and Cam MacIntosh wrote plenty of songs - perhaps too many - but the show has significant flaws.

Everybody on stage busts their chops to make a show but only the musicians demonstrate any technique. Despite common assumptions, being able to walk and talk does not make one an actor.

Cameron’s script is about a couple called Apple (yes, the fruit) and Charlie. They are in love, break up, get lonely and reunite. All this is apt material for a musical but the execution lacks skill.

The script is shaky, ignoring basic elements of theatrical form and style, music theatre conventions, narrative structure, characterisation, dramatic tension, staging and directorial method. Apologies to all the cast and creative team who obviously worked hard, but this show needs some assistance for a rewrite, recast and re-direction.

The numerous short songs range from rock to ballad but the two tunes at the very end are more memorable than others. The problem is that, unlike a rock gig, in a musical the lyrics need to be audible and comprehensible because they advance the story and develop character and relationship.

Bridie Lunney, a visual artist, makes a valiant effort as Apple but the dialogue limits any characterisation. Jimmy Stewart, singer from alt-country band, Clinkerfield, is more comfortable belting out a number than with dialogue.

There are too many characters, the focus too often shifting away from central characters, Apple and Charlie. Awkward scene changes are frequent and unnecessary. The stage is crowded with so many people coming on and off it is impossible to develop the narrative. There is an S and M couple, a performance poet and a mad mate but the “dream demons” with their fat devil tails, were really the last straw.

Incorporating film footage is very popular but it needs to be integrated into the form and the mix of voice and instruments is crucial.

Apple + Charlie is a valiant effort that just doesn’t work as theatre - yet.

By Kate Herbert

Saturday 7 October 2006

Controlled Crying by Ron Elisha, Oct, 7 2006

Controlled Crying by Ron Elisha
Chapel off Chapel, October 7 to 29, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Parenting never ends, as witnessed in Ron Elisha’s play, Controlled Crying.

With increasing discomfort, we watch Libby (Margot Knight) and Oscar (Paul English) struggle to cope with the changing demands and increasing pressures upon them as their daughter, Millie, grows from infancy to adulthood.

Elisha’s dialogue is often hilarious. It shifts from witty repartee, gags and jibes to poignant, although sometimes less successful, arguments and self-doubting monologues.

Director, Ailsa Piper, necessarily keeps the focus on the couple’s relationship and on the humour of their interactions.

Knight plays Libby as a maddening, highly-strung, worrywart who constantly tips the equilibrium of the relationship with her frantic behaviour, criticism and unnecessary fears.

As the badgered Oscar, English is restrained and keen to please. We can see the cogs turning as he tries in vain to understand his wife’s hysterical ranting.

The entire play takes place in the couple’s bedroom over thirty years. The difficulties of parenthood are only beginning when the play opens with the two perched anxiously on their bed, checking a stop watch and listening to their new baby’s wrenching sobs from the other room. They are unsuccessfully practising “controlled crying”, a process familiar to sleep-deprived new parents.

Millie remains an off-stage character although we come to know her intimately. She is an only child with a few problems: bedwetting, unpopularity and mediocre academic performance. She experiments with dope as a teenager, chooses her boyfriends, and perhaps even her husband, unwisely.

We sympathise as the parents panic about Millie’s first day of kinder, agonise over sending their confirmed bed-wetter on a school camp and over her insignificant role in The Wizard of Oz.

Each new period of Millie’s young life initiates a brand new series of anxieties for her beleaguered and self-flagellating parents.

What is evident is that the pair concentrates so much energy on Millie that they almost miss their entire relationship with each other. By the time Millie is married and Oscar retired at 60, Libby and Oscar are at each other’s throats, unwilling to recognise their patterns of evasion and neurosis. Oscar is gone before they have had a life together.

Some of the final less humorous scenes are a little laboured and the frequent changes of bed linen to indicate time passing are totally unnecessary and annoying. However, Controlled Crying is entertaining identification theatre for anyone with growing or grown kids.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 5 October 2006

The Best of Frank by Tom Burlinson, Crown Casino, Oct 5, 2006

 The Best of Frank by Tom Burlinson
The Palms, Crown Casino, Melbourne, Oct 5 to 15, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Frank Sinatra was a musical legend and Tom Burlinson is committed to keeping his heritage alive in his tribute shows. This second production, The Best of Frank, boasts nearly thirty songs that made Frankie’s inimitable voice famous.

Burlinson’s melodic and warm voice bears an uncanny resemblance to Old Blue Eyes, particularly in the lower register. With Musical Director, Michael Harrison, he recreates original arrangements by the likes of Nelson Riddle and Billie May with great finesse and velvet smooth delivery, embracing the syncopation and jazz turns with ease. The seemingly effortless tone and quality masks some complex vocal acrobatics.

Tom prowls across the stage in front of a tight Swing band led by Harrison on piano. The brass section is phenomenal and the rhythm boys drive the beat. The solos on trumpet, saxophone flute and trombone had the crowd cheering.

Burlinson’s links between songs are factoids about different periods of Sinatra’s career and the origins of songs, arrangements and snippets of gossip about love, marriage, albums and concerts. His patter lacks imagination; perhaps he needs someone write some snappy Frank-like jokes for him.

The first half lacks some sparkle but the second act flies us to the moon. In Act One we hear Come Fly With Me, Where or When, I Won’t Dance and two medleys of love tunes and languid ballads. Burlinson cruises comfortably through the audience during Witchcraft and performs Sinatra’s most requested number, I’ve Got You Under My Skin followed by Lady is a Tramp. He finishes the act with Cole Porter’s beautiful Night and Day.

After interval, the show takes off with Burlinson looking more confident in his relationship with both audience and band. Pennies From Heaven and Fly Me to the Moon are followed by a medley of 60s ballads including Shadow of Your Smile and a moving version of This Time.

He goes up tempo again with Luck Be A Lady, appropriate in a casino, My Kind of Town, Sunny, That’s Life and then wows the crowd with Mack the Knife. Of course, a Sinatra show would not be complete without My Way and a big finale of New York, New York.

Burlinson and his band hit their straps in the later part of the show making The Best of Frank a fitting tribute to one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th century. As Frank said, “May you live to be 150 and may the last voice you hear be mine.”

By Kate Herbert