Thursday 22 February 2007

They Shoot Poets Don’t They? La Mama, Feb 22, 2007

They Shoot Poets Don’t They? by James Pratt
La Mama, Feb 22 to March 4, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 22, 2007

Hoorah! They Shoot Poets Don’t They? is a really funny solo show with language and character.

It features a supercilious performance poet, Sebastian Flange, the invention of performer, James Pratt.

Flange (best pronounced “Flaaaaange” with a smirk) is alone on stage, dressed in a blue shirt and black jacket, with a startling overbite and a spittle-soaked lisp. He prances and postures, reciting or reading classics from the poetic lexicon in an affected accent.

He opens with a sexy interpretation of Walt Whitman, moves on to an indulgent analysis of Wordsworth on the beauty of Nature, then to Shakespeare and a personal view of Hamlet’s speech, “To be or not to be”. His reading of Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress uses the classical poem as a personal and contemporary seduction.

Flange is smug and conceited. He moves languidly around the space, posing for our benefit and imitating the gestures and dance that Shakespeare supposedly employed while seeking inspiration. He perches on a stool, gazing seductively at members of the audience, challenging us with his poetic vision.

Flange’s own writings include a comically banal poem about a cup of tea that we read while he sips a cuppa from a thermos flask. Pratt, as Flange, accurately and hilariously portrays a familiar type of overblown, arrogant pseudo-artist.

Nestled between his poetic ramblings and capering is a story about Flange’s mother’s weird life and death. A rampaging cow mauled her, grabbing her by the throat, crushing her larynx and rendering her mute. Nuns nursed her back to health while the teenage Sebastian read Shakespeare to her.

Flange’s father left his roofing iron sales job and became a pirate. Years later, Flange himself became a seaman and befriended the ironically named Tom Sawyerson.

This grinning, patronising character is a delight to behold. Pratt, as Flange, is confrontational, intimate, engaging and very, very funny. He creates a contemporary clown that challenges us with language and comedy.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 21 February 2007

Autobahn by Neil Labute, Feb 21, 2007

Autobahn by Neil Labute
By Act-O-Matic 3000
Cromwell Rd Theatre,  Wed to Sat, Feb 21 to March 3, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Neil Labute’s short play cycle is a disturbing and revealing vision of ordinary people in ordinary relationships. 

Each of the seven mini-plays is set in the front seat of a car with two characters. Some are virtually a monologue, with a silent character acting as a sounding board for the other’s obsessive chatter.

The direction, by David Ryding, is slick and focuses on the characters’ emotional drive. The cast is accomplished and Labute’s writing compelling.

In Autobahn, a woman (Brenda McKinty), the passenger, prattles anxiously to her silent husband while he drives. Their predicament unfolds slowly as she reveals that their teenage foster son has stolen their car and accused his father of abuse. Her husband’s frozen silence is powerful.

All Apologies is, like Autobahn, a monologue to a silent character. An enraged and humiliated man (Dan Walls) attempts to apologise to his coolly listening wife for his verbal abuse. Her silence makes him angrier and his rant becomes an excuse for his bad behaviour rather than an apology.

Shanrah Wakefield, in Funny, plays a young woman just out of drug rehabilitation. She talks in a stream of consciousness, gazing out the car window while her long-suffering, silent mother drives. But her languid ramblings soon become manipulative and distressing.

Merge is the first dialogue. A man (David Gardette), having collected his wife (Catherine Kohlen) from the airport after a conference, painfully unravels the truth about her sordid experience with two men in her hotel room.

In the second half, an Hispanic homeboy (Juan Modinger) drives his buddy to collect his Nintendo from an ex-girlfriend. There is an edge of danger in both the incessant ravings of the driver and the silence of the passenger.

Bench Seat is an edgy and unpredictable situation in a car when a college boy (Brett Whittingham) tries not to upset his volatile, uneducated girlfriend (Olivia Hogan) while trying to break up with her.

Perhaps the most disturbing play is Road Trip. A teenager girl (Natasha Jacobs) curls up in the passenger seat next to a man we assume to be her dad (Ron Kofler) taking her on holiday. What is revealed is far more insidious.

The performances are all skilful and the plays rivetting. Labute captures the intensity and secrets in ordinary lives.

By Kate Herbert

Angels With Dirty Faces, Feb 21, 2007

 Angels With Dirty Faces
Written by Iresha Herath with Rachel Fitzpatrick
Production by 9minds
Fairfax Studio, Victorian Arts Centre,  Wed to Sun,  to Feb 25, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The first hour of Angels With Dirty Faces, by Iresha Herath, is a swiftly moving, funny and well-observed portrayal of teenage boys in an upmarket private school in Melbourne. 

The dialogue has the authentic tone of 16 year-old boys’ blend of arrogance, under-confidence, profanity and innuendo.

The cast of young men, directed by Morgan Dowsett, is totally at ease and credible in the first half. Toby (Andre De Vanny), the ambitious young editor of The Telegraph, the school paper, struggles to balance his assessable work with his budding journalism. He supports the reserved new boy, Jake (Hagan Matthews), who arrives mysteriously from a Sydney school.

Toby’s clan are resistant to any new blood in their group, but Toby welcomes Jake’s help to write for The Telegraph. The boys go to a Portsea holiday home to celebrate Johnno’s (Adam Lee) birthday. Aran (Deniz Akdeniz) reveals Jake’s secret to the jealous and troubled Alex (Ben Schmideg). From that point, their relationships all goes horribly wrong.

The performances of the young actors are competent despite occasional problems with audibility and articulation. Matt Boesenberg (OK) is believable as Mr. Collyer, the committed teacher and De Vanny captures the inner struggle of Toby. Matthews is more comfortable before Jake’s secret is uncovered and Schmideg makes the rather unpleasant Alex interesting.

 Nicholas O’Brien and Adam Lee are an entertaining duo of boyish rogues and find a range of emotion when their secure lives come crashing down.

Herath’s script is more successful in the first half when dealing with schoolboy pranks, smart gags and mutual ribbing. The emotional and tragic second half is far too long and has two or three false endings. Toby’s personal issues come to a head rather hurriedly and he seems to undergo a complete change of personality in his vindictive attack on Jake.

The play shifts focus from Jake to Toby finally but Jake’s issues are left a little undercooked. The play owes a debt to the movie, Dead Poets’ Society but Angels needs some editing to sort out its ending.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 15 February 2007

Europe by Michael Gow, Feb 14, 2007

Europe by Michael Gow
 La Mama, 6.30pm Wed to Sun, Feb 14 until March 4, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 14

Michael Gow’s 1987 play, Europe, tells two fraught love stories; one is between an Australian man and an English actress, the other is about the continuing love affair that many Australians have with all things European.

The relentlessly cheerful Douglas, played with vibrating anxiety by Travis Cotton, arrives unannounced backstage at a European theatre where the brittle Barbara, played with grace and dignity by Caroline Brazier, is removing makeup and changing out of period costume. It seems she is playing Ibsen’s tragic heroine, Hedda Gabler, complete with a gunshot wound to the head.

They met a year ago during an Arts Festival in Australia and spent a week in each other’s arms - and beds.
We witness their awkward reunion. Douglas gabbles nervously about Barbara’s marvellous performance, helplessly attempting to hide his obsession with her, while Barbara politely smile like a maniac and tries to keep his hands off her.

Director, Eddy Segal, keeps Gow’s dialogue moving at the speed of a Formula One car, emphasising the anxiety underlying this uncomfortable relationship. The two babble over each other, avoiding their past and trying to mask their unease with inanities about travel, work, Europe and Australia.

The polite discomfort peaks later at Barbara’s flat. By the time Douglas leaves at midnight, Barbara is near hysterical and he is bereft.  In a cafĂ© the following day, their panic turns into anger and a fierce argument ensues. Barbara urges him to leave and reveals she has a partner. He tries to rekindle their love, she resists, he insists and they continue to meet.

The foolish passion of Australian travellers for old Europe, its relics, its art and history, is satirised in Douglas. The scales fall away from his eyes as he confronts his mistakes in judgment and his relationship to Europe is also like a spurned lover. He defends Australia’s lack of history and attacks Europe’s years of bloodshed and colonial occupation.

Brazier is vivid and blazes with an inner energy as Barbara. Cotton is ebullient and childlike, switching into a rage like a child who loses his toy. They look an inapt pair of lovers but this is the point of the story. Love knows no logic so totally mismatched pair may continue to torment each other across continents or even live happily ever after.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 8 February 2007

Chocolate Monkey, John-Paul Hussey, Feb 7, 2007

Chocolate Monkey by John-Paul Hussey
By The Amazing Business
Black Box, Victorian Arts Centre, Tues to  Sun, until Feb 7 to 18, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Chocolate Monkey is a wild journey with the ebullient John-Paul Hussey.  He leads us a merry dance, relating his experiences trying to mount a solo production and to survive heartbreak, homelessness and overeating.

The content is never the most interesting part of this show; it is, rather, Hussey’s idiosyncratic style that makes it so compelling. He is a consummate comic character actor with a rubber face and a compact, snuggly build that allows him to glide and prance around the stage like a dancer. His comic timing is impeccable as he switches physicality and accents, playing all characters and mutating at will into Sean Connery just for the heck of it.

The random collection of episodes is constructed around Hussey’s chaotic attempt to stage his one-man show, A Night of (Modern) Irish Storytelling, in an unlicensed warehouse venue in the middle of junkie-land, Smith Street in Collingwood. Some of the funniest moments are his acute observations of Rainsford, the naked experimental theatre artist who runs the studio, or “space,” as artists love to call their theatre.

His characterisations are ruthlessly accurate and include Mr. Flanagan, the feisty Irish funeral director who occupies downstairs, Peter, the swaggering Greek railway foreman and a Chinese cook in Little Bourke Street. Even when not playing specific characters, Hussey changes accent from thick Yorkshire, to upper class English and an hilarious impression of how to replicate Japanese language by simulating suffering freezing temperatures, constipation and memory loss simultaneously.

Each scene, introduced by Hussey as narrator of his own messy life story, has an accompanying scene title and a projection of a William Blake style of  black and white etching (Natalie Lowery).

Kelly Ryall’s evocative soundscape enhances the atmosphere and the lighting design (Luke Hails, Remo Vallance & Mark Benson) captures the energy and rapid movement of Hussey’s thoughts and memories.

The show has some moving and intimate moments but he finds self-deprecating comedy in most things. He tells us that he was born a day apart from his girlfriend, his “twin monkey”, with whom he fought and made up until the relationship collapsed. He reveals his pain as his weight balloons and his shock at a publicity photo portraying him as a fat pig chef.

Chocolate Monkey is a return season of the first in Hussey’s Monkey trilogy. We look forward to the third, Love Monkey.

By Kate Herbert

Court in the Act by Rod Quantock, Feb 8, 2007

Court in the Act by Rod Quantock 
Old Magistrates’ Court, Tues to Sat, Feb 8 to March 3, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 8

(See review of later production in Jan, 2011)
You cannot nod off in a darkened theatre during Rod Quantock’s Court in the Act. In fact, you might play a central role as Magistrate, Defence Counsel, Clerk of Courts, Defendant, witness or even court artist or reporter.

Court in the Act, playing at The Old Magistrates’ Court, is significantly more entertaining than a stand up or sketch comedy. It engages an audience in a completely different way. It compels us to think, act, make decisions and laugh out loud in a completely improvised court case, the nature of which is decided upon by the audience members.

The evening began with a tour of the Old City Watchhouse that housed Ned Kelly and Squizzy Taylor. The cellblocks are primitive, smacking of Alcatraz, each tiny cell having a solid metal door, one even boasting a padded interior.

Rod marshalled us into cells, under instructions to decide on a crime and an accused. The groups were inventive and excited and the potential crimes included performing a Mexican Wave and shooting out speed cameras. But the winner, by majority vote, was the assassination of John Howard by a CWA president at a barbecue in Euroa.

The accused, CWA president (Kaz McMahon), was nominated and we filed obediently and in anticipation into the courtroom. Rod took the role of Prosecution Counsel and a man wearing thongs, who had “a couple of years as a solicitor,” became the Judge. He was robed and wigged and looked like Santa. A bearded man became the Duty Defence Solicitor, Clerk, reporter, artist, jury and witnesses volunteered or were appointed.

The excitement rose as we sang the rousing and patriotic Under Southern Stars (lyrics by Amanda Vanstone, age six) to the tune of Land of Hope and Glory.

What followed was an hilarious and enthusiastic trial run by the audience – and Mr. Quantock, QC. The highlight was the rotund and laconic Constable Williams, whose testimony and manner was heroic and totally believable as a country copper. He was so popular he was promoted to Sergeant and then to assist the Judge on the Bench.

Evidence was presented of shotguns and rocket launchers, myopia and “unaustralian lamingtons”, hints of Mafia, lesbian lovers and Amanda Vanstone’s resentment. Finally, the jury found Ms. McMahon guilty but named a Public Holiday in her honour.

The night was vibrant and exhilarating – and tomorrow night will be completely different. Long live improvisation!

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 7 February 2007

The Nature of Things, Season 1: Relics and Time, Feb 7, 2007

The Nature of Things, Season 1: Relics and Time
by Renato Cuocolo and Roberta Bosetti
Secret Location, Tues to Sat, one hour between dusk and dawn,  Feb 7 to 25, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

A performance by Roberta Bosetti, directed by Renato Cuocolo, is unlike a theatrical event.

The relationship is intimate, the physical distance eliminated, the actor becomes an acquaintance and the audience becomes confidante or voyeur. The work is confronting for some.

Relics and Time is in a secret location: a private residence where Bosetti and Cuocolo currently reside with another couple and a child. The seven visitors arrive (one got lost and arrived late) and knock tentatively on the door.

Cuocolo greets us, ushering us into a starkly empty room to sit on hard chairs. He gives us a number, offers us wine and leaves us to watch a painstakingly slow, hand-held camera film of Roberta’s childhood home in Vercelli in the north of Italy and to listen to an hysterical Italian radio talkback program.

For some, the 25 minutes of viewing every architectural detail is excruciating and puzzling.

Roberta enters suddenly, greeting us like a gracious host and introducing herself to each individual. She muses on the frustrations of standing in queues waiting for one’s number to be called until finally, our numbers are called.

The evening proceeds gently, like a quiet night with a friend reflecting on her childhood. Roberta leads us through the house, showing us replicas of furniture from Vercelli. She introduces her housemates then tactfully closes their doors.

We wait and listen in her kitchen, sipping wine as she washes dishes and makes espresso. We are witnesses to her struggle to scour her memory for the minutiae of a particular childhood moment. She recalls a kitchen, a table, a hard chair, a green and white cotton tablecloth, her friend Jeanne, her parents, a packed suitcase, a frosty departure.

We listen intently to the evolving story, watching Roberta’s graceful movements and semi-consciously take in the details of her kitchen: running water, cook books, coffee pots, gleaming surfaces, a shifting branch outside. The green and white cloth becomes paramount, as if we have zoomed in with the camera and stuck on a particular item.

There is an ominous sense in the slow piecing together of patchy memories. We anticipate pain or sorrow but hope for joy.

Finally, at the candlelit table on the chilly patio, the entire memory is revealed and we are dismissed to wander into the darkness, musing on time and memory.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 1 February 2007

Gay Conversion School Drop Out, Feb 1, 2007

 Gay Conversion School Drop Out 
by Anthony Menchetti, Midsumma Festival
Where and When: Bar Open, Thurs to Sat, Feb 1 to 11, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

If you are someone who believes homosexuality to be a choice rather than an inborn trait, trying to cure a gay man of his homosexuality might make sense. 

To Anthony Menchetti, a very charming, young gay man who was living in Perth, being sent by his Christian parents to a Christian Gay Conversion School was never going to make him prefer women to men. In fact, he dropped out after having a fling with the Team Leader who was immediately demoted. Conversion School was a perfect way to met gay men.

Menchetti’s stories about his evidently obsessional and seriously weird parents and his experiences at Gay Conversion School are good fodder for entertainment. Even Dr. Phil had a program on this very subject recently.

We hear the list of three causes of homosexuality (It is caused by certain kinds of relationships with people of the same sex - or people of the opposite sex!) and discover that the simple cure is to suppress one’s sexual urges. Evidently it does not work.

The stand up routine is peppered with short, uninspiring but funny songs such as I’m Gay, I’m tying to Quit and What a Funny Joke, a song about trying to cover a faux pas with humour. He sings one-line titles to sections of his life such as “Clubbing” or “Coming out,” and underscores scenes with moody keyboard music.

Menchetti’s style is gentle and non-confrontational; he simply tells his story with a few jokes. His descriptions of his now divorced parents are some of the funniest. His father surrounds his house with statues of Jesus and imports useless objects including the hammer torch for a car. His mother conducts home prayer meetings and, for a hobby, obtrusively photographs prostitutes on the street.

His period of working for the post office provides some comic material; disgruntled postal workers are always fair game. An audience member cheerfully assists Menchetti to replay scripts of the most boring and repetitive conversations about lunch in post office history.

He compares gay dating with shopping at IKEA, talks about being set up by friends with inappropriate blind dates and about the horrors of gay saunas and internet dating.

Gay Conversion School is not high camp nor is it high comedy but it is gently amusing.

By Kate Herbert