Monday 30 April 2007

Ginger Mick at Gallipoli, by Petty Traffikers, April 30, 2007

 Ginger Mick at Gallipoli 
adapted from C. J. Dennis by Petty Traffikers

fortyfivedownstairs, until May 13, 2007

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

It is no easy task to effectively transform verse from the page into theatrical form.
Petty Traffikers successfully adapt some of C. J. Dennis’s World War One verses, The Moods of Ginger Mick, into rambunctious physical theatre and people the stage with a parade of characters.

Ginger Mick at Gallipoli, with a cast of four under Stewart Morritt’s slick direction, vibrates with masculine energy, larrikin humour and Aussie slang. At the centre of a parade of iconic, early 20th century Australian men is Ginger Mick (Joe Clements), a cheerful, roguish petty crim and rabbitto from Footscray who writes home to his mate (Bruce Kerr) from the battle front in Turkey.

Dennis’s verse is translated into a swift-moving theatrical text with idiomatic dialogue and narration divided amongst cast members. Songs of the era - Tipperary, Kiss Me Goodnight Sergeant-Major and Siegfried Line - are interpolated between verses and accompanied by lively choreography.

The production captures the era in a contemporary style, amplifying the horrors and mateship of war through pathos and roughhouse humour.

The cast is inventive, compelling and enthusiastic, their performances vital and visceral. Their timing is impeccable and they take us on a rollicking ride. The mood shift effortlessly, with broad slapstick and hilarious characterisations as well as emotional and lyrical reflections upon the nature of war.

The design is simple. Found objects clutter the space, an upstage wire fence bears the titles of each poem, a broom becomes a rifle, a jacket implies a uniform.

Clements captures the gutsy, street-wise rascal, Ginger Mick, making him lovable and loyal with a glint of humour in his eye. Other cast members (Morritt, Kerr, Brendan O’Connor) play multiple roles with aplomb. Morritt’s slow and gentle giant, Craig from Queensland, is a delight as is his punch-drunk boxer from Sydney.

O’Connor is versatile and physically adroit playing Mick’s unlikely mate, Keith the Toff, and the weasel-like Smith from the streets of Collingwood. Kerr is dignified and composed as both the narrator and Trent, a silent and educated digger.

Ginger Mick, without sentimentality or jingoism, embodies the genuine meaning of Aussie mateship, courage and the raw quality of the Australian soldier at war.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 12 April 2007

At Approx 2pm August 31 1997: by Nik Willmott, April 12, 2007

At Approx 2pm, August 31, 1997
by Nik Willmott
 La Mama, Wed & Fri 8.30pm, Thurs & Sat 6.30pm, Sun 4.30pm until April 22

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The death of Diana Spencer triggered in 1997 a torrent of grief as well as jokes.

Nik Willmott’s play, At Approx 2pm, August 31, 1997, is one of the latter. Unfortunately, Willmott’s short play lends very little to the lexicon of Diana humour.

The premise is that Marianne (Joanne Davis) and Norman (Phil Roberts), a suburban couple who seem to be a throwback to an ugly 1950’s Australia, hear the news of Diana’s accident in Paris and subsequent death. The news has a profound impact on Norman and is the catalyst for their stale relationship to change.

The play has little dramatic shape and relies on outdated caricatures of a suburban couple for its comedy. The obnoxious Marianne rules the roost, seated in her nightie at the laminex kitchen table, ordering the hen-pecked Norman to fetch and carry her beer, pills, chocolate bars, cigarettes, magazines and newspaper. The relationship is one-dimensional and provides more discomfort than humour.

Davis plays Marianne on one note, with a strident and shrill tone that is almost intolerable for even 45 minutes. The character’s dialogue is limited to abuse of her husband and idiotic pronouncements about Diana, crosswords and beer.

Roberts finds more emotional range in Norman by playing his inner need and his attempts at reconciliation. His persistent pandering to Marianne’s every whim, his desperate desire for love and his passion for Diana are poignant at times. However, Roberts is limited by the sketchy character, rigid relationship and unfunny dialogue.

There is some dynamic change in the relationship when Norman reveals his secret love of Diana and how she has replaced his marriage for the years during which Marianne demeaned and rejected him sexually.

When Norman reveals that he has been “diddling himself” in the shed over pictures of Diana in the New Idea, the whole narrative escalates and the power stakes shift. The twist, however unlikely, provides some dramatic development to a play that has limited comic value.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 4 April 2007

B-File, April 4, 2007

based on the play by Deborah Levy
 Carlton Courthouse,  April 4 to 14, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

This multi-lingual interpretation of Deborah Levy’s play, B-File, is a fascinating blend of political satire, absurdity and movement. 

Levy’s text comes in spurts and is deconstructed in much the same way as the characters themselves are.

In a foreign airport -– we assume Germany only because the immigration police speak German  - passengers from diverse backgrounds, occupations and countries are interrogated and intimidated by two bullying officers who seem intent on terrifying the travellers. They employ scare tactics, intrusive questioning, ridiculous enquiries, rough searches, belittling attitudes and childish attempt to catch the passengers in a lie.

Their seemingly playful games escalate, becoming more and more threatening. We can easily see this evolving into full-scale violence and abuse of the innocent for the entertainment of the police officers.

The company (Jo Stone, Karen Lawrence, Paolo Dos Santos, Paulo Castro, Silvia Pinto Coelho, Madeleine Lawrence), directed by Castro, creates a startling and vibrant piece of political commentary in this collision of the playful and the menacing. Issues arise about the misuse of power, confusing immigration policy, escalating security precautions, collective paranoia and fear of cultural diversity.

There are moments of delightful absurdity. Just as the interrogations become dangerous, the officers fall into a ludicrous fistfight or contorted dance. They scamper around their victims, taunting them and snickering at their discomfort, buoyed by their own pathetic show of power.

One woman who has no passport hands the officers a recipe instead of travel papers. She pretends to be Japanese, hides in the toilet, falls to the floor and then attempts to seduce both officers. Another is a reticent Portuguese dancer who struggles to understand their antics and language. A third is a depressed Australian who is vigorously quizzed on her Greek language because she was once married to a Greek.

Each is intrusively asked about her lovers and her lovemaking. All have their possessions raided, their word doubted and their privacy violated.

All performances are strong but Paolo Dos Santos as the police officer is particularly compelling. The incongruous intersects with the satirical in B-File to create a unique and engaging production that challenges our view of the truth.

By Kate Herbert

The Shoehorn Sonata by John Misto, April 4, 2007

 The Shoehorn Sonata by John Misto

 Tours Nunawading, Shepparton, Warragul, Ballarat, Werribee, Warnambool, Geelong, Wangaratta, Kyneton, Sale until May , 2007

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 4, 2007

John Misto’s play, The Shoehorn Sonata, directed by Jennifer Hagan, takes the long-ignored story of sixty-five Australian Army nurses who were Japanese prisoners-of-war, and replays it through the eyes of two survivors fifty years after they were released from a camp in the jungles of Malaya.

When they met in 1942, Bridie Cartwright (Maggie Kirkpatrick) was a working class, Sydney, Irish Catholic Army nurse with prudish morals and a larrikin humour. Sheila Richards (Belinda Giblin) was a snobbish English fifteen-year old who was living in Singapore with her mother until she was evacuated by ship.

The two young women, after the Japanese attacked their ship and others in February 1942, clung to each other in the South China Sea, surviving on luck and their will to live until the Japanese captured them.

Misto sets the play in 1995 when the two women are old and have not seen each other since leaving the Singapore hospital in 1945 after their rescue. They are in Sydney to participate in a television interview show. But they not only confront the questions of their unseen interviewer (Richard Morecroft) but their shattered friendship faces intense scrutiny when they retire to their shared hotel room.

Their retelling of their horrific experiences at the hands of the ruthless Japanese demonstrates that their memories are vivid and visceral even after fifty years. Their lives were permanently shattered by the abuse and starvation they suffered.

Bridie and Sheila recall the experiences that enabled them to survive especially the camp choir that sustained them until the last weeks of the war until their numbers were depleted and the survivors were too weak to sing.

As they battle to find common ground after so much time, each reveals a secret. Sheila’s is a shock to the pious Bridie who believed for fifty years that Sheila traded Bridie’s precious shoehorn for quinine to save Bridie’s life. The truth reveals a far greater sacrifice by Sheila to save her friend, and a far greater shame to bear.

Kirkpatrick and Giblin are a vibrant and skilful partnership. Kirkpatrick revels in the broad, cheeky, lovable playfulness of Bridie while Giblin gives the toffee-nosed Sheila dignity, warmth and depth.

Misto’s script is conventional and unchallenging in form and structure but the stories of the women give it an engaging and compelling narrative.

By Kate Herbert