Saturday 29 September 2007

Cake by Astrid Pill Sept 29, 2007

 Cake by Astrid Pill
Vital Statistix and Malthouse Theatre
Tower Theatre Malthouse, Sept 29 to Oct 7, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sept 29, 2007

The addiction to cake of the woman in Astrid Pill’s show called Cake, is rendered in poetic language, movement and song. I hadn’t realised there were so many songs about pastries and baking.

We enter the Tower while Pill and musician-performer Zoe Barry chant a lyrical, a cappella version of the children’s playground rhyme, Pat-a-Cake Pat-a-Cake Baker’s Man. The floor is strewn with sifted flour and our footprints leave a telling trail across the space. We negotiate a path around patty cakes that lie scattered on the ground or sit in orderly fashion on cake platters at our feet.

During her story, Pill offers little, cherry-topped cakes to happy audience cake-lovers. She narrates in both the first and third person; “She” becomes “I” and vise versa. The woman is melancholy, perhaps unhappy in love but definitely unhappy in life. She becomes addicted to her visits to the best cake shop and, day after day, orders a collection of pastries: lamington, teacake, torte, streudel. She eats them before she reaches home, in the car or lying in bed – anywhere.

She also becomes addicted to seeing Janek the baker who she believes recognises her love and her pain. Cake fills her gaps, sates her sadness, feeds her lustful fantasies until it seems she cannot discern the difference between dream and reality.

There are some charming and joyful moments Cake and the music and movement create an abstract quality that is often effective. Pill’s poetic language is often enjoyable but its meaning is sometimes opaque. With Barry, she dances adroitly around cakes and writhes on floured floor and table. Songs in various languages are gently entertaining and Barry’s musical accompaniment on xylophone, keyboard and cello provides another emotional layer.

Pill is an engaging performer. She has the ethereal quality and pale looks of a Jane Austen heroine and this lightness of being gives the show an other-worldliness. This mysterious quality is beautifully enhanced by Geoff Cobham’s lighting.

The piece pushes the relationship between eating cake and satisfying sadness perhaps a little too forcefully. When the woman leaves her partner she stops craving both cake and the baker-boy. Simplistic? Perhaps, but simple satisfactions are not to be sneezed at, are they? Especially cakey ones.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 26 September 2007

Intimate Apparel by Michael Dalley, Sept 26, 2007

Intimate Apparel by Michael Dalley
By High Performance Company
dante's Gallery, Gertrude St. Fitzroy
Sept 26 to Oct 1, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sept 26, 2007

Intimate Apparel, by Michael Dalley, is inventive, intelligent and very entertaining cabaret. 

Through original songs and characterisation Dalley and Paul McCarthy viciously satirise the obsessions and vanities of performing artists and the recent absurd trends in arts funding. Dalley’s lyrics are clever, almost Tom Lehrer in style.

Dalley and McCarthy, accompanied on keyboard by Will Poskitt, play self-proclaimed avant-garde performers both called Kevin. If you were ever bored senseless, affronted or enraged by appalling theatre, the lyrics of their title song will tickle you. “Please don’t let it be dreadful,” they sing, momentarily inhabiting the role of the fearful and jaded audience (or critic?) facing yet another contemporary performance debacle.

The Kevins pompously preach about theatre and reminisce about their past attempts to obtain funding. In one song they echo the sentiments of all fringe artists when they agonise, “How do you engage the paying public?”

They conceitedly recall their artistic heyday when they were “all identically unique” in, God We Were Amazing In The 80s. They studied in Poland with a student of a student of the famous Grotowski, the director who coined the term Poor Theatre, a label that sadly applies - in a different context - to much of contemporary theatre.

The Kevins jumped on every bandwagon. In the 90s they discovered Asian Theatre and even tried feminism. The ballad, Erotic Cabaret Artiste, is an hilarious comment upon the new burlesque. “She’s so boring,” they sing.

A barbed attack is saved for ex-footballers who decide to be motivational speakers. In What’s Your Story? two old footy players, “Don’t need to be psychiatrists – we played football.” Nina Reactionary Ballerina gives a poisonous serve to a mean-spirited, racist, ballet dancer from Murrumbeena.

They pounced like cats on political gay performance in Nobody Queer Wants To Watch My Queer Performance Art. Theatre as therapy for the mentally ill or socially deprived receives a whacking in Will You Still Love Me Despite My Lack of Spatial Awareness? Everybody is incorporating clown and mediocre circus skills to transform the disadvantaged and annoying.

In their final revelatory moment the Kevins realise that, to please the public, they can revert to an old standard. It’s A Musical, they sing joyfully. Even a crummy one will bring out the payers.

Intimate Apparel is a little gem with clever songs, slick performances and incisive observations about the ill-health of the performing arts in Oz.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 25 September 2007

Sarah Juli’s The Money Conversation, Sept 25, 2007

Sarah Juli’s The Money Conversation
By Sarah Juli
Melbourne Fringe Festival
Arts House, Meat Market until Sept 25 to 30, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sept 25, 2007

In The Money Conversation, Sarah Juli tosses money around – literally. 

From secret pockets in her clothing she extracts neat little piles of US notes of various denominations. She counts them out onto the floor then rolls about on them, stuffs them into her pockets, down her t-shirt, into her pants, drops them on her head or dances on them.

Juli calls herself a performance artist and a dance-comic. She is a charming, warm, snuggly sort of young woman who looks us in the eye and tells us that this cash is the entire contents of her bank account - US$5,000.

Her relationship with the audience is intimate from the moment she enters. She drapes herself full length on the laps of audience members and says to one, “There is money in my left pant pocket. It is for you. Please take it.” She holds out a handful of notes and offers it to an individual. Occasionally someone says no but mostly they politely thank her and take it.

She taunts some people by gripping the money between her toes and dancing away from them until they extricate the note. She asks us, “What is $20?” or $200 or $1,000. People shyly call out, “A pair of shoes,” or “The bike I want,” and even “The amount I owe my daughter,” and “Two grams of cocaine.”

She dances the story of her relationship with money. She replays, in abstract physical form, the conversation she had with her husband that triggered this performance exploration. What would happen, how would she feel if she gave away all her savings? She replaces her feelings and dialogue about money with gibberish vocal sound effects, explosions of emotion and physical reactions.

Juli, with her director and lighting designer Chris Ajemian, have already tested their reactions to giving away cash. We the audience are on an emotional knife-edge as we wait nervously for Juli to confront us, test our limits and out honesty and force us to examine our own relationship to money. Everything we do, see and need costs us hard-earned cash. Will anyone actually keep hers? Will the artist who received her final $3,100 slip it into the handy plastic bank envelope and slide it unobtrusively into the Deposit Box?

Stay tuned. There is another handover of $5,000 each night by the delectable Sarah Juli.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 20 September 2007

Brave Men Run In Our Family , Sept 20. 2007

 Brave Men Run In Our Family 
by Scott Rankin
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on  Sept 23, 2007

In abbreviated theatrical form, the life of Peter Brocklehurst is the basis of Brave Men Run In Our Family written and directed by Scott Rankin. 

To many people Brocklehurst is better known as the singing cobbler who was discovered singing classical arias in his shoe repair shop.

A biography does not always follow a simple dramatic arc rising to a single peak so Rankin focuses on Brocklehurst’s early family life and his discovery of classical singing. Rankin presents the entire story through the eyes of Brocklehurst’s younger sister (Kerry Armstrong) but Brocklehurst does not speak but intermittently sings songs from both his classical and rock repertoire. Pianist Rosa Scaffidi  accompanies the show.

Armstrong is moving and passionate narrating episodes of the dislocated, dysfunctional childhood that Brocklehurst shared with his sister. The Brocklehursts came to Australia as 10 pound Poms and lived an itinerant life of hardship and homelessness. The parents and six children lived out of their family car, running from town to town as dad took yet another fruit picking or labouring job.

The stories Armstrong tells are dark, depicting a troubled, traumatic and insecure childhood that includes one horrific episode of sexual abuse at the hands of a stranger. Rankin’s rendition of these stories is in poetic language that at times heightens the atmosphere.  At others it obscures the narrative and meaning with rather cryptic lyricism.

Brocklehurst is a constant presence on stage, a reminder of the relationship between Peter the child, and the man that he became. He moves slowly around the almost empty stage, occasionally disappearing behind the sheer curtains or perching on a bench. His voice is present throughout the show as he sings his favourite songs and those that capture moments from his life.

In the second half Brocklehurst seems to relax after a nervous and rather rigid beginning. His most successful songs are the rich and impassioned classical Italian arias in which he ardently employs voice, body and emotion to convey his passion and commitment to the music. His powerful upper register is compelling but he seemed to have some trouble with his lower register early in the show and when singing pianissimo.

He gleefully sings rock classics such as Elvis’s Hound Dog and Roy Orbison’s Crying and really comes to life when he approaches the audience to participate in That’s Amore.

Brave Men Run tells Brocklehurst’s rags to riches story with sensitivity and poignancy.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 19 September 2007

pvi collective - reform, Sept 19, 2007

pvi collective - reform  
By pvi collective
Melbourne Fringe Festival
North Melbourne Town Hall
Sept 19 to 30, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sept 19, 2007

How does one describe pvi collective - reform? It is site-specific guerrilla theatre foisted upon an unsuspecting public who become unwitting actors in this hit and run event. It is like being caught in an episode of The Chaser or following a group of vigilante do-gooders on a moral crusade.

The five members of the Loyal Citizens Underground or LCU (Ofa Fotu, Jackson Castiglione, Sarah Wilkinson, Ben Sutton) look like scouts patrolling city streets, upholding by-laws and handing out good conduct awards to pedestrians. The small audience is encouraged to remain inconspicuous as we follow their one-hour tour of duty on Swanton Street. Amazingly, their victims are unaware of the silent audience apart from those who notice the large headphones.

We are each equipped with a radio and headset. After a video briefing we embark on our travels, wearing our headphones and lead like schoolchildren by Martin, our benevolent dictator and guide who, like the rest of the team, wears a high-visibility lime green top.

Martin engages earnestly with citizens on the tram while we listen to his advice, recorded good behaviour instructions from an Orwellian voice and an annoying brand of soothing electronic muzak (Pretty Boy Crossover).

When we reach Swanston Street we, the great unnoticed, witness pedestrians being accosted by pairs of LCU and forcibly re-educated about acceptable public behaviour such as jaywalking, loitering and unlawful assembly. The enthusiastic and zealous goody-two-shoes reform patrol applauds good behaviour and hands out award cards called Codes of Conduct or COCs.

Most are bemused, some are amused, others are shocked or irate. Many suspect that they have just been fined for breaking a ridiculous or non-existent by-law. Is a group of three an unlawful assembly? What is the legal definition of loitering and what is the fine? Is sitting on the wall outside the Town Hall considered soliciting?

The LCU confronts a beggar, suggesting that, rather than asking for change, “the change should come from you.” The LCU might cross the road in straight lines but they cross the line that separates audience from performer. Although they look comfortable and cheerful, we the viewers cringe and want to cry out, “No! It’s a joke! Don’t believe them! It’s not a real fine!”

But we conform like sheep, obediently holding hands and crossing the road, practising our non-loitering dance and delighting in our anonymity. pvi collective - reform is a novelty and a riot.

By Kate Herbert

Saturday 15 September 2007

Hotel Obsino by Adam Broinowski, Sep 15, 2007

 Hotel Obsino by Adam Broinowski
 La Mama, Carlton,  Sept 15 to 30, 2007

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sept 15, 2007

 Adam Broinowski’s play, Hotel Obsino, depicts a halfway house inhabited by a group of disturbed individuals who are variously substance abusers, mentally ill, felons or all of the above.

The play is based on Broinowski’s experience staying in such a place and the grittiness of some of the dialogue is testament to his intimate observations of its residents. The scenes that are most successful are those that involve small groups of addled persons sharing their paranoid fantasies.

Less effective is the occasional appearance of nightmarish full-face masks. Although they might be intended to represent the delusions and dark thoughts of the residents the masks are not incorporated into the narrative adequately and do not illuminate the psychological landscape.

Noah (Tom Davies), who seems to be the alter ego of Broinowski, arrives to spend a week in the dilapidated boarding house. His first contact is with the very funny and voluble Indian doorkeeper (Polash Larsen) who is the only moderately sane human he will meet for some time.

Gold (Brendan Bacon) the junkie thief teaches neophyte Noah to fight and initiates him into the secrets of heroin. Bacon is convincing as Gold, His accent is pure Preston-Lebanese. And he vibrates with barely contained and dangerous energy.

Felix (Tahir Cambis) is an alcoholic who cleans the house. Fabio (Erick Mitsak) obsesses over demons, angels and sex. Dave (Dylan Lloyd) is a paranoid, bisexual Nazi and Lloyd depicts him as a frighteningly unpredictable and potentially violent criminal. The scenes in which he corners Noah in his room talking of Fascists, murder and prison are
genuinely nerve-wracking.

Doug (Craig Hedger) rants on street corners about Christianity and redemption, Noodles (Le Roy Parsons) wanders silently amongst them and the only woman in the house (Melanie Douglas) makes a fleeting if startling

The performances are uneven as is the production. The play, however, certainly compels us to consider the predicament of the homeless, the mentally ill and the abandoned who live thrown together on the fringes of our society. We make them invisible by choosing to ignore or avoid them on the streets. Their distressing living conditions and even more distressing
minds make one happy to be simply mentally competent.

By Kate Herbert

Sunday 9 September 2007

Shadow Passion by Anthony Crowley, Sept 9, 2007

Shadow Passion
by Anthony Crowley
Chapel off Chapel, Sept 9 to 22, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sept 9, 2007

Shadow Passion, written and directed by Anthony Crowley, blends a range of social issues, naturalistic and non-naturalistic theatrical styles and several narrative threads. The complexity of the script and its production makes it interesting and challenging in parts and opaque in others.

The main narrative concerns Catherine (Danielle Carter), a surgical registrar, and her husband Robert (Andrew Blackman) who is a policy adviser to the Immigration Minister’s right hand woman (Glenda Linscott). Since they terminated Catherine’s pregnancy with a Downes Syndrome baby, Catherine and Robert’s intimate relationship has been based upon mutual infliction of pain as they attempt to conceive another baby. They are now “two halves of the one scar,” says Catherine.

The second story focuses on Ali (Ali Ammouchi), an Iraqi refugee who cleans at Catherine’s hospital and befriends her mother Margaret (Sue Jones) who is a terminally ill patient. Ali’s permanent visa is revoked and he faces deportation.

The naturalistic scenes are generally more successful than the more abstract scenes. Crowley’s writing effectively weaves facts about immigration policy into the dialogue. The genuinely caring relationship between Ali and Margaret allows the development of both personal and political content. Their intimacy, which is both amusing and poignant, is enhanced by engaging and skilful performances of Ammouchi and Jones.

Carter and Blackman also provide rounded and committed performances and balance the competent public persona of their characters with their fraught and dangerous private roles. Their tortured sexual scenes are both repellent and strangely compelling.

Some of the more imagistic, poetic monologues performed upstage in an ethereal light are impenetrable or, at least, florid. The butcher’s monologue and Catherine’s dreamlike tap dancing recollections of her pregnancy feel awkward and misplaced, diverting us from the central narrative.

Crowley’s direction uses the open space to create effectively numerous locations: a hospital ward, bedroom, clinic, dining room or refugee boat. The child puppet, in the style of the Japanese Bunraku (Andrew McDougall, Nathan  Reardon), is beautifully lit (Paul Jackson) and floats in space as his father, Ali, tells the story of his tragic boat journey. However the puppet loses its impact considerably when disconnected from Ali and his refugee narrative.

There is much to recommend this production of Shadow Passion including the cast and the challenging socio-political issues, but the abstract parts of the script need further refinement.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 6 September 2007

Dogs Barking, Richard Zajdlic, Sept 6, 2007

 Dogs Barking
By Richard Zajdlic by Rubber Dog Productions
 Chapel off  Chapel, Thurs to Sat 8pm, Sun 6pm until Sept 6 to 16, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sept 6, 2007

Richard Zajdlic’s play, Dogs Barking, bears some resemblance to his successful British television series, This Life, a show that focussed on the fraught relationships of a group of 20-somethings.

Dogs Barking, directed by Sam Strong, depicts the last throes of a relationship and the nastiness that taints it. After a long absence, Neil (Grant Cartwright) returns to the flat he bought with his former girlfriend Alex (Melanie Coote). Having been dumped by his most recent romantic conquest, he invades Alex’s home and refuses to leave until she sells the flat or pays him his share of their investment.

Cartwright plays Neil effectively as an arrogant bully, a selfish, strutting stud accustomed to getting his own way. He is jealous of Alex’s new relationship and vindictively plans to remove all Alex’s belongings and usurp her home.

There is an edge of danger in their relationship. At any moment it seems that Neil’s seething rage could escalate into violence towards the quietly obliging Alex, her supercilious sister Vicky (Edwina Wren) or his loyal mate Splodge (Stefan Taylor), or Ray as he prefers to be called.

Zajdlic’s script is television naturalism not unsuccessfully brought to the stage. His dialogue is often gritty and always credible and his characters are vivid and believable. The final scene, however, a flashback to happier times between Neil and Alex, is an anti-climax after the explosive scenes that precede it.

Strong maintains the intensely claustrophobic environment of the flat with Alex trapped inside it with Neil, a caged and unpredictable animal. The performances are all commendable with Cartwright’s barely restrained anger affecting each relationship. Coote plays Alex with a quiet composure but could allow more of her inner turmoil to emerge in early scenes when she is dealing with the volatile Neil.

Wren brings an elegant and seductive quality to Vicky, Alex’s wealthy, idle and dissatisfied sister. Taylor captures the social awkwardness, simplicity and underlying kindness of Ray. His confusion about the entire messy situation between Neil and Alex is obvious.

What rings true in Zajdlic’s script is the foolishness of people’s reactions to past lovers, the absolutely uncontrollable nature of relationships and the often ugly messiness of their endings. It is excruciating to witness all four of these characters make stupid mistakes in their interactions with friends or partners.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 4 September 2007

A Tribute to Danny Kaye by Russell Fletcher, Sept 4, 2007

A Tribute to Danny Kaye
by Russell Fletcher
Sept 5 in Frankston then touring Victoria until November 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on  Sept 4, 2007

If you are a Danny Kaye fan, Russell Fletcher’s tribute show will tickle you. When Fletcher’s performance escalates to capture the manic energy of Kaye’s live shows and to reproduce his best-loved comic routines, Kaye’s startling talent lives.

Fletcher, accompanied by his very funny pianist Greg Riddell, inhabits Danny Kaye and bears an uncanny resemblance to the redheaded joker. He does not attempt a detailed impersonation but rather embodies Kaye’s style and vitality while recreating routines and songs from his movies (Hans Christian Anderson, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Court Jester) and from his live shows.

It is the frenetic wordplay, galloping songs, madcap storytelling and witty interaction with the audience that conjure Kaye’s spirit. Fletcher revels in the sheer silliness of Kaye’s inventive comedy. He relates the entire story of The Little Fiddle, skilfully playing the sweet Fiddle and her evil stepfather the French Horn who is really an evil Glockenspiel in disguise. Kaye’s vocal and musical sound effects for each character never cease to amuse and amaze.

Fletcher reminisces about his childhood love of Danny Kaye and recreates his own first record of Tubby the Tuba. To create the characters, he pulls costumes and props out of an actor’s trunk that is filled with his own “emotional baggage”.

But it is when Fletcher engages directly with the audience that his own energy fuses entirely and successfully with Kaye’s memory. As the belligerent German conductor he leads Kaye’s orchestral rendition of the Flight of the Bumblebee with audience members obediently playing mime violins, flutes and triangles.

He portrays a supercilious Russian actor singing his praises of Stanislavski and appears in various manifestations of the fantasist, Walter Mitty. The tongue twisters that epitomise Kaye’s comedy and the deliciously complicated songs, written by Kaye’s wife Sylvia Fine, are plentiful. We hear the hilarious Duke, the Duchess and the Doge routine, the fifty Russian composers list as well as the notoriously difficult “The vessel with the pestle is the brew that is true.”

The show, directed by Peter Houghton, begins slowly but, by the final Court Jester song, Fletcher convinces us that we need nutty comic geniuses like Danny Kaye.

By Kate Herbert

Sunday 2 September 2007

La Soiree, Melba Spiegeltent, Sept 2, 2007

 La Soiree 
 Melba Spiegeltent, Northcote Town Hall Civic Square
Sept 2 to November 18, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sept 2, 2007

Burlesque and cabaret is revived in La Soiree performed in the Melba Spiegeltent. 

The Melba, built in Belgium in 1910, is the second of these striking wooden, canvas and mirror tents to appear in Melbourne and is here to stay.

The evening boasts a three-course meal, circus acts, clowns, music, magic, drag and exotic dance. The style is drawn from German cabaret, vaudeville and new circus. Doug Tremlett’s casting and direction of La Soiree echoes the challenging and diverse shows at the Last Laugh in Collingwood before the Melbourne comedy scene descended into predictable stand-ups in pubs.

This is not just a washing line of acts strung together but a total show concept that delights the eye with its detail at every moment. The performers play waiters and kitchen staff and, between acts, characters visit audience tables, performing magic tricks, serenading, seducing or just serving food. Their task is to please their new owner, Madame (Wes Snelling) who is bored by the entertainment but delighted with the vodka martinis.

Veteran magician and cabaret performer, Sam Angelico, plays the Maitre D’ and host of the show. His magic, even up close at the table, is dazzling and his persona compelling. Jesse Griffin as the Spanish Waiter John Juan engages the audience with his wry commentary and an hilarious song about his father who burned to death at sea.

Christof Gregory plays Chef Otto, the pugnacious, demanding and intermittently jovial German chef. His plate balancing antics are charming and he skilfully makes his audience participant look incredibly talented. Fifi (Hazel Bock) accompanies her foot juggling of a table with cute French gibberish while Einstein (DJ Gardner), is a slapstick kitchen boy who can balance on his hands on tiny blocks but has trouble standing upright. His ground to air straps routine is thrilling.

Lola (Sue Ellen Shook) is a cheeky vamp wearing feathers, sequins and not much more. She has a seductive line in exotic dance while popping a few strategically placed balloons. Christy Shelper brings elegance and atmosphere to her breathtaking aerial rope act.

Madame, the surly new owner, gets her five minutes of fame when she sings Bohemian Rhapsody and a comical jazz version of Waltzing Matilda. Vlad (Justin Holland) on piano and Gernet (Jude Emmett) on accordion provide musical accompaniment for the entire evening, playing cabaret and circus tunes from the early 20th century.

La Soiree is top-line entertainment. Breathe in and enjoy the ride.

By Kate Herbert