Wednesday 31 October 2007

The Chosen Vessel, Oct 31, 2007

The Chosen Vessel 
adapted from Barbara Baynton by Petty Traffickers
 Theatreworks, Oct 31 to Nov 18, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 31, 2007

Australian writer, Barbara Baynton, published her short stories around the turn of the 20th century. Director of Petty Traffickers, Stewart Morritt, adapts three of her bush stories for this production: A Dreamer, Squeaker’s Mate and The Chosen Vessel.

There is some unevenness in the interpretations of the various tales. The more successfully rendered stories – A Dreamer and The Chosen Vessel – combine narration with enactment of the stories­­ while Squeaker’s Mate extracts dialogue and action from Baynton’s narrative. The cast of three gives passionate and committed performances of a range of iconic bush characters.

The Chosen Vessel is a chilling tale of the rape and murder of a young woman (Chloe Armstrong) left alone with her baby in her isolated home. Morritt evokes a potent sense of menace when a dangerous traveller (Joe Clements) approaches her house.

The resonant voice of the narrator (Margot Knight) from behind the audience accentuates the darkness of the narrative. Deep shadows and unsettling, suspenseful pauses heighten its horror. The hostile bush environment is almost as threatening as the violent home invader and the vulnerability of the woman is distressing and she fights to protect her baby if not herself.

The forbidding landscape is also featured in A Dreamer when a young pregnant woman (Armstrong) contends with the elements as she battles her way through the inhospitable bush to visit her mother. Baynton’s themes of motherhood and maternal instinct recur here as the young woman’s physical and metaphorical journey takes her through a storm towards her mother who lies on her deathbed.

Baynton’s recurrent theme of male abuse of women occurs again in Squeaker’s Mate. Squeaker (Clements) is a lazy, dim-witted farmer who relies on his sturdy, masculine wife (Knight), known as his “mate”, to manage all the heavy farm work. When a felled tree cripples her, his shameful neglect of her leads to outright abuse and abandonment. The loyal dog, another of Baynton’s recurrent themes, defends her and pays her faithless husband back in spades. Knight’s rendition of the broken woman as she drags her lifeless limbs around her hut is alarming and disturbing.

These stories have dramatic potential and some of that is realised in these staged versions. The cavernous space distorts the voices at times and the production still needs some editing and tightening.

By Kate Herbert

A Dollhouse, VCA, Oct 31, 2007

A Dollhouse
by Henrik Ibsen, by VCA Drama Graduates 2007
VCA Drama School, Oct 31 to Nov 6, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The loudest door slam in the history of theatre was not to be heard at the conclusion of this contemporary interpretation of Henrik Ibsen’s A Dollhouse (commonly translated as A Doll’s House) directed by Daniel Schlusser for a talented group of VCA graduates.

If you know the play, you understand that tinkering with the ending is theatrical sacrilege. It interferes with the controversial social politics that caused such vehement reactions from Ibsen’s conservative late 19th century Norway.

Schlusser’s adaptation is playful and energetic and locates Nora (Katherine Harris) and her husband Torvald (Nick Jamieson) in a modern context. It deconstructs the play, adding contemporary references and music, an industrial metallic design (Jeminah Reidy) and plenty of 21st century techno toys. 

Ibsen’s dialogue is interrupted with youthful banter and game playing while the stage is littered with toys, stressing the childish behaviour of these characters who struggle with their dysfunctional adult relationships.

A pert Harris plays Nora as a coquettish tease, giving the child-woman a modern naivete that parallels that of 19th century Nora. Jamieson’s Torvald is a control freak with a dangerous edge despite his playfulness, a successful banker who rules his wife with an iron fist but expects her to be pretty, stupid and sexy. It is frightening that a tyrant such as Torvald and a ditz like Nora do not look out of place in the modern era.

Michael Wahr plays the manipulative Krogstad as a relapsing drug addict who tumbles on stage through cupboard doors. His emotional reunion with Edwina Wren as Kristine was moving. Ben Pfeiffer gives a comical but sympathetic portrayal of Dr. Rank who confronts his mortality.

Nora’s disintegrating psychological landscape and loss of faith in the security of the doll’s house in which she has been living are represented clearly in the chaotic noise, confused action and clutter of children’s toys at the end. 

This is feisty reinterpretation of Ibsen. However, when Nora stays with Torvald because he compels her to see her children, the final scene becomes merely a bad marital argument rather than Nora’s shattering realisation of a life wasted and misunderstood, a woman escaping from a socially sanctioned oppression and walking into the unknown with her very survival at risk.

No matter that Ibsen considered changing his ending to appease his critics. The play is nothing without the door slam. Run Nora. Run.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 25 October 2007

(The Pilot Version of…) Something To Die For, Oct 25, 2007

(The Pilot Version of…) Something To Die For
by Ross Mueller
Store Room, Oct 25 to Nov 4, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 25, 2007

(The Pilot Version of…) Something To Die For is a monologue still in development according to the programme.  

Playwright Ross Mueller creates a single role of the Author (David Tredinnick), AKA Mueller himself, who speaks about his experiences in a playwrights’ programme in London amongst other more disturbing things at home.

Tredinnick’s impassioned performance, directed by Aidan Fennessy,  makes this underdeveloped and peculiar script more interesting. He is both funny and poignant as he plays the distracted and awkward Author. He depicts the unravelling of the man as he contends with a blooming breakdown: he is sleepless, jetlagged, drinks too much, eats too little and is experiencing a crisis of confidence in his play writing.

The Author stands at a lectern attempting to describe to us his mental state, his love of his sone Sam and his struggles with the creative process while attending a six-week playwrights’ Workshop at the Royal Court Theatre. At the centre of his addled investigation of this visit to London is his meeting with David Hare, the renowned and admired English playwright.

Mueller repeatedly recounts versions of his encounter with Hare. The story begins again and again as the Author struggles to frame his recollections of the moment and to create a sense of the monumental ordinariness of meeting a hero in the flesh. The Author’s own torment has some parallel in Hare’s play, Via Dolorosa, the monodrama Hare was performing at that time and that investigates his personal journey in the Middle East.

The Author, like Hare, confronts his own Via Dolorosa, the tortuous path travelled by Christ to his crucifixion. “What would you die for?” asks Hare of his playwriting acolytes. The Author/Mueller has a burgeoning awareness that he would die his son Sam.

The monodrama falls into two distinct parts. The first comprises repeated attempts to relate the Author’s shattering experiences at the Workshop. The second, the passionate core of his dilemma, narrates the Author’s nightmare about a plane crash in which he is unable to rescue his little son from drowning.

The two parts of the drama could be integrated and the through line about one’s burning attachment to one’s child could serve the narrative more effectively. As yet, Something to Die For is in an embryonic form and awaits its evolution into a play.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 23 October 2007

European House– (Hamlet’s prologue without words), Melbirne Festival

European House– (Hamlet’s prologue without words) 
by Teatre Lliure
Melbourne Festival of Arts
Playhouse, Arts Centre, Oct 23 to 27, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Walking to European House I peered into a well-lit apartment. Was the man leaning over the table melancholy or merely pensive?

Watching this production we are voyeurs into the home of a modern Hamlet (Joan Carreras) after his father’s (Victor Pi) death and before the events of Shakespeare’s play.

We witness private and shared moments in various rooms. The familiarity of people’s actions and the invasiveness of this experience resonate after the performance is finished. Although, unlike James Stewart in Rear Window, we do not witness a murder, we know that Claudius (Alex Rigola) poisoned his brother and that Hamlet’s torment is just beginning.

The set design is a modern, three-storey home with its front wall removed to allow peering eyes to view the intimate details of these lives. The action is often simple, always recognisable and on a human scale. Clever lighting (Maria Domenech) shifts our eye but our attention is often split between rooms.

Two servants (Chantal Aimée, Angela Jové) prepare in the kitchen before Hamlet and Gertrude (Alicia Peréz), return home from the funeral, silent and grieving. The conniving Claudius commands the space in the living room, seduces his brother’s grieving widow in her bedroom then falsifies documents – perhaps the will – in collusion with Polonius (Joan Raja) in the study.

We see Hamlet naked in the shower, in his bedroom frenetically doing push-ups, being comforted by his loyal friend Horatio (Ferran Carvajal), stroking the face of Ophelia (Alba Pujol), screaming into a pillow with Guildenstern (Nathalie Labiano) or dancing and laughing with all his young pals.

Claudius and Gertrude tear each other’s clothes off and engage in some graphic and raunchy sexual activity on her marital bed. King Hamlet’s Ghost roves unseen through every room until he leaves a cryptic post-it note with a message for Hamlet.

Laertes (Julio Manrique) disapproves of his sister’s petting with Hamlet and Rosencrantz (Norbert Martìnez) makes a giggling idiot of himself.

European House is a stylish and slick production directed with attention to detail by Rigola who also plays Claudius. The cool and sleek design (Sebastià Brosa, Bibiana Puigdefràbregas OK) is a cool environment housing both passionate and restrained emotions in all characters. The house seems to be near breaking point and there are portents of impending doom when the caged bird dies and Hamlet is given his father’s message.

European House is a compelling and inventive show that tells an intensely human story with no words but with impeccable acting.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 18 October 2007

The Perfume Garden, Oct 18, 2007

The Perfume Garden by Rajendra Moodley
Athenaeum Theatre, Oct 18 to Nov 3, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

We all know that Bollywood movies are fun. They take to a new and ridiculous high the Hollywood musical convention of bursting into song and dance at odd intervals. 

The Perfume Garden by Rajendra Moodley features occasional moments of video Bollywood-style scattered amongst domestic scenes about an Indian family.

These high camp video Indian dance segments, accompanied by the on stage actors who indulge in less elaborate dance antics, are very funny and create a vivid sense of Indian style and location that is lacking in the rather dull stage setting.

Anand (Moodley) is a depressed young Indian-Australian, living with his parents (Anastasia Malinoff, Greg Ulfan) who run a failing spice shop. Anand’s ambition is to write romantic fiction but he has writer’s block. Meanwhile, he is avoiding marrying Devi (Shireen Morris), a traditional India girl who wants permanent Australian residency.

Moodley’s almost sit-com style of writing in the family scenes is unsuccessful much of the time. The dialogue becomes repetitive and the jokes tired. The cluttered domestic stage setting does not assist the Bollywood routines and often interrupts the action.

This is not to say that there are not a few good laughs in the show. There are some funny observations about traditional Indian families and their obsession with making a good marriage, having an enormously expensive wedding, the absurdity of some of the rituals and expectations and the comic value to be had from a 30 year old living at home with his parents.

But the comic highlight is the character of Aya - played by Evelyn Krape - the old woman crippled by a stroke who is resurrected temporarily by Anand’s essential oils and a mysterious Hindu spell. Krape is outrageous and hilarious and she capers about, making suggestive comments and lewd gestures, then wearing a sari and cavorting in her Bollywood dance routines. She is a riot and definitely steals the show despite the narrative being based around Anand.

Moodley obviously draws on his own experience in this role but he still seems a little awkward on stage. There are strong performances from Ulfan as Anand’s anxious dad and Malinoff as the cheerful and obliging mother and from Morris who is delightful as the petulant Indian princess, Devi. A video cameo from Carolyn Bock is a cute satire about an Indian marriage reality show called Big Aunty.

This show is light entertainment but could benefit from more live Bollywood routines and a savage edit of the dialogue and story.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 16 October 2007

Sizwe Banzi is Dead, Oct 16, 2007 *****

Sizwe Banzi is Dead  *****
Written by Athol Fugard
Directed by Peter Brook
Cast: John Kani & Winston Ntshona
Melbourne Festival of Arts
Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, Oct 16 to Oct 27, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 16, 2007

Sizwe Banzi is Dead is the epitome of actors’ theatre.

Distinguished director, Peter Brook places two inspiring and engaging performers in a virtually empty space to tell a simple story of a man overcoming adversity during Apartheid in South Africa. The compelling story is presented on a human scale with humour and pathos.

The play opens with a long monologue by the cheeky and adorable Habib Dembele as Styles, an African worker who describes and enacts in hilarious detail his workplace at the Ford car plant. Styles escapes from factory drudgery to a photographic studio where he encounters Robert Zwemlizima (Pitcho Womba Konga) who wants a photo to send home to his wife.

What slowly unfolds is a morality tale of Robert, who was born Sizwe Banzi, stumbling drunkenly upon a dead body on the road and facing the dilemma of appropriating the man’s name and identity papers that will permit him to work. Robert-Sizwe has no work papers so he confronts a choice that challenges his moral view, his sense of self and his desire for security and employment to provide for his family.

The intimacy and authenticity of the two performers is enchanting. With his vitality, playfulness and dexterity, the pint-sized Dembele, a writer and political activist from Mali, conjures a parade of characters with only a tilt of the head, twist of the mouth and shift in the body. He miraculously creates three generations of a family who visit Styles for a group portrait. His physicality is fluid as he dances lightly around the stage from character to character.

The magnetic Konga, a rapper from the Congo, brings a quiet and simple dignity to Robert-Sizwe, playing him with warmth as a gentle giant and a moral man facing a great dilemma.

This thought-provoking play was developed by Afrikaner playwright, Athol Fugard with black actors, John Kani & Winston, Ntshona and first performed in 1972. By telling real stories based on the experiences of South Africans during Apartheid, the grotesque injustices visited upon people in their daily lives are brought into high relief in this and Fugard’s other Statement Plays.

Sizwe Banzi is now performed in theatres but, in the 70s, it toured South African townships and the potency and relevance of its story and authenticity of its actors created profoundly emotional reactions in its audiences. 

Apartheid might be past, but prejudice and racial abuse lives among us still. As Robert-Sizwe says, “Our skin is trouble.”

By Kate Herbert

Monday 15 October 2007

medEia by Dood Paard, Oct 15, 2007

 medEia  by Dood Paard
Melbourne Festival of Arts 
Beckett Theatre, Malthouse, Oct 15 to Oct 20, 2007

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 15, 2007

Euripides’ Ancient Greek tragedy, Medea, has a contemporary face-lift in this minimalist production by Dood Paard, a theatre company from Amsterdam.

The play is stripped back to its essential elements and is narrated by three actors who, for most of the time, represent the Greek Chorus comprising the Women of Corinth. The Chorus comments upon the unfolding action, fully aware that they are totally incapacitated in their role as observers and powerless to alter the path of doom trod Medea and her unfaithful husband Jason.

The play is recreated and performed by Oscar van Woensel, Kuno Bakker and Manja Topper. Their text is delivered directly to the audience in a laconic and understated style. The dialogue is peppered with allusions to modern love song lyrics and often has a wry humour.

The restrained style is interrupted intermittently when an actor transforms into Medea or Jason expressing his or her rage, passionate love, revenge or jealousy. The casualness of the Chorus is starkly in contrast to the sporadic impassioned rants of the protagonists.

Four cool, creamy paper screens, patched with masking tape, create a stark design to reflect the emotional detachment of the Chorus. Each screen is raised from the floor at intervals in the dramatic narrative and then torn down before the next is elevated. 

At intervals, images are projected onto a screen. Snapshots of foreign lands echo Medea’s alienation or pictures of ships and trains suggest her extensive travels. Children, families and villages remind us of her shattered relationships and the disturbing rapidity of the slideshow evokes an unsettling sense of her psychic breakdown.

The dislocated, non-linear structure of the story compels us to confront Medea’s final tragedy throughout the performance. The Chorus damns her as a murderer and a traitor to her own land, a stranger in their country and a potent witch with frightening and violent powers. 

Yet we are aware that Medea is driven by love, blind love for her husband Jason who abandoned her for a younger woman but is still hailed as a hero. We have some sympathy for her predicament if not for her vengeful actions.

medEia is a fascinating and accessible production that expresses the universality of the Ancient Greeks’ plays.

By Kate Herbert

Sunday 14 October 2007

c-90 by Daniel Kitson, Oct 14, 2007

 c-90 by Daniel Kitson
Melbourne Festival of Arts
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre, Oct 14 to 27, 2007

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 14, 2007

Daniel Kitson is acclaimed as a stand-up comic both her and in the UK but, although in c-90 Kitson stands up while being funny, c-90 is far from stand-up comedy.

It is a poignant storytelling performance delivered at Kitson’s usual frenetic speed but without the scatological language of his comedy gigs. From the moment he enters Kitson transports us to a peculiarly English, woody office inhabited by disenchanted cataloguer, Henry Leonard Bodey.

Although Kitson never becomes the characters he describes in the third person, we see, hear and even smell them as he conjures them and their painfully dull worlds with elaborately constructed language, cunning observations and vivid imagery. With his scruffy beard, thick spectacles and rough suit he looks like one of his characters.

The compulsiveness of Henry is reflected in Kitson’s style of delivery and obsessive attention to detail in his depiction of characters, relationships and locations within the village they all inhabit. He yammers non-stop, indulging in the wordiness of his narrative.

The story takes place on Henry’s retirement day. For decades he received and catalogued 70,000 sad and discarded compilation cassette tapes then filed them, by some unfathomable method, on enormous, wooden library shelves in this forgotten repository. On this, his final day of work Henry, who has not received a new tape for months or years, finds two mysterious, gift-wrapped parcels containing a compilation tape and a cassette player. After years of disappointment, his remaining hours are joyfully spent hunting amongst his tapes for clues to the identity of the unknown benefactor.

We also meet other members of the village. Millicent is also retiring the same day from her career as a lollipop woman. A compulsive-obsessive to rival Henry, Milly insists on knowing everybody’s middle name and using it. She is eccentric and engages in elaborate linguistic play – but only in her mind.

Michael is the only past student who remembers Milly, Thomas is the rude librarian in the Music section of the local library where Milly collects her records, Susan Jane Conway is a teacher on maternity leave and Jessica is the vet who inadvertently injures over animals.

The mad complexity of each character’s inner world is unveiled for us in Kitson’s evocative rivers of narrative. There is an underlying melancholia in the lost dreams, forgotten hopes and missed opportunities of these people and a poignancy in their joy in simple human pleasures.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 11 October 2007

Half Life, by John Mighton, Oct 11, 2007

 Half Life 
by John Mighton by Necessary Angel Theatre Company
Melbourne Festival of Arts
Playhouse Arts Centre, Thurs-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm & 6pm, Mon 11am until Mon Oct 15
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Burgeoning love should be cherished at any age. In his award-winning play, Half Life, Canadian playwright John Mighton explores the complexity and simplicity of a late-blooming romance between Clara (Carolyn Hetherington) and Patrick (Eric Peterson), two nursing home residents.

Mighton’s writing is restrained, often poignant and sometimes funny. His characters’ dialogue often ventures into the philosophical and analytical as they negotiate the dimming landscape of ageing from differing perspectives.

Clara, played with demure elegance and sweetness by Hetherington, is an easy, lovable patient who is visited daily by her attentive son Donald (Richard Clarkson), a neuro-psychologist. When Donald meets Anna (Laura de Carteret), the daughter of new resident, Patrick, we predict a growing romantic attachment between them.

What transpires is the surprising attraction between the bellicose alcoholic Patrick, and forgetful, timid Clara. Patrick will walk over glass or break unbeatable locks to escape for a bottle of booze but, with Clara, he plays cards like a lamb, repeating his stories and amusing her with anecdotes. They believe they met during the war but were separated by Patrick’s secret, code-breaking Army work.

When Anna reveals to Donald that her father and Clara want to marry, Donald invokes his Power of Attorney to stop the marriage and protect his recently widowed mother. What follows is poignant if not tragic. Who are we to interfere in a love match at any age?

Peterson balances brusque humour and belligerence in Patrick while Clarkson brings a wry humour to Donald, playing him with a sturdy determination, loyalty and practicality. Although Mighton does not fully develop Laura, de Carteret gives her an attractive warmth, honesty and optimism.

Maggie Huculak as Tammy the carer is gratingly cheerful and Barbara Gordon is hilariously volatile and aggressive as Agnes who rages against life.  Although Mighton writes Reverend Hill as a broad, cartoon-like character, Robert Persichini creates layers of pathos beneath the humour.

Director Daniel Brooks establishes a sense of other-worldly timelessness in the nursing home by using slow-motion scene changes, muted lighting (Andrea Lundy), eerie soundscape (Richard Feren) and a contained acting style.

Mighton’s play incorporates tenderness and discreet, controlled emotion. It challenges views of ageing and love as well as triggering a sense of melancholia as we watch two people pacing towards death.

By Kate Herbert

Saturday 6 October 2007

Priscilla Queen of the Desert – The Musical, Oct 6, 2007

Priscilla Queen of the Desert – The Musical 
By Stephan Elliott & Allan Scott
Regent Theatre, Oct 6, 2007 to unspecified end date in 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 6, 2007

Start squealing, swilling vodka martinis and donning your stilettos, wigs and false lashes – Priscilla has arrived with more sequins, lurex and high-campery than Liberace. 

“A busload of drag queens lost in the desert. Yes, it does sound like a movie.” And, when it comes to colour and movement, the movie doesn’t hold a fairy-lit candle to the stage show.

Three drag queens (Tony Sheldon, Jeremy Stanford, Daniel Scott) drive a battered bus from Sydney to the Alice Springs Casino to perform a drag show. Stephan Elliott, with Allan Scott, adapts his original movie to include live disco songs, mischievous showgirl/boy choreography  (Ross Coleman) and the wildest costumes (Lizzy Gardiner, Tim Chappel) since Lion King. We see feathers and fans to rival Siegfeld’s Follies, dancing paintbrushes, patty cakes and Australian flora and fauna. Every element is perfectly calibrated, exotically designed and imaginatively directed by Simon Phillips.

But the night belongs to the travelling drag queens played by Tony Sheldon (Bernadette), Jeremy Stanford (Tick/Mitzi) and Daniel Scott (Adam/Felicia). Sheldon’s portrayal of Bernadette, an ageing transsexual from the 1960s Les Girls, balances her heartfelt emotion and her need for subdued, middle-class elegance with her veteran’s skill gained from years of drag shows.

Tick instigates the girls’ journey to Alice Springs, where his ex-wife (Marney McQueen) manages the Casino entertainment, in order to to make first contact with his small son. Stanford is deliciously bold and sassy as Mitzi, Tick’s drag persona, but plays the off-stage Tick with grace and poignancy as he pines for his unknown son. His rendition of I Say A Little Prayer and Always on My Mind are moving.

Daniel Scott fully inhabits the audacious young Adam – stage name Felicia. His flying entrance is exciting and his leather-boy routine to the disco hit, Venus, is outrageously sexy. We fear for the insolent Adam when he is bashed by toughs in Coober Pedy.

Michael Caton is warm and lovable as Bob and the trio is supported by the exceptional voices of the Divas, three female angels who sing suspended above the stage. The enormous volume and richness of the production could not exist without the talented ensemble and versatile band (arrangements – Stephen ‘Spud’ Murphy), evocative production design (Brian Thompson) and lighting (Nick Schlieper).

The chorus numbers are vivid, daring and over-the-top and the hits just keep coming: Don’t Leave Me This Way, Go West, I Love The Nightlife, I Will Survive, Pop Muzik and Shake Your Groove Thing. There are delectable cameos by Colette Mann, Lena Cruz and Trevor Ashley as Miss Understanding singing What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Priscilla is littered with camp innuendo, lip-syncing, disco and impertinence and, man, it’s a fab night out.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 3 October 2007

42nd Street, Production Company, OCt 3, 2007

42nd Street
Music by Harry Warren, Lyrics by Al Dubin, Book by Michael Stewart & Mark Bramble
Produced by The Production Company 
State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre
Oct 3 to 7, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

42nd Street is one of the great musicals and this production, directed by Terence O’Connell, does it justice with a valiant cast, peppy choreography and the exceptional talents of Orchestra Victoria lead by Peter Casey.

It began as a 1933 Hollywood musical and was resurrected for stage by David Merrick in 1980 with additional songs. This backstage musical is riddled with hit tunes including 42nd Street, Lullaby of Broadway, I Only Have Eyes For You and We’re In The Money. You’ll be singing snatches of familiar songs for days.

It is a kid-from-the-sticks-makes-good story. Lucy Durack is Peggy Sawyer, a bright-eyed, tap-dancing kid from Allentown who lands a role in the chorus of Pretty Lady, a new musical by respected director, Julian Marsh (Adam Murphy). When leading lady Dorothy Brock (Nicki Wendt) breaks her leg, Peggy rockets to stardom. “You’re goin’ out there a youngster but you’ve gotta come back a star,” says Marsh.

Durack is a consummate music theatre starlet. Her voice is versatile, her tap-dancing fast and furious and she inhabits Peggy fully, playing her with cheerful confidence. In Go Into Your Dance, Peggy dances in the street with chorus girls and the bold and brassy Melissa Langton as Maggie. Their version of We’re In The Money is a cute, funny routine with echoes of the Chipmunks.

Murphy plays March with a more dour countenance and less sexiness than is usual but he is a commanding presence with a rich baritone when he sings Lullaby of Broadway and his solo of 42nd Street.

Thern Reynolds is a vibrant and lovable Billy, Peggy’s boyish co-star, with exceptional skills in both song and dance. Christopher Horsey is particularly appealing as the tap dance director Andy Lee.

Nicki Wendt plays Dorothy as a petulant, acerbic drama queen. She sells songs such as Getting To Be A Habit With Me with zest and has impeccable comic delivery. Her lack of vocal expertise is a concern only in the subtle and romantic ballad, I Only Have Eye For You.

The chorus is captivating and make the most of Alana Scanlan’s effervescent choreography. Many enchanting moments involve the entire cast, including the opening and closing ensemble scenes of 42nd Street and Thern Reynolds leading the chorus in Dames, a parade of dancing, singing and costumes.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 2 October 2007

The Rap Canterbury Tales by Baba Brinkman, Oct 2, 2007

The Rap Canterbury Tales
by Baba Brinkman
Melbourne Fringe Festival
North Melbourne Town Hall
Oct 2 to 13, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 2, 2007

Baba Brinkman has a scary pedigree: a rap artist with a degree in mediaeval literature. 

So why not perform Chaucer’s 14th century Canterbury Tales as rap poems? Chaucer’s Tales followed thirty travellers who killed time on their pilgrimage to Canterbury by telling tales. Brinkman’s 21st century version exchanges the pilgrims for a busload of rap artists en route to a gig.

Brinkman’s command of language, his subtle transformations of character and his capacity to transform Chaucer into modern form is exceptional. Rhythm and rhyme are never outmoded.  He plays a star-struck stowaway rap fan and three pilgrims - The Pardoner, The Miller and the Wife of Bath – who are all impassioned, modern yarn-spinners.

Clearly not much has changed in human nature or poetic form in 600 years. Each character is a direct reflection of the 14th century persona with the same flaws, message and story to relate.

Playing The Pardoner, Brinkman is a conceited hypocrite who preaches anti-materialist, anti-greed messages in his rap but lives a privileged, avaricious life. The working class politics of his song serve merely to increase his CD sales.

As the inebriated Miller, Brinkman staggers drunkenly as he warns us about his obscenity, suggesting that the more sensitive leave now. Like any contemporary celebrity, he has a huge sponsorship deal with Miller Beer so he is permanently pickled. His racy story about adultery elicits the same hilarity now as it would have in 1400 when he tells of the lovelorn Absalom unwittingly kissing the bottom of his inamorata as she pokes it out her casement.

The diluted Girl Power feminism of the rap scene is evident in Brinkman’s tough yet coquettish Wife of Bath. The only female artist on the bus, having outlived five husbands, is the self-declared authority on marriage. She tells her Arthurian tale about a young man who avoids beheading for a crime of rape but finds himself betrothed to an ugly crone. He discovers that what women want most in the world is sovereignty over their husbands’ love. Love and fidelity. Same old, same old.

By Kate Herbert

Cinderella Sux by Duck’s Guts, Oct 2, 2007

Cinderella Sux by Duck’s Guts
North Melbourne Town Hall,  Oct 2 to 13, 2007

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 2, 2007

There is no way around it: Cinderella Sux is the weirdest Fringe show I have seen this year  – and strangely compelling. An entire family is on stage for this very short series of sketches about family life, love and the non-fairytale life they live in the suburbs.

While Mum attempts to relate her romantic tale of the princess and the knight who rescues her from her tawdry existence, the kids interrupt from the audience with cynical comments as if they were in the lounge room. Mum wears a tacky tiara on her short, bleached hair and a lacy retro petticoat as her royal gown. Her face is white with bright red cheeks and Liza Minelli fake lashes. She strums a ukulele and strikes ridiculously arch poses.

Meanwhile, the teenage girl pouts fetchingly, decked in a madly mediaeval costume constructed from colourful washing. In the audience, the younger girl prompts mum when her lines falter in real or artificial memory lapses.

Mum’s fantasy will not achieve its romantic goal unhindered. The boys call out smart comments, toss around the footy and generally get up Mum’s nose. It is a riot – like watching a family through a window at dinnertime.

Mum’s view of parenting is genuinely funny. Her version of control uses is bribery, trickery and restraint. She bribes the youngest boy with a trail of lollies, tricks him into a cupboard and ties him up with rope. These opening scenes are the strongest and funniest.

Dad appears from the front row with his clipboard in hand.  “I’m Dad,” he says. “My name is Dad.” He provides us with ten reasons to stay in a long-term relationship including, “the devil you know” and “keeping up appearances”. Dad’s style is laconic and natural, unlike Mum’s more theatrical and decorative persona.

 He engages us in his musings on love, life and how he met his “mate”. He moves us with his memories of their meeting, early marriage, the five children and 20-year partnership and expresses his love for his mate with great honesty and directness.

What fun they had making a show with the entire family.

By Kate Herbert

Around the World on 80 Quid, Andrais de Staic, Oct 2, 2007

Around the World on 80 Quid 
by Aindrais de Staic 
 Melbourne Fringe Festival
North Melbourne Town Hall,  Oct 13
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

If you were hoping to dispel any stereotypes of the Irish as boozing, backpacking carousers, think again. Andrais de Staic reinforces every hilarious and awful opinion of the Irish in Around The World On 80 Quid. 

He delivers his story of a year of travels at machine-gun speed in a chaotic blend of fiddle music, stream of consciousness ramblings, jokes and improvisation. If the man is not an Irish manic-depressive I’ll eat my Uncle Paddy.

It’s amazing he is still standing (Aindrais, not Uncle Paddy) if all the pints of Guinness, porter, beer, whisky, ecstasy, Red Bull, cannabis – not to mention casual sex, illegal activities and jail – are true. Evidently arriving in Melbourne triggered a period of sobriety but it would take a rhino dart to quell the energy of this bloke.

Despite his life on the grog, de Staic is not raddled and rat-haired but bright-eyed and good-looking with a mop of dark hair that he repeatedly drags away from his brow. He handles his old fiddle with the assuredness of one who learned it early and plays it for fun as well as cash.

He prattles about leaving his life in Irish pubs with 80 quid in his hot little hand only to crash into the Genoa G8 chaos. He fiddles (in more ways than one) his way across Europe, drinking, playing and seducing with his winsome ways then lands a job on a Mediterranean cruise playing Irish tunes to toffee-nosed English gits. His addled journeying takes him to Asia where he discovers Red Bull laced with ecstasy and yet another feckless girl who falls for him.

But the romp continues. He trades fake Ray Bans in Thailand, transports knock-off Gucci accessories to Sydney then is caught in Sydney’s Irish ghetto of drug-addled backpackers and petty drug trafficking. His dash to Melbourne leaves him living hand to mouth and in desperate melancholy.

The show gallops at a rollicking pace for one hour and is peppered with gypsy fiddle tunes, Irish melodies and plenty of crazed banter, hilarity and eye rolling from de Staic. He’s dangerously seductive - and he knows it.

By Kate Herbert