Saturday 22 March 2008

Primrose Hill / Kissing For Australia , March 25, 2008

Primrose Hill / Kissing For Australia  
by Adam Zwar, La Mama
When & Where: Courthouse Theatre, 6.30pm Tues & Sun, 8pm Wed to Sat, 25 March until
April 12, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

If you’ve never heard of Patsy Kensit, know nothing about Britpop bad boys Liam and Noel Gallagher or their band Oasis, a few jokes in Adam Zwar’s Primrose Hill may elude you. 

However this one-man play fires on all rockets and really takes the Michael out of smug and very rich British pop celebs.

Paul Denny plays Miles, an ordinary Aussie bloke who is mugged outside the luxury home of pretty cockney Patsy and her dumb musician-thug husband, Liam Gallagher. Miles believes they want to help him with his injuries but the nutty pair virtually holds him captive as a sex slave so that Liam can film Miles’ sexual antics with Patsy.

Denny, directed skilfully by Russell Fletcher, peoples the empty stage with the pompous (Bono and Sting), the dim (Liam and Naomi Campbell) and the ridiculous (Terence Stamp with Posh Spice). His portrayal of a floppy-haired and ingenuous Hugh Grant is delicious.

The quest to escape the hotshots’ house party is genuinely hilarious and Denny is a delight even when he drops a few lines at the end.

The second play, another solo, is performed by Zwar and directed by Joy Mitchell. In it Zwar portrays another Aussie bloke, Lenny, the office geek who bemoans the fact that he is liked but never seduced by the office girls while his mate Bob blinks and those gals jump him.

Zwar’s performance is not as polished as Denny’s but he has a simple charm and knows his material well. We suspect he was that sweet geek before he got famous with an AFI award. The jokes come rapidly and are often self-deprecating observations about Lenny’s predicament both before and after he finds himself a nice girlfriend.

What makes Kissing for Australia different from Primrose Hill is its dark ending. It could easily be billed as a tragi-comedy when Lenny’s uninspired love life evolves into the wedding from hell.

Both plays are cleverly crafted by Zwar and take us on a fast and funny ride.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 19 March 2008

The China Incident, March 19, 2008

The China Incident
by Peter Houghton, Malthouse Theatre
march 19 to April 12, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

There is something I have noticed when a show really grabs me: my mouth drops open and I don’t scribble any notes. 

Even during this, my second viewing of The China Incident, my mouth gaped, my eyes widened, I laughed out loud, grimaced and gasped as I witnessed this galloping, hilarious corporate workplace disaster.

Anne Browning as diplomatic PR consultant Bea Pontifec, stalks the stage like a crazed stick insect in a pin-striped suit and stilettos. From start to finish of this solo Grand Prix of performances, Bea prowls around her high-rise corporate office, juggling seven phones and even more social, political and family crises.

On the red phone Bea advises the US President – who displays a lecherous, drunken obsession with her undies – about his “Five Party Talks”. On the black phone she soothes the General, the brutal dictator of an insolvent, war torn African nation, trying to solve his international image problem while she listens to him slaughter his rebelling people wholesale.

Meanwhile her personal life is in chaos. Her son is arrested for drug trafficking and her new-age daughter plans an embarrassing wedding with a gay man as bridesmaid and appalling old china as table centrepieces. Bea’s married lover is on his way to the Bahamas with his wife and Bea’s assistant, Minty, is brainless. Her useless, hippy ex-husband is attached to the intercom downstairs, the groom and his boring parents are on the phones – and Bea offends all of them.

Peter Houghton’s script is cunningly written and very, very funny. He also directs Browning (his wife), maintaining a cracking pace that leaves Bea gasping for air by the time she makes a pig’s ear of everything.

Bea makes one fatal error after another but Browning and Houghton never put a foot wrong. This really is a marriage made in heaven – despite the fact that he makes her portray an arrogant, heartless, bigoted corporate monster.

We too are left breathless after this race to save the dictators of the world from image disaster. There is something satisfying knowing that the bad guys might all be found out.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 18 March 2008

Our Country’s Good, March 18, 2008

Our Country’s Good 
by Timberlake Wertenbaker, Preferred Play Company
Theatreworks, March 18 to 29, 2008

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Peering myopically at our Australian history, we can miss the detail of individual lives and see only the bigger political picture. Based on Thomas Kenneally’s novel, The Playmaker, Our Country’s Good zooms in on a microcosm of Governor Phillip’s (Mick Lo Monaco) infant settlement in Sydney in 1789. It provides a vivid, personal and often brutal portrayal of a few English officers and hapless, abused convicts.

Timberlake Wertenbaker uses historical fact interwoven with fiction. To please Arthur Phillip, Lt. Ralph Clark (Brendan McCallum), a modest young Royal Marine, attempts to stage a play with a cast of convicts. The cruel landscape of the convict settlement continually intrudes on his rehearsals.

Officers are resistant or downright obstructive to such a liberal endeavour to engage the convicts who are constantly punished for petty or fabricated crimes. Clark cannot predict the problems he will face. The headstrong Lizzy (Katya Shevtsov OK) may be hanged before opening night, Arscott (Brett Christian) is flogged senseless, everybody hates Freeman (Michael Wahr) who is the hangman and Clark falls for Mary (Marissa Bennett), his leading lady.

Glenda Linscott directs an energetic ensemble of recent VCA graduates with an assured and imaginative hand. She creatively employs minimal props ­– rope, trunks, a ladder – physicalisation and vocal effects to create multiple locations in the Australian landscape.

There is an old-fashioned charm in Wertenbaker’s period dialogue but it raises themes and issues relevant to our contemporary lives and to the theatre.  “Intelligence has nothing to do with the state into which we are born”, says one character. In this new colony, bigotry and social abuse are rife.

“This is theatre. We believe you,” says another character. The oppressed convicts keep trying to escape their real chains but, in the democratic theatre, they escape into another life through a role and pay each other respect as actors.

Our Country’s Good is a thought-provoking and skilfully staged production that deserves an audience.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 13 March 2008

Moving Target, March 13, 2008

 Moving Target
by Marius von Mayenburg, Malthouse Theatre

Beckett Theatre,  March 13 to 29, 2008

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Moving Target, by Marius von Mayenburg, is funny and chaotic at the beginning but disturbing and tragic by its end

Two years ago, director Benedict Andrews explored ideas with Mayenburg who then wrote this play about a community of parents who are afraid that their children are dangerous – in fact that they are violent terrorists.

This compelling story is overlaid with the chaos of children’s games. The ensemble  (Julie Forsyth, Robert Menzies, Hamish Michael, Rita Kalnejais, Alison Bell, Matthew Whittet) spends an inordinate amount of time playing wild, often hilarious games of Hide and Seek. Repeatedly one of them counts to a hundred while five scramble to find the perfect hiding place. They secrete themselves under the couch or the table, inside a sleeping bag or cushion covers, until their choices become absurd, insane or simply childlike.

The game distracts the adults from the terror they feel when they look at the poor little girl who is under suspicion. Slowly their panic rises as they attempt to avoid detection by the ever-present “Advice Centre”. Did the child really hide a green parcel in a street bin? Is it a bomb? Should they report it, or ignore it and hope it goes away?

The group of playfellows inhabit a scruffy white box (Robert Cousins) from which there is no escape. Between games, they reveal snippets of the story about their fear of psychopathic changes in their children. Blaring music and amplified voices echo the escalating chaos. Stark white light becomes more dramatic and vivid with violent, crimson and green (Paul Jackson).

The ensemble is vigorous and unified, shifting from childlike play to distressed and frightened adults. Each actor brings his or her own quirkiness and energy to the story.

The Hide and Seek becomes repetitive and is reminiscent of a drama class and the hands-over-your-ears noise level is intermittently intolerable. But Moving Target investigates contemporary performance with verve and Mayenburg’s script makes interesting statements about societal hysteria and fear.

By Kate Herbert

Friday 7 March 2008

Beware of the Dogma, March 7, 2008

Beware of the Dogma
by Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe, Phillip Scott, Sydney Theatre Company
Whitehorse Centre Nunawading, March 7-12
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

We rarely see political comedy in Melbourne despite our pretensions to be social critics and our Comedy Festival with hoards of shows. Beware of the Dogma not only has the wittiest title, but it is intelligent, hilarious, incisive political cabaret – and it’s from Sydney. Not only that, it is produced not by some lefty fringe cooperative but by Sydney Theatre Company. Be ashamed Melbourne.

Writer-performers (from Sydney – let’s rub it in) Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott with Valerie Bader, present scathing musical and comic wit targeting dogmatists past and present. They lampoon self-help gurus, scientology, Papists, academics, politicians, Russia, China and New Zealand.

The title song cunningly warns against “mad dogma”. A deliciously clever Papal conference of 16th century dogmatists features the supercilious Cardinal Pell of Umbrage, the rambling Lord Barry Jones of Oxford and the self-righteous Sister Greer of St. Germain and is moderated by monkish Tom Kenneally.

New Zealand’s Helen Clark and her NZ “fush and chups” accent take a smacking in a cool parody of jazz classic, Take Five. Biggins, as a stunningly accurate Paul Keating, presents the John Howard Memorial Lecture to “fellow irrelevant Australians”, snipes at the “performing midget” (Rudd and Howard) and fires barbs at both parties.

Speaking of irrelevant, the Democrats get a serve and Barnaby Joyce laments having a girl’s name and sings, I’ll Toe the Line.

The Russians celebrate their new world singing, “Russia was the pits” to Puttin’ on the Ritz and the Chinese forecast world domination as they poison us with lead paint and pollution.

Catholic Guilt wins the morality stakes ahead of Tony Abbott on Moral Outrage. Kevin Rudd goes camping with Labour Party Boy Scouts and we witness The Last Days in Howard’s Bunker as the Liberals face annihilation – at Howard’s hands.

The final epic musical, Fable of Prosperity’s Child, in the pretentious style of international festivals, attacks Gen X and its delight in spending money it does not have. It’s All About Me, sings 35 year-old adolescent while her Baby Boomer dad informs her that her inheritance is gone in, I Spent It All On Me.

Funny show. Catch it if you can.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 6 March 2008

Disjointed Story, March 6, 2008

Disjointed Story 
by Sean Hanson, Cast & Crew Productions
Chapel off Chapel, March  6 to 16, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Disjointed Story, written and directed by Sean Hanson, is just as the title suggests: a disjointed story. 

The concept owes something to Schnitzler’s La Ronde or David Hare’s The Blue Room in which numerous lives intersect in an episodic format. However Hanson’s script and production lack such sophistication. This being his first play and first time directing, he has perhaps bitten off more than he can chew.

There are certainly some scenes that are more successful than others and Hanson peppers the script with some playful, swift and funny dialogue. The pace and rhythm of chatter between friends is captured in scenes featuring a group of girlfriends and another with guy-friends.

Although some individual scenes are entertaining, the structure of the 90-minute play is clunky and the story is confused. It requires enormous skill to write for sixteen characters and direct as many actors. The production is more like a showcase for an acting class than a play.

The narrative threads are multiple. A young woman ­– a police officer we discover later – has doubts about her impending wedding. Another engages a hit man to kill the violent boyfriend of a character never seen on stage. A young man attempts, then succeeds, in killing himself after a hit and run accident. Several characters are dumped by partners, four go on a blind date, two rob a mansion, one confesses to beating his girlfriend.

There are two completely bonkers scenarios. One involves a man and woman who are, in fact, a dark angel and a good angel. The second is an anachronistic scene about a manipulative butler and his weak master. The butler is also responsible for some interminable and totally unnecessary scene changes.

If Hanson scales down his next play to a manageable size, his capacity for writing entertaining dialogue could be more effectively employed.

By Kate Herbert