Friday 22 January 2010

The Drowsy Chaperone ****

The Drowsy Chaperone
Music & Lyrics by Lisa Lambert & Greg Morrison, Book by Bob Martin & Don McKellar
Produced by Melbourne Theatre Company
Where and When: Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre, January 22 to Feb 27, 2010
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
 Published in Herald Sun

The Drowsy Chaperone is a pleasing, cheesy musical, catering to jaded 21st century sensibilities by poking fun at the trite plots, stereotypes, soppy romanticism and flimsy narratives of music theatre. It is fast, hilarious and derivative but it presses the right buttons with its familiarity and cheekiness.

The show, directed snappily by Simon Phillips, is riddled with smart, modern references and tightly written, impeccably timed gags. Our petulant snipes – normally muttered in the darkness of the stalls – are voiced by our onstage, contemporary, alter ego, a disconsolate, lonely show-queen. His obsession with early 20th century musicals establishes the framework for this play within a play.

Simply called The Man in the Chair, he is played by the inimitable Geoffrey Rush who reels us in with his playful but poignant portrayal of this misfit. In the opening blackout, he whines, “I hate theatre.” (Laugh) “Well, it’s so disappointing, isn’t it?” (Bigger laugh). We love him already. Through The Man, we participate vicariously as he perches on an old armchair, clutching a brandy, playing his Mum’s musical recordings and narrating his favourite, The Drowsy Chaperone, an obscure, forgettable 1920s musical.

This structure allows writers, Bob Martin and Don McKellar, to interrupt, edit, fast-forward and commentate upon flaws in the lyrics, racial stereotypes, idiotic slapstick routines and on the personal lives and deaths of the original cast. There is no perceptible dramatic arc except, perhaps, for The Man’s occasional revelations about his isolation and his love of the musicals that divert him from his blues.

The stage is small but The Man’s dreary, cramped apartment transforms – through the magic of Dale Ferguson’s set and costumes – into a luxurious mansion. He inserts himself into the 1920s production, singing and dancing awkwardly with his favourite stars, popping up in the middle of a chorus line.

Sultry, rich-voiced Rhonda Burchmore plays the vampish chaperone, whose ‘drowsiness’ increases with every martini. Christie Whelan is vivacious as show-off showgirl, Janet, while Alex Rathgeber is suitably conceited as her white-toothed beau whose tap routine with Rohan Browne, the zealous best man, is a highlight (choreography by Andrew Hallsworth). Adam Murphy is delicious as over-acting latin lover, Aldolpho, and Shane Jacobson booms as overblown producer, Feldzieg.

The onstage band is tight playing songs by Lambert and Morrison that parody musical and vaudeville styles with titles such as, Accident Waiting to Happen, As We Stumble Along, The Bride’s Lament and Toledo Surprise.  This show ain’t high art, but it’s fun!

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Shadow Boxing ***1/2

Shadow Boxing 
By James Gaddas, by Groundswell Division
Tower Theatre, Malthouse, Jan 20 to Feb 6, 2010
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2
Published in Herald Sun

Shadow Boxing, by James Gaddas, is an intensely physical one-man play that combines the gritty, street language of a professional boxer with a more poetical and tender style. Matt Rainey is compelling as Flynn, a talented, and ambitious young professional boxer who fights to win respect and to conceal his secrets.

Flynn arrives, bruised and blood-spattered, at a boxing studio. He seems haunted by his past and the memories of his childhood witnessing his father, a tenacious but hopeless boxer, lose fight after fight. Flynn confronts the audience directly as he self-narrates his story of pain, loss, ambition and sexual confusion.

He relives his schoolboy pleas to learn to read, his first and only sexual experience with a girl, his introduction to boxing, his 14 straight match wins and, finally, his title fight. He calls his right fist “the Apocalypse” and sees his hands as both creators and purveyors of violence. Fighters, he says, are animals, but he craves to move like a dancer. He is determined to earn the title, money and prestige but, even more, he yearns for respect.

Rainey brings passion, muscularity as well as poignancy to Flynn’s story. He inhabits Flynn, capturing a fine balance between his vulnerability and his violence. As he pounds the punching bag, we can feel Flynn’s desperation and fear, his childlike need for love and respect and his panic as he waits to face the consequences of his violent actions.

Gil Tucker, former television actor, directs Rainey with a deft hand, maintaining a brisk pace and escalating drama. His economical direction and Dayna Morrissey’s spare design keep the focus on Flynn’s inner turmoil. Danny Pettingill’s lighting and Liam Barton’s sound design are simple but evocative.

Flynn’s fight is with himself rather than his opponents as he struggles to overcome childhood bullying, shame about his father’s failure and uncertainty about his own identity. Shadow Boxing is a tight, well-acted and moving short play with something to say about male violence.

By Kate Herbert