Friday 28 February 2020

The Great Australian Play, Feb 20, 2020

Written by Kim Ho 
At Theatre Works, until Feb 29, 2020
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
 Review published in Herald Sun in print only on Fri 28 Feb, 2020. KH
Jessica Koncic, Sarah Fitzgerald, Tamara Lee Bailey, Sermsah Bin Saad, and Daniel Fischer.-pic Jack Dixon-Gunn

Kim Ho naming his production The Great Australian Play is asking for trouble and almost begging for criticism – so here it comes!

To deconstruct narrative, a playwright must learn to construct narrative. However, what we see is five wannabe filmmakers rambling about the rules of cinema narrative structure, including the ‘Hero’s Journey’, a well-worn, Hollywood model.

Their movie, set in 1930, deals with Lasseter’s purported reef of gold in Australia’s desert centre. The second half, When the Eucalyptus Weeps, includes episodes about a dysfunctional family – perhaps Lasseter’s?

At no point in the deconstructed format does a narrative of any substance emerge. It is a series of parodic sketches aiming to illuminate the Australian condition, history, environment and indigenous culture.

The story of The Fidgeter, introduced at the end of the play, might be developed as the second thread interwoven with Lasseter, but it is bolted on and merely narrated.
Although described as an epic, the only thing epic is the 150-minute duration – about 90 minutes too long.

Actors (Jessica Koncic, Sarah Fitzgerald, Tamara Lee Bailey, Sermsah Bin Saad, Daniel Fischer) are committed and energetic, but their efforts are eclipsed by the production’s failings.

Some scenes appropriate, rather than celebrate, indigenous culture, the depiction of a German is racist, the juvenile introduction of a dildo gets cheap laughs and references to burnt koalas are offensive.

Ho’s script is overwritten, impenetrable, informational, with little action. It is riddled with cinematic references, satirical film titles and idiotic script pitches, while Saro Lusty-Cavallari’s direction is static, and his production resembles a university revue.

The play tries to be artful, inventive and satirical but loses coherence and cohesion, so any message is lost in multiple styles and tangled narratives threads.

Anyone unfamiliar with screenwriting processes, modern cinema references or the compelling but dense work of lauded Australian writer, the late Patrick White, will probably feel alienating. Rule 1: never make your audience feel stupid! (That should be Rules 2 and 3 as well!)
Ho inserts himself in the play at the beginning and then the end when he argues with Patrick White about the merit of Ho’s work, a discussion which reveals Ho’s vision to be confused, self-indulgent and incoherent.

This is no longer a joke when such confusion makes a mockery of the theatre it purports to value. How this play won the Patrick White award is as mysterious as Lasseter’s reef.

by Kate Herbert

Friday 21 February 2020

Twelfth Night, ASC, Feb 17, 2020

By William Shakespeare, by Australian Shakespeare Company 
at Botanical Gardens, until Feb 29, 2020 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ****
Review published in print (not online) in Herald Sun on Friday 21 Feb 2020. KH 

Antony Rive, Kevin Hopkins
 Under the stars on a late summer evening, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is a joyful entertainment riddled with plot intrigues, mistaken identity, cross-dressing, comical twists and jolly japes.

Glenn Elston’s rollicking, laugh-out-loud production incorporates oodles of physical comedy, eccentric characterisations, original music (Paul Norton), vivid costumes (Karla Erenbots), clownish make-up (Lou McLaren) and modern references.

After a shipwreck which Viola (Elizabeth Brennan) believes killed her twin brother, Sebastian (Mitchell Wills), Viola dresses as a boy, gets a job as a manservant then falls in love with her employer, Duke Orsino (Hugh Sexton). Orsino pines for Olivia (Anna Burgess) who rebuffs him because she is in love with the cross-dressing Viola. 

Meanwhile, the servants and house guests engage in drunken carousing and other tomfoolery, including playing cruel tricks upon Olivia’s pompous and dour servant, Malvolio, played by Dion Mills.

The production is playful, fast-paced, animated and littered with bawdy, broad humour, singalongs and actors scampering amongst the audience. There is never a dull moment.

As the grief-stricken Olivia and lovelorn Orsino – characters generally not played for laughs ­– in this interpretation, Burgess and Sexton are almost as funny as the obvious comic characters.

The outrageously silly slapstick scenes are a highlight. Kevin Hopkins is loud and oafish as the scruffy, boozy Sir Toby Belch, while Tony Rive is deliciously comical as the foppish, foolish nincompoop, Sir Andrew Aguecheek.

Claire Nicholls is suitably saucy and sharp-tongued as naughty Maria, Madeleine Somers brings new life to the minor role of Fabian, while Patrick Schnur leads the music – both mournful and spirited – as truth-telling jester, Feste.

Pick a warm evening, pack a picnic, a blanket and wine and enjoy these Twelfth Night revels. It’s a hoot!

by Kate Herbert

Orsino - Hugh Sexton
Viola - Elizabeth Brennan
Sebastian - Mitchell Wills
Olivia - Anna Burgess
Malvolio/Captain - Dion Mills
Maria - Claire Nicholls
Sir Toby Belch- Kevin Hopkins
Feste - Patrick Schnur
Sir Andrew Aguecheek- Tony Rive
Fabian - Maddy Somers
Antonia - Madeleine Mason
Officer Charlie Mycroft
Olivia McLeod

Music by Paul Norton
Costumes Karla Erenbots
Choreography Sue-Ellen Shook
Make-up Lou McLaren