Saturday, 25 December 1993
Icheka: Return of the Heathen by Bad Lot Theatre Company
Take Me as I Am, with book by Patrick White and score by Marky Mark and Girlfriend
Dec 25, 1993
By Kate Herbert
Published in The Melbourne Times, Jan 1994
We are too often faced with politically incorrect theatre nowadays. Icheka: Return of the Heathen is a bi-lingual, bi-partisan, bisexual romp by Bad Lot Theatre Company who are renowned for their earnest commitment to devising sound political theatre in an avant-garde form.
Icheka is about a boy who runs away from his right-wing Canberra parents to join a circus. The narrative, by Faye Bunny, Binkata: Eyes of the Hunter was written after exhaustive research into families of politicians and circus performers. It is authentic and demanding for an audience, weaving together themes of dislocation, migration, separation, feminism and witchcraft.
The direction is masterly, integrating enormous puppets, latex masks and Indonesian shadow puppets, fire-eating and acrobatics with a powerful text in an eclectic soup of theatrical genres.
"Theatre must transform and transport its audience," says director Ben Leather-Jacket in his Fitzroy studio; and transport people he does. The whole performance takes place on the express train from Melbourne to Geelong. The sense of desolation is heightened by the oil refinery background to the final scenes - and also by the fact that the audience is now stranded in Geelong ‘City of Oil Refineries without a paddle or a return ticket.
Icheka is sensational theatrical experience. Take a blanket.
Meanwhile in a major musical venue, is a don't-miss, revamped musical: Take Me as I Am, with book by Patrick White and score by Marky Mark and Girlfriend. This is a playful look at disasters perpetrated by Australian Prime Ministers this century.
You will recognise tunes like Take Me Back to the March Election, sung_by John Hewson, the ever-popular Malcolm's Trousers, Hey Mama There's a War up North, Harold Forgot his Snorkel, and Paul Keating's new hit I'll see your Queen and Raise You a Republic plus more old faves.
Get amongst the revivals for summer before they go back to the dead.
KATE HERBERT 25.12.93
Wednesday, 15 December 1993
1993 Kate’s Theatre Picks
Kate Herbert Dec 15, 1993
Published in The Melbourne Times, December 1993
During 1993, Melbourne's vibrant theatre scene kept on churning shows out in spite of funding cuts. Although '93 was a less prolific season than '92, it was a year of fine imports, musical and other revivals, more adaptations and deconstructions of texts and plenty of mono-dramas.
There has been limited local fare to inspire, but the Rumanians won my award for extraordinary moments in theatre with Titus Andronicus. The passion and intensity of performances, images and the provocative style were a treat during the festival. Another foreign, passionate, if fairly conventional gem was the Abbey's
Dancing at Lughnasa (Irish) and Trestle's State of Bewilderment (English) captured Leunig's eccentric world on stage.
A musical done well can still be the greatest night in the theatre. Chamber Made Opera's, Don Leaves Linda, was an extraordinary piece of witty music-theatre. High Society has great songs and changed cast more often than its underwear and 42nd Street was a fabulously extravagant, tongue in cheek production. Even its opening night party was a theatrical feast of posing, over-dressing, sycophancy and extravagance.
The pre-publicity budget alone could subsidise the Performing Arts Board. Jan Friedl's Sweet and Bitter Conversations captured the poignancy and drama of Brecht's songs in a way that Mother Courage could not without voices of quality.
TV and film stars hit the stage with a vengeance. Warren Mitchell was inspired in
I'm Not Rappaport along-side the wonderful Kiwi, George Henare. In MTC's
Much Ado About Nothing, Hugo Weaving was a very sexy Benedick with comics Michael Veitch and Kim Gyngell clowning on the side lines. Jackie Weaver was applauded on her opening night entrance in Shadowlands
Mark Little flew in from the UK to play the 80's mongrel entrepreneur in The Temple
for Playbox. The MTC consolidated both financially and artistically under Roger Hodgman and Carillo Gantner handed the baton at Playbox to Aubrey Mellor. Anthill's move to the Gasworks sent the company into crisis and its resultant $80,000 deficit caused a delay in funding allocations for '94.
Theatreworks lost its general grant as did Woolly Jumpers and Melbourne Writers' Theatre now has a venue (Courthouse) and no funds. Arts Victoria thought it would see better return on individual project grants which is probably true. Projects seem to be the way of the world yet again -and doesn't Melbourne do them well?
Kosky's Faust was expensive and weird while IRAA had yet another artistic hit with
Agamemnon This company is by far Melbourne's most consistently interesting under director Renato Cuocolo. It's visit to Vienna in July with Trojan Women put Melbourne on the map in Europe. $5 Theatre had another winner with The Master and Margherita.
Two solo shows were glittering moments. Anthill revived Kids' Stuff with Julie Forsyth playing the kid's role impeccably and William Yang's Sadness touched our souls with a rare honesty and beauty.
La Mama kept on programming new works as it should, but at times too frequently. Two week seasons were too swift and there were a number of shows selected inexplicably. One great success at La Mama was The Eye of Martha Needle by Bruce Thompson. It had a delicacy and integrity in script and style, which was rare this year. Another was Good Morning Midnight, a fine adaptation of Jean Rhyss's novel which assembled the whole of 1920's Paris within the confines of La Mama.
But the greatest dramatic tension was at the opulent opening night party of 42nd Street at the Hyatt Ballroom. Amongst the ice sculptures the lobster and backless gowns, we watched Gareth Evans shake hands with John Hewson and waited with baited breath to see who would use the judo throw first. Can't beat real life for drama!
Kate Herbert 15.12.93
Wednesday, 1 December 1993
1993 Reviews Kate Herbert, The Melbourne Times
The following are all reviews published in The Melbourne Times during 1994.
They will all be uploaded at some time in full. KH March 2012
Mary Hickson transcript
Aubrey Mellor interview
Station + Station
Ass saw the angel
5 Gays named Moe
All My Sons
Below the Belt
Tight Shorts & Duet For One
Pale Blue twinset
Behind the Play
Back to Back
Czajor Award 93
Death & maiden
Reviews Com Fest 93
Wed to Come
Road to hell La Mama
12 Angry Women
Angel of Graveyard
Leso Play 9/7
Feet of Clay
Dinner With Andre
Sunday, 7 November 1993
Interview with Aubrey Mellor, Artistic Director of Playbox Theatre, Melbourne
by Kate Herbert
November 7, 1993
"There's no such thing as a perfect play," says Aubrey Mellor, the incoming Artistic Director of The Playbox Theatre. If there were, presumably we would by now have an equation for it.
Mellor is, however, taking a punt that amongst the eight plays in his 1994 season there may be some pearls. His main ambition at Playbox is to cultivate new Australian plays and to create a Writers' Theatre in the truest sense. He plans "to strengthen the developmental stage of new work: reading of plays, getting the feedback established, getting all the readers organised, more dramaturgical people involved, directors who know how to work with writers, actors who know how to be in a workshop to develop a play not just to get it ready for performance."
Of the eight plays in the 94 season, only Michael Gow's Furious is not a premiere. "I mean Melbourne has seen all the plays that Australia has ever written really," he quips - and he is probably right.
He sees his ambition to support writers as "all foundational work that is gradually effecting the nation." Mellor wants established writers to "look to Playbox as being the main company which is supporting and developing both new work and established writers." He wants them "to be refreshed or to do something that they don't have a chance to do somewhere else." With his new play, ˜Sanctuary, David Williamson has had "the freedom to write in the way that he started out with The Removalists - from his own personal passion, I hope."
Mellor wants our playwrights to be household names. People should recognise Michael Gurr as readily as they would Tennessee Williams. Australians don't tend to think like that about their writers, says Mellor. Only Williamson and possibly Louis Nowra have that kind of reputation as yet.
"I always thought the writers would just emerge as great forces but if they're not nurtured they won't. And I hate the fact that some of our great people like Dorothy Hewitt just get dropped." He hopes that writers "will grow old in this country, continuing to blossom in different ways rather than grow stale."
He will encourage older writers to nurture the newer ones "by taking an interest, by becoming dramaturgs." Some, such as Alma de Groen, Louis Nowra and Stephen Sewell, he says, are very good at it .
The 1994 season includes two commercial plays which Mellor hopes will increase the dishearteningly low subscriber list and subsidise productions of newer untried work. Mellor assumes that David Wiliamson's Sanctuary, although it marks a move away from his populist scripts which have done country-wide tours, will attract a large crowd.
His other commercial choice is the new Steve Martin play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile ,which had its first workshop production at Playbox with a group of local actors under the direction of Neil Armfield. Mellor believes that it will not only attract a local crowd but it is reason to "celebrate a blow for Australian Theatre." He decided it would "be more helpful to Australian play writing in the long run to put it in even though it isn't Australian."
Mellor, in addition to expanding the Sunday afternoon Theatre in the Raw program, is initiating an elaborate and effective program of development for new scripts. Three or more scripts will have a cast and director and a one week run in a theatre after a main production.
"We'd like more work to be seen because that's where the writers really learn. You can workshop them forever but until you actually get those scripts out of their writers' hands and give them to actors performing and really try it out in front of an audience."
Mellor says this requires "a brave audience". That sort of person who can see things in progress- not the sort of people who come in and say 'Oh that's not good enough ..' and just judge and kill."
Mellor thinks Australians are far too tough on new work. "We want them all to be perfect and if they're not perfect...It's something in the Australian psyche "'if it's not perfect kick it out.' Reviews of new works at the National Theatre in London acknowledge that " it's raw.... then along comes a wonderful success and people get excited. But that big success couldn't have happened without the others. And we don't seem to swallow that."
Some people, particularly in Melbourne, would argue that a Writers' Theatre is dead and that an Auteur-ensemble is the only theatre. Mellor thought they sounded like very young people.
"We've all been through that kind of thing," he laughs. " Those directors egos will always be there... I'm much more interested in the integrity of people like Neil Armfield who will actually nurture the vision of the writer." This century has basically been a Directors' Theatre he says, and he wants to alter that.
He believes the auteur theatre will and should continue "and no doubt we will feed from it and it will effect the way we do our work. And certainly some of the pieces such as Disturbing the Dust in the season are put there because they are playing with form."
Pressure from those who want to change the nature of our industry keeps us all alive and fresh but if we were to do exclusively the avant-garde' theatre, " we would probably kill the industry overnight ." Wouldn't we all get bored with deconstructed text, white face, dirt on the floor and lots of chanting.
"We've all been through that kind of thing," he laughs. " Those directors egos will always be there.... I'm much more interested in the integrity of people like Neil Armfield who will actually nurture the vision of the writer." This century has basically been a Directors' Theatre he says, and he wants to alter that.
He believes the auteur theatre will and should continue. “No doubt, we will feed from it and it will effect the way we do our work. And certainly some of the pieces such as Disturbing the Dust in the season are put there because they are playing with form."
Pressure from those who want to change the nature of our industry keeps us all alive and fresh but if we were to do exclusively the avant-garde' theatre, " we would probably kill the industry overnight ."
Wouldn't we all get bored with deconstructed text, white face, dirt on the floor and lots of chanting?
He is more concerned to " actually effect the writers so that the writers start to think visually ." He is planning a workshops for writers to develop movement and visual elements in their writing. He describes the script as "a score", for which the direction, the acting, the design etc. can solve many problems.
He would like us to suspend our judgmental selves and allow the work to develop in a positive and supportive environment. He would like the word "good" to be abandoned and for the work to become " worthwhile and interesting - a valuable experience ." Here's hoping Playbox under the inspired direction of Aubrey Mellor, nurtures plenty of "valuable" plays in the next few years.
Kate Herbert 7.11 .93