Monday, 5 December 1994

Kate Herbert's Theatre Picks 1994 - The Melbourne Times Dec 1994


Herbie's Theatre Picks 1994
by Kate Herbert
December 5, 1994
published in The Melbourne Times, Dec 1994

My theatrical highlights for 1994 have surprised me. Three are overseas product, three are from Melbourne Theatre Company, one is from Sydney and only one of the five shows produced in Melbourne are locally written.

Top of my top ten list must be the Canadian Opera production of Bluebeard's Castle Ewartung. The highlight was the visionary direction by Robert Lepage making his opera debut with extraordinary stage imagery complemented by dramatic lighting creating an intense psychic landscape. The surreal illusion of Bluebeard's dead wives emerging from under water, dripping blood was a blinding inspiration.

I was mesmerised by the simple, poignant beauty and deceptive naivete in the writing of Tim Winton which director- actor Richard Roxborough captured in his adaptation of That Eye, The Sky for the Melbourne Festival. I sat with my jaw on my kness at its physicality and the truthful recreation of Winton's emotional landscape, his ‘Magic Australianism’: the visions, hallucinations, poetic language and broad Australian colloquialisms stirred into the one sweet tragedy. It was thrilling  charming and a true ensemble piece.

The next eight or so on my list all rest are in no particular order but I was transported in some way by all of them. I begin at La Mama early in the year with Marguerita Duras' play, L'Amante Anglaise which is a superbly crafted piece of writing about murder, madness and mystery. It was rivetting character drama, a production of inspired simplicity with the audience in full light almost in the laps of actors, John Flaus and Brenda Palmer who talk, seated opposite each other for 90 minutes.

Director, Bruce Myles is responsible for two of my hits. Someone Who'll Watch Over Me (MTC) he directed simply and stylishly in a terrifyingly truncated rehearsal period. He coaxed magnificent performances out of Richard Piper, Melvin J. Carroll and the inimitable Frank Gallacher, as the volatile and maddening Irish wit. It is based on the real experiences of hostages by extremists in Beirut. We are voyeurs who witness their wrenching, existential pain. Myles other success was Shadowboxing by James Gaddas with a rivetting Robert Morgan. It was an emotional and physical rollercoaster, an intimate and frenetic performance about a young boxer trying to make a career and discovering, in this macho boxing world, that he is gay.

A Room of One's Own ( MTC) , a solo by Pamela Rabe, was directly adapted from the writings and lectures of Virginia Wolff about Women in Fiction. This had me weeping for the sheer power of Wolff's words and her wonderful mind. Rabe's depiction of Virginia Wolff was magnificent, revealing, energising, intelligent and witty.

 The MTC also re-staged a magnificent double of with exceptional performances and writing by Tony Kushner, which shifts from the lyrical and poetic to the stridently political to the fantastic. The mind of this man is the Eighth Wonder.

The only classical text on my list is Renato Cuocolo's adaptation of The Bacchae - but IRAA never does a traditional production. In The Bacchae: Burning by Water, Cuocolo sets the whole performance in a shallow pool. What stays with me is Robert Meldrum's rich honey voice and the sensual and lyrical reflections of light from the pool over the bodies of the actors. It left me gaping and hypnotised by the evocative atmosphere and the "psycho-physical" performances of actors.

 IRAA is also responsible for bringing Otto Lechner, an impish Austrian piano accordion player who transforms the accordion from bad talent quest material to a sexy and hilarious hour of jazz and musical satire. His send-up of Viennese waltzes is legend.

 Falling From Grace, Hannie Rayson's new play for Playbox, is uncannily accurate in representing the worlds of four modern women fighting forty who have busy, successful, complicated, often fraught professional and personal lives. The characters are never predictable but heck, are they familiar!


I must mention Phillipe Genty's Forget Me Not from France. His whimsical combination of visual theatre, movement and spectacle is extraordinary. There were moments when I could not tell the people from the puppets.

Visiting overseas shows are generally already huge hits with even huger budgets but is the Melbourne theatre scene already suffering from the low or non-existent budgets, short script development and rehearsal time and lack of sponsorship and support for local product? Here's to more local and exceptional product in '95.

Kate Herbert 5/12/1994

Thursday, 1 December 1994

1994 Reviews Kate Herbert - The Melbourne Times


Shrew
Bell
A hard Act to Follow
Top Ten
Someone Who'll Watch Over me
Wilderness Room
Glass Mermaid
Martin & Molloy
Wong article
Women's  Circus
Shaughraun 2
Shaughraun review
Wong 13 10 94
Going Places
Picasso
That Eye the Sky
Sistergirl
Canadian Opera
Trial
Mordsgaudi Accordion
Rigoletto
Snake Pit 14 Sep
Fringe Theatre 94
Cross Arts Fringe
Fringe Draft 1
 My Body My Blood
Falling from grace
Blood Bros
Underwear
Shaughraun
Me & My Girl
Mysteries
Elocution
Hysteria
To Pave
Rosensweig
Yellow Wallpaper
Warriors
Shadowboxing
Antigone
Macbeth
Doing the Block
Love & other Sharp Objects
Grapes of Wrath
Glengarry
Last Chance Gas
Sanctuary
Cosi
Two hams
Berkoff
Berkoff 2
Physical theatre
Tania Lacey
 Circus Oz
 Telemachus
Circus Oz Storm
Hotspur
Disturbing the Dust
West Side Story
Bacchae
Unsettled
Playland
Philippe Genty
Woyzeck No Talent Savron
Woyzeck
$5 theatre
L'Amante Anglaise
The Danube
JULIA
Opa
Game of Dolls
Indian Summer
Wind in Willows
Scrooge
South Pacific
Silly season review

A Hard Act to Follow by Peter Dann, La Mama, Dec 1994


 A Hard Act to Follow
by Peter Dann 
La Mama until December 18, 1994
Reviewed by KATE HERBERT
The Melbourne Times, Dec 1994

Have you ever noticed that parents invariably have horror stories about their creche? Kindergarten councils can be a hotbed of dissent and unrest. Teachers  clash with parents, clash with Montessori, Steiner or traditional methodologists.

A Hard Act to Follow by Peter Dann at La Mama reveals an older traditional and prudish teacher, Miss Hawthorne, who has been attempting to fill the shoes of Miss Gully, the previous kindie teacher beloved by yuppie children and parents alike. Miss H. has called an extraordinary meeting of the kindie parents to tell her tale of woe which has lead to her summary dismissal by the Council.

Dann's writing is cleverly crafted, allowing Miss H. herself to slowly and unwittingly reveal her participation in the sequence of events which have relegated her to Kindie Mistress Limbo. The language is formal and complex with witty asides woven into the cynical dialogue. Dann carefully observes details of kindergarten life: the sausage sizzle, the sandpit and its place in the yard, the kinder bunny and its demise, the pedagogic speech patterns.

Anne Phelan  plays the peculiar and obsessive  Miss Hawthorne with a touch of the maternal, the tartar, the bitter and beleaguered. Her madness filters through her apparent calm and bravado as she attempts to win us, the audience-come-parents, with a lecture detailing instances of her 'devotion' to the vicar who employed her, her dubious employment references and her ongoing battle with the sceptical Council President.

This is a funny and poignant monodrama which allows us to feel sympathetically toward the unbalanced Miss H and yet to feel guilt tinged with relief as we vote her out of a job. We watch her helplessly as her apparent self-defence collapses into paranoid desperation.

KATE HERBERT

Friday, 10 June 1994

Taming of the Shrew, Bell Shakespeare, June 1994


Taming of the Shrew
By Bell Shakespeare 
Comedy Theatre till June, 1994
Reviewed by KATE HERBERT
Published in The Melbourne Times, June 1994

I am compelled to love John Bell's production of The Taming of the Shrew, not merely because the Shrew in question is named Kate. It is a brazen, bawdy and hilarious interpretation with more front than Daimaru.

Bell has grabbed the comedy baton and run with it. All the personages are broad clowns accentuated by Stephen Curtis's bold costumes. Kate and Petruchio are Brunswick Street groovers in black leather and grunge gear, Grumio,
Petruchio's servant is a cunning and cheeky punk, his other servants are a bunch of thugs, pimps and hippies.

The most courageous and wonderful choice is to play the sweet chaste and ever boring Bianca as a cheap bimbo. Of course! She gets all the suitors because she's the town bike!

This is a strong ensemble. Christopher Stollery is a very inviting and modern Petruchio. Essie Davis plays a spunky, spitfire Kate. Darren Gilshennen as Grumio is a wild low-life and with Stollery makes a great double act doing Three Stooges slapstick.  The comic detail is a delight. Petruchio carries his dad's ashes around in an urn.

Of course everybody wonders about the feminist politics of The Shrew in 1994. Davis's Kate relinquishes her stroppiness to participate in her husband's taunting of others. Stollery is relieved when she finally catches on to the game. The earnestness of Kate's final speech about the dutious wife has none of the sense of mockery and becomes a bit schmaltzy. Kate's shrewishness, rather than being tamed, has turned to lustiness but there is little sexual tension when Petruchio says admiringly, "What a wench. Kiss me Kate."

The style's derivation is clearly Vaudeville. The pre-show entertainment is a (purposely) bad Russian psychic and a terribly earnest tap dancer (unintentionally?). Musician David King is on stage in a rising gold painted rostrum playing trashy musak. The cheap and tacky quality continues with Michael Scott-Mitchell's set of nasty pink reception tables at the wedding, and kitsch pile of chintzy furniture and car parts which passes as Petruchio's pad.

Bell's  Shrew is really in your face. This is exhilarating, knee slappin', belly laughin' theatre you must see - even if you hate Shakespeare.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 23 March 1994

Someone Who'll Watch Over Me, Frank McGuinness, MTC, March 23, 1994


Someone Who'll Watch Over Me
 By Frank McGuinness
MTC Russell Street Theatre
March 23 to April 23, 1994
Published in The Melbourne Times, April 1994
Reviewed by Kate Herbert, March 23, 1994

An Englishman, an Irishman and an American walked into a cell. No, it's not a bad joke but the framework for Irish playwright Frank McGuinness's play, Someone Who'll Watch Over Me: a passionate, stirring, torturous and hilarious piece of near-documentary theatre. The play is set in the terrifyingly claustrophobic atmosphere of a Beirut prison cell in the 80's during a period when Arab terrorist groups were picking foreign workers off the street and incarcerating them to publicise their cause or to hasten release of their members.

First two, then three men, are incarcerated in a tiny cell. In Sartre's No Exit, Hell was living in a room with people you hate. McGuinness throws three men together to survive incarceration, torture, beating and each other. The play is a celebration of the human spirit; our capacity to overcome adversity, to rise above suffering, torture and degradation. These men survive by jogging, fighting, caring for each other, nursing their delicate psyches, checking their sanity against each others' and drifting into flights of fancy.

McGuinness throws three men together to survive incarceration, torture, beating and each other. The play is a celebration of the human spirit; our capacity to overcome adversity, to rise above suffering, torture and degradation. These men survive by jogging, fighting, caring for each other, nursing their delicate psyches, checking their sanity against each others' and drifting into flights of fancy. There is little "action" but much dramatic tension, emotional intensity and hilarity. It is episodic, covering a period of months, perhaps years. Moods vary. Wills waver. Strength fails. They sing, play games, "shoot movies", "write" letters, relive memories and create experiences at home and with their loved ones to create lives outside this nightmare.

The Irish boozing journo, Edward, loathes Michael, the wimpy lecturer in obscure Old English poetry just as his real life counterpart, Brian Keenan took exception to his cell-mate John McCarthy. Adam, the Californian Christian psychiatrist, based on Dr. David Jacobsen, could drive a man to drink if he could get near some. All the action take place within the cell. The guards are a constant but invisible threat outside the single door. Trina Parker's extraordinary design manages to fill the stage but confine the actors' space giving a sense of restriction without narrowing their capacity to perform.

There is little "action" but much dramatic tension, emotional intensity and hilarity. It is episodic, covering a period of months, perhaps years. Moods vary. Wills waver. Strength fails. They sing, play games, "shoot movies", "write" letters, relive memories and create experiences at home and with their loved ones to create lives outside this nightmare.

 The play is a gift for actors. It is directed simply and stylishly by Bruce Myles with magnificent performances. Gallacher takes us on a roller-coaster ride in his passionate and loving portrayal of the volatile and maddening Irish wit, Edward. We squirm at Richard Piper's foppish Brit, until he reveals his strength as he supports Edward in his grief. Melvin J. Carroll as Adam has a gentleness which makes his journey more painful to witness. His Amazing Grace was achingly beautiful.

There is a wrenching, existential pain in Frank McGuinness' play which can only come from such deprivation, isolation and terror as that experienced by political hostages. We are voyeurs on the psychic torment of these men. Every observer knows that it could be he or she in that cell. How would we survive? What resources can we draw upon and would we want to live anyway?

 KATE HERBERT 25.3.94


Sunday, 13 February 1994

Bell Shakespeare Launch 1994


Bell Shakespeare Launch 1994
By Kate Herbert
Feb 13, 1994
The Melbourne Times
published in Feb 1994

This week, on February 9, Bell Shakespeare Company launched its 1994 Melbourne season at the Comedy Theatre. Founder John Bell will direct Taming of the Shrew and play Macbeth in a production.

Bell will direct Taming of the Shrew exploring the gender relationships of a notoriously sexist text in a modern context of the domineering man and the dependent woman.

He will also play the lead in a production of Macbeth directed by a recent graduate from NIDA, David Fenton. Fenton describes his view of the Witches as creatures with access terrifically advanced technology.

The company will extend its touring to include not only Melbourne and Sydney but Canberra, Perth, Hobart, Launceston and Newcastle. The Melbourne season commences in May. The Sydney program will include a schools season called Actors at Work.

There is also a list of publications of Australian Shakespeare productions beginning with Romeo and Juliet.

The company will extend its touring to include Canberra, Perth, Hobart, Launceston and Newcastle, the Melbourne season commencing in May. Other activities include a schools program called Actors at Work and publications of Australian Shakespeare productions.

KATE HERBERT 13.2.94

Wednesday, 2 February 1994

L'Amante Anglaise, La Mama, Feb 2, 1994

 L'Amante Anglaise by Marguerita Duras
La Mama Theatre, Carlton
10.30 pm Wed - Sat; Sun at 5.30pm
Until Feb 13, 1994
Reviewed by Kate Herbert on Feb 2, 1994 
Published in The Melbourne Times, Feb 1994

Directed by Laurence Strangio 
Cast: John Flaus and Brenda Palmer

MARGUERITA DURAS' PLAY, L'AMANTE ANGLAISE, is a superbly crafted piece of writing. She plunges us into the dark side of murder, madness and mystery with the story of 60 year old Clair Lannes who has confessed to the gruesome murder of her deaf-mute cousin, Marie-Therese.

 Laurence Strangio directs the production at La Mama with a light and tasteful hand, very sensitively allowing the text to speak for itself without embellishment.

The two actors, John Flaus and Brenda Palmer, talk seated opposite each other for most of the 90 minutes. It is riveting character drama – an actors' dream.

In the first scene, a female psychologist interviews Lannes about his wife. We obtain, from her rigid, insensitive and deeply dislikeable husband, a peculiar second-hand biography of this woman who has committed such a hideous crime.

After we have become fascinated with Clair, the actors change roles and chairs and Clair is interviewed in turn. The interviewers struggle with our own dilemma. Who is Clair Lannes? And why, why, why, did she do this dreadful thing?

The performances by both Palmer and Flaus are relaxed and rich and multi-layered. Palmer has found a delicacy and peculiarity that makes this woman attractive and other-worldly, an unlikely murderess.

These characters, in the intimate surroundings of La Mama, are accessible, passionate and absorbing.

We are so close we are almost voyeurs on their poignant situation. We know them. We empathise with Clair in her struggle to explain or rather, not to explain, her actions. We want to ask questions, participate in the process.

There is nothing turgid or morbid about this piece. In fact it is exceptionally funny in its observations about the human situation. This is a murder mystery of an extraordinary standard. It holds the audience, reveals its soul slowly and keeps some secrets even after the end.

The salon-sized audience on opening night wanted to talk on about the story and characters. If you value exceptional writing and powerful drama over trappings in the theatre, please stay up late and see this if you see nothing else for the year.

Kate Herbert     3.2.94      

L'Amante Anglaise by Marguerita Duras
La Mama Theatre, Carlton
10.30 pm Wed - Sat; Sun at 5.30pm
Until Feb 13, 1994

Directed by Laurence Strangio 
Cast: John Flaus and Brenda Palmer