Wednesday, 24 September 1997

Moonlodge by Margo Kane, Sept 24, 1997

Moonlodge by Margo Kane
Festival of the Dreaming.
At La Mama Oct 7-12, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Sept 24, 1997

Brecht said about Mother Courage that a slow silent scream was a more powerful expression of her grief than any vocal sound could ever be. So it is in Margo Kane's solo show, Moonlodge.

It seems that Stolen Children were not restricted to Australian aboriginal communities. Kane's moving, energetic show reveals one Native American-Canadian who was a victim of 'the scoops in the mid-50's. "Scooping" was the practice of the Children's Aid Department that sent black cars driven by priests, police or welfare to steal children.

What more effective way to decimate a culture than to sever its children's contact with it? As we know, it was criminal, particularly when perpetrated on a community that was kept unaware of its rights or processes of redress.

Kane performs with an inner fire generated by her commitment to telling the stories of her native culture. She peoples the stage with characters. We see Agnes, the stolen child, happy with her mother, then foster mother and as a rebellious hippy hitching to Nirvana - California - in the 60's. Finally, she reclaims her heritage in the women's Moonlodge ceremony.

The continual self-narration interspersed with character dialogue combine effectively with Kane's movement skills to colour the story and engage the audience. She employs seamless physical character shifts to introduce us to characters.

We meet Aunt Sophie the gossip with a good heart, Marlon the inarticulate and dangerous biker and the attractive Lance who takes her to her first Pow-Wow. Most affecting was Millie, the old Native American who gently invites Agnes into her family and the Moonlodge.

There are some hilarious depictions of white stereotypes of Native Americans. Kane dryly satirises cigar store Indians, the 60's song "Running Bear loves Little White Dove", Hollywood's Red Injuns and ditties she learned on Brownies camp. Ironically, she accompanies the rape scene and the Pow-Wow with Broadway Musical romantic ballads.

The Pow-Wow finally shows Agnes the wonderful variety of non-stereotypical people in her lost culture. Everybody dances differently and sings with her own voice.

The most deeply moving moments were the child Agnes' silent scream as she beats her little fists against the window of the car driving her away from her mother. The reincorporation of this image as she tells her dream in the Moonlodge is mesmerising.

Moonlodge comes to La Mama, the perfect space for it, for a limited season.


Wednesday, 17 September 1997

Circus Oz , Sep 17 1997

Circus Oz 
Melbourne Town Hall until October 5, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around 16 Sep, 1997

There's one thing about Oz. We give good circus and this year's Circus Oz season at the Melbourne Town Hall is no exception.

David Carlin's direction is slick giving the program a smooth structure. The show is stylish and segues efficiently between acts. Carlin has avoided any loose narrative and concentrated on highlighting individual skills developed into snappy routines.

The opening act is a crowd-grabber as six acrobats scamper up a pole like monkeys.  Just when you think there are no new ways to do balances and trapeze, they surprise us. The stage pictures are beautiful.

The marbled fountain statues spouting water are clever and funny. The sexy trapeze double act was like Ann-Margret and Marlon Brando in the air and the floor duo was a sensual and exotic follow-up. Genevieve Morris does the 'most difficult and dangerous of all circus feats: acting!" Juliet's balcony scene - backwards.

Michael Ling's tequila-soaked Matador with Tim Coldwell's Toro on a tight wire is a hit as is Per Westman's trick of dressing while juggling. We have a reprise of Coldwell's old fave of walking on the roof and of the hilariously dignified but nigh-naked drummer, Chris Lewis, playing horns in every nook and cranny of his body.

The second half is like being on the bus in the movie, Speed, but with better music and wilder stunts. Imagine, just as the bus is heading helter-skelter toward the unleapable gap in the freeway, some lunatic Australian acrobat hurling herself through the air, forming a human bridge.

The show is a juggernaut, building momentum until the audience begs for a break from jaw-wrenching astonishment. The skills of this company of multi-talented performers increase exponentially yearly. A two-year-old in the front row squatted, tongue poised millimetres from his choc-top, gaping at extraordinary feats of strength and dexterity in the ring.

And the Chinese hoop diving never ceases to astound me.

Phillip Lethlean and Gina Gascoigne's lighting design is exceptional with elaborate abstract shapes splashing over floor, ceiling and artists. Laurel Frank's costumes are a fiesta of visions in lycra.

The band, under musical director Carl Polke, provides pounding rock and dramatic background for every occasion. Does everybody in this company play instruments?
Take everybody you know. Go "Ooh! Aah!" Eat a choc-top. It's a great night at the circus.


Festival of the Dreaming, Article, Sep 17, 1997

Festival of the Dreaming
Sydney Olympic Festival Sept 16 to October 6, 1997
Article by Kate Herbert Sept 17, 1997 (Herald Sun)

The Festival of the Dreaming, which is part of the lead up to the Sydney Olympics, is getting good press and audiences in spite of a boycott by some aboriginal artists and other members of the community.

Objections to the festival and director, Rhoda Roberts programming, include factors such as there being no commissioned works by aboriginal playwrights.

Despite this particular deficiency, the program features many theatre works written and performed by indigenous artists not only from Australia. The series of solo shows under the common title 'Wimmin's Business' at the Playhouse at the Opera House is a delightful collage of pieces by international and local guests.

Ningali from Perth has remounted her autobiographical show of the same name in which she self-narrates her journey from Fitzroy Crossing to High School in Alaska then Dance School in Sydney. '

Seven Stages of Dreaming' written by Wesley Enoch and performed by Deborah Mailman is a deeply affecting performance about grief and reconciliation and 'Box the Pony' features the multi-talented Leah Purcell in another autobiography.

Canadian, Margo Kane brings the warm and moving 'Moonlodge' to La Mama soon.

Bangarra Dance Theatre premieres Stephen Page's new work, 'Fish', an absorbing and theatrical series of pieces on environmental themes in styles ranging from the traditional to the funky.

There are several collaborations with non-aboriginal artists, one being 'Bidenjarreb Pinjarra' about the 1834 massacre of the Pinjarra people which uses comedy and sensitivity in a move toward reconciliation.

Aboriginal casts play in classics such as 'Waiting for Godot' and 'Midsummer Night's Dream'. The latter integrates Dreamtime with Dreamland in its computer generated virtual backdrop representing a broody, Dreamtime desert landscape.

Aboriginal languages feature on stage. Godot is translated into Bundjalung and 'Wirid-Jiribin-The Lyrebird' is the first public performance for 200 years in Tharawal.

Locations vary from the Opera House theatres to Centennial Park where Sydney based Stalker Theatre perform 'Mimi' which was created with the Kundarlangnja community from W.A. Indigenous artists work with Stalker's stilt- walkers in this exceptional visual outdoor spectacle about the giant Mimi spirits who teach the people to dance, hunt and gather.

The festival features indigenous artists from all over the globe including Greenland, Korea, Samoa, New Zealand and P.N.G. It celebrates artists from ancient cultures and highlights the slow but inexorable global process of reconciliation. Sydney is alive with extraordinary art.

Monday, 15 September 1997

The Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov, Hildegard, Sept 1997

The Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov
By Hildegard 
at Theatreworks until Sept 7, 1997

This review was published in The Melbourne Times in Sept 1997.
Oh happy days for Chekhov lovers! This week Melbourne-Moscow hosts (accidentally) twin productions of his classic, The Three Sisters, A.K.A. The Six Sisters or Three Sisters Squared.

Hildegard Theatre Company has a reputation for doing exotic theatre integrating text with music and dance but, in this version of the Sisters, the movement and music are, rather, interpolated amidst the text which is primary. This was surprising but not disappointing.

The sisters Olga, (Angela Campbell), Masha (Bagryana Popov) and Irena (Samantha Bewes) spend their trivial lives in a rural army town in Russia, grieving for their dead father, pining for Moscow where they lived happily until their father removed them to the country after mother died.

Director, David Latham highlights the sense of 'open house'. Officers, civilians, family and friends trail through their museum-like rooms and miserable lives day and night, winter and summer. Everybody 'philosophises' and carps about lost dreams and broken promises. They live in the golden past, complain about the present and hope for a better future in Moscow - or in love. Years pass. Nothing changes. Nobody leaves.
This is a fine ensemble of actors. Campbell brings a vibrancy and stillness to the often stolid Olga and Bewes allows Irena's naivete' and brightness to tarnish as she becomes more jaded. Popov is appropriately languorous as the self-centred Masha. As the manipulative and tasteless Natasha, Caroline Lee is delightfully shrewish and hateful.

Latham keeps the play bouncing along at a cracking pace, always maintaining a state of dissatisfaction and discomfort amongst the population. The humour of Chekhov which glitters amongst the melancholy, is honed to a playful or satirical edge.
Jim Daly as the drunken old Chebutykin, the  laconic Greg Ulfan as the stirrer, Solyony and David Wicks as Kulygin, the pedantic school master, all play the dialogue the jokes with excellent comic timing and delivery.

The dialogue emphasises  the ecstatic and the melancholic in the Russian temperament. Chekhov had a cruel honesty, a warts and all gaze on all his characters.

The piano (Izabella Mougeraman) and balalaika (Yuriy Mougerman) and strains of Russian song provided a lyrical atmosphere and Peter Long's gorgeous painted scrim is a gift for Paul Jackson's evocative lighting.

The piece could have allowed more silence, pauses, further detail in the characters or relationships. It skipped like a stone over the surface in parts. But I'm being picky.

Kate Herbert

Thursday, 4 September 1997

The Butcher, The Baker... , Sep 4 1997

The Butcher, The Baker... by Ella Filar
 La Mama at the Courthouse until Sept 20, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around 3 Sep 1997
(For Arts Editor, Herald Sun, Robin Usher)

Could it be Universal Consciousness that causes strange themes to emerge simultaneously on stage? This week Ella Filar's play The Butcher, The Baker... opens and so does Meat, another play about a butcher.

Filar is a musician/song-writer with a excellent selection of songs and a musical and lyrical style drawing on Kurt Weill who composed for Bertolt Brecht. Filar, in this instance, writes without the political edge.

Her Crow's Bar Cabaret, a band of seven, including three singers, play on a raised platform. The arrangement is syncopated and percussive with rhythms and voices reminiscent of 1930's Berlin Cabaret and evoking a nightmarish quality.

This ominous atmosphere supports the narrative played below in the netherworld of Honey, (Joanna Seidel) her non-sexual partner, Alex, (Sue Ingleton) who is a brain surgeon and Honey's new lover, Johnny, the butcher (Howard Stanley).

There is a seething, seamy eroticism in Filar's text, directed by Daniel Schlusser, which is grotesque and disarmingly lurid at times. It is sexual not sensual. The characters are intensely dislikeable, presumably intentionally. They manipulate, seduce and deceive. There is a body count by the end: two human, one rodent.

The juggling of brain surgeon and butcher as partners is an obvious - perhaps too obvious - analogy for the cerebral versus the physical. Alex talks on the phone, deals with heads and ideas while Johnny pounces on Honey's body, treating her as a slab of meat. Johnny is all barely restrained passion, lewd references and roving hands. Alex is aloof, smug and clever. Both are obnoxious.
The play is intercut with songs, my favourite being, "Give it to me one more time". The voice of Elissa Gray is extraordinarily chilling. It is textured with harmonies by Iris Walshe-Howling and the spine-tingling vocal acrobatics of Roni Linser.

Ingleton gives Alex a wry ironic edge and Stanley is wild and seductive as the butcher. Seidel shifted with flair between sexual abandon and frustration.

There are problems arising from the structure of the narrative and a profusion of styles and images which reach overload and become incoherent or, at least, difficult to follow. Poetic verse bounces against straight dialogue and storytelling. 

The static nature of the staging and direction does not help to clarify or integrate the whole. However, the songs and some imagistic writing are terrific.


Meat by Nick Meenahan , Sep 4 1997

Meat by Nick Meenahan
at Universal Theatre 1 until October 5, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around 3 Sep 1997

My mum's favourite shopkeepers were a comic double act of local butchers. What is it about meat that makes them jolly, warm and flirtatious in a way acceptable to the oldest, most conservative women?

Meat, a solo show by Sydney actor and clown, Nick Meenahan, explores The Joy of Meat. 'Pleased to meet ya. Meat to please ya,' he quips with a cheeky cock of the head and a knowing wink.

Meenahan, an ex-butcher, blends pathos with comedy in this hilarious, touching hour. Stan the butcher has a charming vulgarity. He is adorable and crass. He loves women and flirts with every single one. He has even had flings in the cool room. 'Even die-hard feminists come in to be chatted up in secret.'

There are parallels drawn between the carcass, which he so skilfully and dispassionately carves before our eyes, and the fleshly pursuits of the human race he studies through his customers. He casually suggests he has always wanted to carve a human; perhaps he'll use his unreliable apprentice as a guinea pig.

Stan is 'a dreamer in a world which does not tolerate dreamers.' He pines for the days when quality meat meant quality service and his sixteen workers were committed to fine butchery. He loaths the inhumanity of supermarkets where there is no love for meat or customers.

Meenahan is a lovable whiteface clown with a wicked gleam in his eye. He engages the audience directly, asks questions and launches into songs and dance routines that are part of Stan's fantasy to be a performer.

With crafty direction by Peter Hayes and some clever, well-observed writing, Meenahan peoples Stan's world with off-stage characters. Pete the drunk pops in for a fry-up between flashing himself at local shoppers. Pete's brother, Ronnie, Stan's workmate, was killed in a car accident out front. Meenahan has an uncanny way of making the tragic hilarious.

The sound design (James Vickery, Mel Broe) provides a colourful, evocative character and musical background. The vivid and inventive lighting by Geoff Turner allows Stan to travel through time and space. John Studmore's set of cow carcass and butcher's paraphernalia imbedded in sawdust evokes the old family butcher shop.

Stan's collection of knives is scary but the show is hilarious, skilfully constructed and playfully performed.

The John Wayne Principle, STC Playbox, Sep 4 1997

The John Wayne Principle by Tony McNamara
Sydney Theatre Company at Playbox until October 4, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Sept 3 1997

 This is just a stab in the dark but could the term, 'The John Wayne Principle' mean 'Be a real man. Kill the guy in the black hat before he kills you'? Any other clues?

The phrase, is never mentioned in Tony McNamara's play but the rule of thumb, 'slaughter or be slaughtered' is chronically employed by the bevy of immoral corporate pirates who people this cleverly written dark comedy.

Robbie Slater (Paul Bishop) has a Harvard MBA but his father's ugly corporate behaviour and his own corporate failure, compelled him to alter his life. He lived iv isolated Queensland, became a New Man, primary care-giver to his child and supported by his wife. (Kelly Butler).

Then Daddy blows half his face off with a shotgun that precludes him from running the company, given his comatose state. Here begins the roller coaster of manipulation, greed and betrayal. Robbie, if he is to inherit, must run the company for a year. Serena (Alison Whyte) is his sister and Dad's obvious successor, but she is loathed by the board for her hardball tactics.

McNamara, prior to his writing career, worked in the money market and he provides a vicious indictment of the mercenary, narcissistic and inhumane corporate world.  His witty, rapid-fire dialogue is often hilarious and the plot moves swiftly and relentlessly to its totally immoral conclusion.

Director, David Berthold, keeps up a cracking pace. Scene changes are minimal within Justin Kurzel's design of a wood-panelled corporate boardroom where screens display money rates, company valuations and Dow Jones indexes.

This is a spectacular ensemble. Bishop skilfully portrays Robbie's journey from charming boyishness to insensitive bullying. Alison Whyte plays the abrasive but vulnerable Serena with sympathy and humour. Christopher Stollery, as the totally amoral Stafford Ellson, plays this socially acceptable sociopath with superb comic coolness. He is matched by Helen Thompson's portrayal of his dreadful wife. The two have a wonderful idiocy usually seen only in British upper-class twits.

To quibble a little, individual character voices are not clear. Almost all have a similar acerbic, hard-nosed verbal style that seems to be the voice of the writer. This is a smart and entertaining satire but, despite its cleverness, it leaves one decidedly unmoved.