Saturday, 18 October 1997

Features of Blown Youth by Raimondo Cortese, Oct 18, 1997

Features of Blown Youth by Raimondo Cortese
By Ranters Theatre
 Economiser until Nov 1, 1997
Reviewed by KH around Oct 17, 1997

Being cool is a painful dead-end. Raimondo Cortese's play, Features of Blown Youth, highlights the tragedy of a group of young people leading pointless lives.

We sit voyeuristically peering at the shattered existences of these characters most of whom live in a huge, inner-city grubby dive. They are all aimless, they all abuse themselves and each other in turn and each is helplessly infatuated with another.

Dove (Tess Masters) is an insecure junkie stripper with romantic ideals and a new bimbo, Rot (Torquil Neilson). Isabel, a jaded student, is hooked on Dove. Guido (Arthur Angel) is like Vivian from The Young Ones. He is violent, offensive and wildly jealous of about his peppy dope-head girlfriend, Syv (Beth Buchanan). Harriet, the pseudo-artist, is smitten with Oron (Patrick Moffatt) who is by far the most interesting character.

Moffatt is consistently exceptional as the directionless intellectual who hovers, patronises and sharpens his wits on others' ignorance.  Oron's inability to harness the power of his mind is his downfall. He remains in low gear.

Cortese has a great facility for swift dialogue and well-observed characters. He satirises the silliness of half-baked philosophy and floods with harsh light the self- indulgence of those who think being decadent and screwed up is interesting. One wonders though, late in the second half, whether an audience can be shocked any more.

Director, Adriano Cortese keeps the pace up and scenes move smoothly between rooms that have a grungy, hyper-real design by Dan Potra. The whole is accompanied by unobtrusively effective music by Kim Salmon.

The plot pivots in an excellent scene at the end of the first half when Strawberry, the new spivvy landlord and pimp arrives and tips the delicate balance of their lives. The outcomes of this intrusion are myriad and to some degree unexpected.

The young people may have thought their lives were interestingly decadent but Strawberry is the real thing: dangerous, dissolute and exploitative. These confused, deceived people are fair game for one so unscrupulous.

The question is whether every piece of theatre about youth must be centred on the dank, bleak existential dilemmas of an inner-urban crisis ridden youth. Grunge theatre is all we are getting - even if this is a good version of it.


Raised by Wolves by Handspan Theatre, Oct 18, 1997

Raised by Wolves by Handspan Theatre
Victoria Dock Shed 14 until Oct 21, 1997
Reviewed by KH around 17 Oct, 1997

There is a moment when we realise we have turned into our parents. Mine was during Raised by Wolves when my uppermost thought was, "TURN DOWN THE MUSIC! MY EARS ARE BLEEDING!"

Handspan and director David Bell have collaborated with popular band Regurgitator in this project that is essentially a rave party plus some visual theatre. There are a few extraordinary elements. The first is the location in a disused shed at Victoria Dock under a full moon.

Inside, hordes of mainly very young people milled about anticipating where the action might begin. Banks of video screens, coke machines and scaffolding broke up the space. Shipping containers acted as platforms for puppeteers, actors and the live band. Huge cherry-pickers decked with fluorescent lights, prowled the space.

 The walls are chequered with more multi-coloured fluoro tubes which form the words "LIVE' then later "DIE". At one end of the shed a huge demon head with spinning eyes screamed at us. At the other, a flaming Picasso portrait burned.

Ben Cobham's lighting design and the giant cockroach puppets were the highlights. As spectacle, however, this performance misses the mark. It draws on a style popular in Europe with La Fura del Baus (Spain) and Titanick (Germany) but, whereas these companies draw together disparate images, text and sound to create a cohesive whole, Raised by Wolves is dissonant and chaotic.

Any dialogue that remains audible over the ear-smashing noise level is unintelligible or puerile. Actors Lee Russell, Megan Cameron and Justin Ratcliffe, wander about aimlessly, wrapped in plastic, attacked by cockroaches or as post-holocaust derelicts.
The curtains and metal screens could have created some interesting snatches of physical imagery but without context, content or thematic links, the whole deteriorates into hysterical ravings, meaningless wanderings and NOISE.

The very young in the crowd seemed to enjoy the dancing and the unpredictability of the piece so perhaps it is a matter of taste or of age. It is a pity because Handspan has done some spectacular work over the years.ˆ


Wednesday, 15 October 1997

Unidentified Human Remains, Oct 15, 1997

Unidentified Human Remains (and the True Nature of Love) by Brad Fraser
 Vortical Theatre Athenaeum 2 until Nov 23, 1997
Reviewed by KH around Oct 15, 1997

A well-written script can rise like a phoenix from even a mediocre production. Such is the case with Canadian playwright Brad Fraser's play, ˇ

Fraser has experimented with style, form and content in this witty and disturbing play. The narrative has several threads that finally weave together a range of young characters: some eccentric, others ordinary, one simply psychotic but all narcissistic and dissatisfied with their lives.

His language is raw and earthy and his dialogue hilarious. As a gay writer his intention is obviously to dispel some of the myths about homosexuality and he does so through his narrative and through his often camp humour. "Hi! I'm homo!" quips David. "'Some people are freaked out by gays.' 'Well some people like polyesterˆ'", says Candy.

David, the actor-waiter, is gay and promiscuous. His roommate, Candy, is anorexic, driven and lonely. His oldest friend, Bernie, is married and a philanderer. David's co-worker, Kane is sexually confused and adoring. Jerri, the lesbian, loves Candy. Candy loves out-of-towner, Robert. Benita is a psychic hooker. Everybody loves either Candy or David.

The adolescent social and sexual antics of these Generation X'ers seems trivial in the face of the spate of gruesome rape-murders which are terrifying the country town of Edmonton. It becomes evident that the psychotic could be any one of a number of these fun-lovers.

Fraser uses swift, snappy ad-break scenes, snapshots of characters and clipped, overlaid, abstracted dialogue to provide a series of images that echo the fractured lives of the characters and create an intense and nervous atmosphere.

Vortical Productions, directed by Darren Markey, made a courageous choice but have staged a clumsy version of Fraser's clever play. Much of the danger is lost and the performances are generally colourless. The emotional layering and complexity of structure are lost in the inexperienced and flat delivery, pedestrian direction and clunky design.

They do, however, hit some of the humour of Fraser's writing. This is a very funny play. It's exploration of the vagaries of relationships and the parallels between gay and straight lives are impeccably observed. Benita's obsession with childhood horror urban myths is highlighted by the real horrors in the community.


Tuesday, 14 October 1997

Perfect Madness, Oct 14, 1997

Perfect Madness, by Michael Cummins
 Courthouse Theatre until Nov 2, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Oct 14, 1997

Sideshows always manage to be decrepit, dusty and tragic. They are not even at the heart of the circus but tucked away on the fringe nursing their jaded old laughing clowns and faded carousel horses.

Perfect Madness, written by Michael Cummins and directed by Kim Baston, attempts to penetrate the dejected lives of three people who have lived on Sideshow Alley all their lives. Each character yearns for a rosier past, a youthful dream. Then, along comes young Bill to revive their shattered hopes.

If this sounds like the intro to a soap opera, it is close. The style of the piece often echoes the melodramatics of a low-budget soapie. There is potential drama in the directionless lives of Lette, Gordon and Eileen O'Connor. Lette (Laine Lamont) was a whisker away from making on the Tivoli stage. Gordon, (Gene Bradley Fisk) her brother, was a rising country and western singer; "Lucky Starr stole every song I ever wrote."

Their niece, Eileen, (Natalie Carr) is driven to resuscitate their dying O'Connor sideshow stalls. Either that or to marry Winston Lockett III (Damian Woodards), who runs the profitable rides much like the Wittingslows.

The production just never quite makes it. The plot is thin and the dialogue and relationship are repetitive. The text could do with a savage edit to focus it on a narrative line. The character of Bill (Paul Volpato) is too sketchy and is absorbed into their lives too easily without question. He remains a theatrical device rather than a character that is intended to revitalise all their fantasies.

The entertaining moments are the musical, showy pieces. The finale is a 'tent show' ("All we need now is the tent!") with Tivoli grand dame, Lette doing a Hollywood musical number with a chorus line of dancers. Gordon's C and W songs are toe tappin', hand-clappin' numbers and there are two neat magical illusions and one clanger.

Baston's direction of the musical finale is better than that of the dramatic scenes. They are static and unimaginative with clumsy scene changes. The performers are mostly very inexperienced as actors and this explains why they look so uncomfortable and the relationships are not credible.
More specific tightly plotted lighting and a more flexible set design might have helped to some degree but essentially this piece needs major reworking.

Friday, 10 October 1997

I'm Not a Nut - Elect Me by Anthony Morgan, Oct 10, 1997

I'm Not a Nut - Elect Me by Anthony Morgan
Trades Hall Council Chambers until Oct 19, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Hebret around Oct 9, 1997

The Council Chambers of the Trades Hall are unintentionally decorated with nouveau "distressed paintwork". Morgan paces the floor, tilting away from his official-looking lectern and debate cards and tossing off policies peppered with satirical jabs at every side of the political arena. He is gaspingly funny and outrageous.

"Right-wing Anthony", candidate for the "One Australia is good enough for all of us Party", proposes hanging for any old offence. A bit of rope can do plenty of hangings and can't be privatised.

Parliament needs 'a decent sort of Fascist'; one with time on his hands who isn't abandoning the fish and chip shop. An out-of-work stand-up comic fits the bill.

To solve the tariffs issue, he will stop imports. He will privatise everything, eliminate social security and, to improve morale, call the 'Jobless' the infinitely more positive, 'Dole-Full'.

 He supports 'Shooting Galleries' for junkies: the kind with rifles. Agent Orange-ing, feral greenies would end the environmental argument. 'Right Anthony' would apply the Kemp theory of funding: "You're not learning - so I'm gonna take all the money out of education."

Anthony Morgan is a Comedy Butterfly Effect. There is order in his Chaos Theory. No matter how circuitous his path or how bizarre his theory, he always returns to the gag.

ˇI'm No Nut - Elect Me is Morgan at  his best.  He campaigns for two political parties and two parliamentary seats: one Far Right and the other Far Left. He figures if he wins both he can straddle two seats in the Canberra.

The second half is devoted to Comrade "Left Anthony" of  'The Australian Bloody People's Action Group' (ABPAG) who invited a clutch of Pollies to debate the topic, 'Privatising the government'. 

He supports old values. Nationalising bread would end the interminable search for the perfect sourdough loaf. Diplomatic lunches would be bangers in bread with sauce. Revive the Woodchop and make the O'Toole family national heroes. He regrets the gentrification of the Post Office. "Where can the slow and the stupid work?' On drugs: "I want phonetic spelling for marijuana".

His Q and A session addressed Human Rights. 'The right to be human is not much to aspire to; it may be better to aspire to be dogs. Direct, friendly and kind to old dogs. Vote One Anthony Morgan - Right or Left!


Friday, 3 October 1997

THEATRE ROUND UP column, Melbourne Sept-Oct 1997

 Herald Sun
Reviewer: Kate Herbert, Oct 3, 1997

Meat by Nick Meenahan Universal 2 until Oct 5, 1997
This solo show by ex-butcher Nick Meenahan, a lovable clown with a wicked gleam in his eye, explores The Joy of Meat. Meenahan blends pathos with comedy in this hilarious, touching hour. Stan the butcher has a charming vulgarity. He seduces female customers, carves a lamb on stage and peoples his world with off-stage characters.

Circus Oz Melbourne Town Hall until October 5, 1997
There's one thing about Oz. We give good circus. The new Circus Oz show is like being on the bus in the movie, Speedˇ but with better music and wilder stunts. The skills of this company of multi-talented performers increase exponentially, yearly. David Carlin's direction is slick and the show is stylish. Terrific family entertainment.

Moonlodge at La Mama from Oct 7 to 12, 1997
Canadian Native American actor Margo Kane brings her warm and moving solo show Moonlodge to La Mama for one week after a hit season at the Festival of the Dreaming. Kane people's the stage with quirky characters met by the young Native American, Agnes, who was stolen from her family as a child. She satirises stereotypes of 'Injuns' and penetrates the pain and joy of her oppressed people.

The John Wayne Principle by Tony McNamara.
Sydney Theatre Company for Playbox at Merlin Theatre until Oct 4, 1997
The egocentric and cut-throat world of corporate business is cleverly satirised in Tony McNamara's acerbically witty play. 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. Included in the cast is Frontline's Alison Whyte.

Cloudburst by Steve Wheat La Mama until Oct 12, 1997
Steve Wheat's writing is intelligent, witty and often poetic. His characters use words as weapons or caresses and his analogy of the impending cloudburst highlights the potentially explosive love affair. Craig Goddard plays Dave with the right amount of jittery neediness while Sarah  Chapman is intense and brittle as the often dislikeable Beth. The game of truth or dare in the bathtub is terrific.

Kennedy's Children by Robert Patrick Athenaeum Upstairs bar until Oct 19, 1997
JFK and Marilyn Monroe were not the only casualties of the swingin' 60's.U.S. Robert Patrick crawls inside the sad lives of some lesser known tragedies who lived on into the nostalgic 70's. This adaptation concentrates on two women. Carla (Deborah Robertson) is a Marilyn wannabe and failed club singer. Rona (Suzie Cardiff) is a latter-day hippy who pines for the days of real causes and idealistic kids. You get to drink in the bar with them.

Hysteria by Damien Richardson at La Mama until Oct 5, 1997
No matter what name we give them: neurosis, sadness, depression, melancholia, mania - nervous disorders are not to be sneezed at, so why not make theatre about them? Writer-performer, Richardson, has used factual information based on French analyst, Charcot, and hilariously exaggerated autobiographical details to create a quirky, engaging piece. He takes risks on stage, improvising with audience and dealing with psychosis and taboos: sexual, religious and theatrical.

The Operated Jew by Gilgul Theatre at Athenaeum 2 until Oct 9, 1997
The latest production directed by Barrie Kosky.

Ablaze, Lower Melbourne Town Hall Sat Oct 5 5pm Thurs Oct 9, 1997
Six exceptional improvisers go beyond Theatresports with narrative and musical improvisation that burns.

CAT by Stephen Sewell Courthouse until Oct 12, 1997
Syd Brisbane performs this in-your-face one-man show which is the story of a deeply disturbed individual with a dark past and living in a country town . It is quite a challenge for an audience.


Wednesday, 1 October 1997

Hysteria by Damien Richardson, Oct 1, 1997

Hysteria by Damien Richardson
at La Mama until Oct 5, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Sept 26, 1997

No matter what name we give them: neurosis, sadness, depression, melancholia, mania - nervous disorders are not to be sneezed at, so why not make theatre about them?

Writer-performer, Damien Richardson has done just this with his solo play, Hysteria, which takes a peculiar angle on the neurotic. Richardson has used factual information and hilariously exaggerated autobiographical details about his own family to create a quirky and engaging piece.

A childhood friend, Fuzz, has grown up with a drug dependence and psychotic symptoms, is a focal character. There are some funny and disturbing moments as we witness Fuzz's disorientation and panic, his fear and naivete.

Dad is a born-again Charismatic Christian wearing Jesus sandals and spouting embarrassing Christian dogma on the perimeter of the cricket field where his son plays. The need for a 'normal' parent is overwhelming.

The fact that hysteria was always associated with women is a fascination to Richardson. He is bemused by the ancient Greeks' notion that the uterus travelled through the body randomly creating hysterical responses in women. He physically transforms himself into a women onstage – which is quite disturbing.

One central character, Genevieve, is drawn from the case studies of the late 19th century French analyst, Charcot, who researched and treated women with hysterical or neurotic tendencies. Freud went to Paris early in his career to study under Charcot at the hospital of Sal Petiere in Paris, the same hospital in which Diana died; an odd congruence.

Genevieve was a depressive who, in her fits, took up "passionate attitudes" which Richardson freezes into dramatic, almost histrionic tableaux. It is ironic and tragic that real disorder can appear almost melodramatic.

Richardson is a performer who takes risks on stage. His material deals with psychosis and taboos: sexual, religious and theatrical. He works directly to the audience, sits down amongst us for a rest and a little comfort during the show and comments on the audience reaction.

He improvises in an almost unnerving way, dropping in and out of character and delving into the psyches of the nervously challenged. He revitalises childhood anecdotes and family behavioural quirks, playing them as comic stories but, in fact, highlighting them with a parallel analysis of neurosis.

This is a funny and cleverly written show with some challenging moments about our delicate psyches.

KATE HERBERT                 

Cloudburst by Steve Wheat, Oct 1, 1997

Cloudburst by Steve Wheat
at La Mama until Oct 12, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around 30 Sep 1997

Some relationships are simply to be weathered. Such is the case with the couple in Steve Wheat's play, Cloudburst, Beth (Sarah Chapman) and David (Craig Goddard) meet, fall passionately in love, live together then proceed to drive each other to distraction. Ring any bells?

Wheat's writing is intelligent, witty and often poetic. He seems fascinated with the structure of language, its infinite permutations. His characters use words as weapons or caresses depending on the state of their communications. They dodge and feint, avoiding real contact, skittering over the surface of their problems until the wounds start seeping.

Beth is 'ebullient' says David. David is 'amiable', says Beth, damning him in one gentle word. It becomes clear that Beth is damaged, bitter, closed off from her emotions and masking some terrible wound. David needs intimacy not space. He wants to crawl inside her. A recipe for disaster?

Wheat cleverly uses the continuing analogy of the storm, the impending cloudburst, to highlight the potentially explosive end to this love affair. Finally the skies open, the clouds burst. It is a great relief, like a cooling summer storm.

Goddard plays Dave with the right amount of jittery neediness while Chapman is intense and brittle as the often-dislikeable Beth. Having performed this show together for three seasons, their onstage relationship is strong even given the direct address to audience set amongst the dialogue.

Wheat's language allows the couple to set up patterns of behaviour. They repeat word games, trivia competitions, and whole conversations. Initially, they love the rapport these bring but finally the revisited conversations become arguments and taunts.

There is tragedy in Beth particularly but there are some lovely, warm, poetic scenes. The two, naked in their huge bathtub on stage, play and tease each other and us with a game of truth or dare which dredges up their pasts uncomfortably.

Up until the explosion towards the end of the play, the dynamic range of the performance was a little too narrow, and the acting was a tad too restrained or mannered. This is, of course, written into the characters to a great extent but the piece was crying out for out for a climax - which echoes the many references to orgasm in the text.

The play is smart, funny and titillating, which is a good combination.

Kennedy's Children, Oct 1, 1997

Kennedy's Children by Robert Patrick
Athenaeum Upstairs bar until Oct 19, 1997
 Reviewed by Kate Herbrt around 30 Sept 1997

JFK and Marilyn Monroe were not the only casualties of the swingin' 60's. Kennedy's Children, by U.S. playwright Robert Patrick, crawls inside the sad lives of some lesser-known tragedies that lived on into the nostalgic 70's only to regret their pasts.

This adaptation has excised several characters from the original play and concentrates on two women. Carla (Deborah Robertson) is a Marilyn wannabe and failed club singer. Rona (Suzie Cardiff) is a latter-day hippy who pines for the days of real causes and idealistic kids.

Rona and her kind wore sandals 'because we were poor' not as a fashion statement. They took drugs to expand their minds not to kill themselves or others. They listened to music because it supported their protests, they marched because they cared and loved because they meant it.

Carla remembers when every girl - and boy - wanted to be Marilyn, when beauty was prized and men didn't hate women. As the decade wore on, she discovered that she was disposable. Both are tragic romantics who believed life could be better and discovered that it only got worse.

Cardiff is a charming and ingenuous love child reincarnated. Her naive reminiscences, her almost childlike view of the politics and social dramas of the era, have a sweet melancholy. She has never recovered from her dreams of a better world, even though her boyfriend is a junkie and Dylan is a multi-millionaire.

The characters who have been edited from this production included a Vietnam veteran and a gay man. The balance is tossed askew with only two voices in the series of monologues but the musical accompaniment by Dan Kelly is an excellent compensation for some of the losses. The actors prowl among the audience in the Upstairs bar of the Athenaeum but the staging becomes predictable and static although the characters and writing carry the piece.

Robertson gives a masterly performance as Carla. Her jaded Marilyn look-alike is a desperate creature haunting this bar, singing her old songs, drinking her cocktails to wash down too many sleepers. Her voice is scented with Marilyn and gin. Her memories are of an artist who bartered herself for favours.

Patrick's writing is exceptional and informed. He wittily juxtaposes images, concepts and characters from the period and seems, himself, to be pining for the days when people were kind to each other. When were they?