Sunday, 30 April 2000

Keene/Taylor Theatre Project, Season 11, April 2000

The Funniest Man in the World 
Keene/Taylor Theatre Project, Season 11
Grant Street Theatre, April  until May 13, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Watching Daniel Keene's  short plays is like peeking into people's underwear drawers. They are intensely personal and we feel like intruders

In Season 11 of the Keene/ Taylor Theatre Project, we crawl through the windows into five lives. We witness the despair and anguish, the fantasies and poetry of these marginalised characters.

Director, Ariette Taylor,  has once again skilfully woven together a program of five discrete plays. Characters stroll or scuttle through each other's stories. The performance style and design (Adrienne Chisholm) is consistent throughout and Taylor colours the text with choreographic detail. Atmosphere is enhanced by sound (David Chesworth) and lighting. (Daniel Zika)

The very stylised vivid red costumes of "A Three-Legged Chair" shift an otherwise earthy dialogue into a peculiarly abstract world. Three homeless men (Lewis Fiander, Marco Chiappi, Stewart Morritt) called Tom , Dick and Harry, bicker, struggle and admire each other with intermittent references to Shakespeare.

The Funniest Man in the World is a reference to master clown, Buster Keaton. This piece is a lyrical blend of exceptional narration by the honey-toned Helen Morse, with Jonathan Taylor's silent movie solitary clown and his quirky habits.  Taylor's mimetic, balletic movement is delightful as he scampers about like a nervous mouse. This piece is sweet and charming.

We shift tempo to a rougher, more dangerous episode of street life in Duet. (Chiappi, Morritt). Two men living in a drainpipe, share not only space but stories and even a cheap whore. They drive each other to distraction and eventually to violence.

The mildest play features Morse as a fragile and vulnerable mother whose 15 year-old daughter returns to her after many years in foster care. Chloe Armstrong is sweet and credible as the daughter trying to connect with the stranger who is her mother.

Two Shanks is a potent piece of self-narration with Lewis Fiander as a rambling old geezer who finds an infant on a dust heap. This is a compelling small tale which has epic resonances. It speaks of ancient archetypes in its journey from birth to ritual death and funeral pyres.

This season is a strong mixture of the poetic and the grisly which has a tender heart.

by Kate Herbert

Portrait of Dora, April 30, 2000

by Hélène Cixous at La Mama, April 30 until May 14, 2000
Bookings: 9347 6142
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The directorial works of Laurence Strangio are always a treat at La Mama. He takes complex, poetic texts, generally by French women, and stages them in abstract, deceptively simple form.

After tackling pieces by Marguerite Duras and recently Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace, Strangio stages Portrait of Dora. This is a chamber piece by Hélène Cixous, a French theorist and playwright who wrote for Ariane Mnouchkine's  Companie Theatre du Soleil.

Strangio casts carefully, employing intelligent actors who penetrate the dense, psycho-analytical text of Cixous. This intensely intellectual play is based on Dora, an 18 year old "hysteric" treated by Sigmund Freud during 1899. It focuses on Dora's relationships with Freud, (Richard Bligh) her father (Bruce Kerr ) and Mr. and Mrs. K (Peter Finlay, Natasha Herbert), Dora's neighbours in Vienna.

Dora (Caroline Lee) reveals her dreams, fears and desires to Freud until she announces, on the first day of the 20th century, that she will not return.

But can we believe her stories? She accuses Mr. K of attempting to seduce her by a lake on a family holiday. She says her father has a long-standing affair with the glamorous Mr. K, that she herself idolises Mrs. K but resents the affair.

Strangio avoids naturalism like the plague, as does Cixous. He seats all five characters around a large metallic table. They slip in and out of light and in and out of each other's realities. Episodes, dreams, and time periods dissolve and merge. It is enhanced by wonderful lighting (Paul Jackson) and soundscape (Roger Alsop).

 There is a sense of a mystery unfolding as Dora reveals snippets of her psyche through memories and dreams. There is a mesmerising atmosphere that is Strangio's trademark although the piece is peculiarly emotionally unengaging.

In a contemporary context, we must question Freud's capacity to understand this young woman. He feels obliged to lay his patterns of psycho-analysis over her complex and muddy neurosis.

The performances are excellent. Lee, manages to play the complexity of Dora, who is fragile, mean-mouthed, manipulative and often dislikeable child-woman. Bligh captures the quality of outsider/voyeur in Freud and Kerr portrays the dignity of Dora's father. Finlay uses his haunting voice and impeccable timing to great effect and Herbert is luminous and ethereal as Mrs. K.

But please, stop smoking on stage. It is distressing in an unventilated environment.

by Kate Herbert

Sunday, 9 April 2000

Bob Downe- Whiter! Brighter! April 4, 2000

By Bob Downe (Mark Trevorrow)
at The Capitol Theatre, April 9 to 23, 2000
Bookings: Ticketmaster 136 100
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The glare from Bob Downe's whiter than white teeth is enough to wake the dead. So is the reflected light from his lime green crimplene.

Bob Downe has yet another hit show in Whiter! Brighter! which is part of the Melbourne Comedy Festival. His inimitable style uses a Magimix blend of toothy TV show host, schmalzy cabaret acts, excruciating jazz dance routines and painfully recognisable 70's disco tunes including "Love is in the Air" and "I Love the Night Life."

His parody is always dangerously close to the edge of reality that makes it impossible to take a regular club act seriously ever again. Go into any Gold Coast club or casino cabaret room and you will see even the audience is wearing cheap lamè and a bad toupeè.

His act is impeccable, right down to the details of Bob's fictionalised character and personal life story.  He is cheap, camp, crass, suburban and conceited: Mr. Amateur talent show from Murwillumbah makes good.

The Bob Downe character becomes more of a male Edna Everage as years pass. His stories of the family caravan park with mum, Ida Downe, and his slatternly, drunken Auntie Bev, are hilarious. Bob is definitely white boy trailer trash of the first order.

Bob Downe, AKA Mark Trevorrow, moves almost as well as his Apple Fresh Dancers (Ashley Evans, Amber Field) for whom he cunningly enlisted jazz dance legend, Tony Bartuccio as choreographer. The routines makes the 1970's Channel Nine dancers look classy.

The show takes place in the striking Burleigh Griffin Capitol Theatre which, quips Bob, "was designed by Frank Burleigh Thring." Bob's material, which is cleverly tailored for a Melbourne audience, ranges from the disaster of Swanston Walk to Chadstone, Barbra Streisand and the Sydney Olympics.

The songs get tackier and the dances cheesier while the costumes changes continue with cuffed trousers, fringed flares and loud shirts in a fiesta of synthetics. (costumes by Rose Chong and Ida Downe)

It is much more fun to be close to Bob. The back block in the Capitol is too far away from the stage to get the full glare of Bob's rolling eyes, his insincere grin and naughty asides. This is masterly parody.

by Kate Herbert f

Wednesday, 5 April 2000

Wil Anderson, Wilionnaire? April 5, 2000

Who Wants to be a Wilionaire? by Wil Anderson  at Victoria Hotel until April 23, 2000
Melbourne International Comedy Festival 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

How many more plays on Wil Anderson's name are still to come? Lost in the Wil-derness; Ready, Wil-ing and Able; Wil-come to my Nightmare. This could be interminable.

Fortunately, he is funny as well as being committed to idiotic puns on his name. Wil lopes on stage wearing a pin-striped jacket and a deceptive grin covering his cynical soul. He wears trousers too.

The material is less acerbic and political than the previous show, Terra Wilius. (pun!) He shoots barbed arrows at Eddie Maguire, who is, admittedly, an easy target, then slams the TV show, Pop Stars.

He gets mileage out of audience members' jobs. He improvised around a woman who was weary of being an air traffic controller, a young table tennis coach. Even this writer for the Herald-Sun was fair game. Foolish man, Wil!

He cleverly reincorporates gags and is hilarious when improvising on a casual audience remark. He takes a leap into interesting and more challenging areas (a novelty with most stand-up comics) when he questions the rationality of a GST on tampons or the political correctness of the Windsor Smith shoe poster.

With such a smart comedian, there is plenty more scope for this area to be developed.

Wil Anderson is charming but somehow he seems hampered by his very charm. If he stopped wanting to be cute and lovable, (No offence Wil) he could be a biting social commentator. Let's hope his breakfast radio gig does not make him just like all the other comics.

By Kate Herbert

Sunday, 2 April 2000

Billy Possible, April 2. 2000

by Neil Cole La Mama at Courthouse until April 15, 2000
Melbourne International Comedy Festival 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Billy Possible is a funny play from another lefty - Neil Cole, ex-Labour politician. It is a comic exposè of the machinations of Labour Party branch politics during an election.

 Billy, the dummy candidate, is played with expert comic timing and delivery by Ross Williams who has recently made a long-awaited return to stage from television.

The dialogue is fast-moving and witty, with jibes at all sides of politics. Everybody is corrupt, self-serving and human.

 Joy Mitchell's direction is swift, maintaining the comic drive. The acting is uneven but Abbe Holmes as the abrasive Joanna is delightful and Margot Knightis credible as the feminist candidate.

by Kate Herbert

Utopia Rod Quantock, April 2, 2000

At Assembly Rooms, Collins Street until April 22, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Rod Quantock performs his new show, Utopia, in the superbly designed Scots Church Assembly Rooms in Collins Street. The church contract demands that anything performed there must be "right, noble, pure and admirable" in intent.

Of course, it also demands that it not condone immorality or religions other than Christianity. Quantock gets a good five minutes of comedy out of the contract itself without demeaning its writers. We draw our own conclusions.

He is renowned for his low-tech shows which feature a blackboard and chalk. This time the blackboard, an escapee from the Trades Hall, is on stage but unused. Rod squeezes another five minutes out of the chalk scrawl on it: "Free Timor Campaign."

His delivery is so easy and effortless that it is difficult to discern when he is improvising. The gags come thick and fast. Content which superficially seems to be innocuous and uncontroversial, tilts imperceptibly into incisive socio-political commentary. Even the demise of chalk is a vehicle for social observation.

No sacred cows are exempt from his sharp tongue and witty repartee. He paces the stage in his inimitable ungainly gait and trashy, multi-coloured shirt, pointing out to his predominantly left-wing audience the irony of Jeff Kennett running an institute for depression.

He slaps Peter Reith, John Howard, Bronwyn Bishop, all of the newspaper magnates, the Sydney Olympics, the internet, the millennium celebrations, genetic manipulation, virtual reality, E-tag and Macdonalds.

Essentially, the message is that the "bloated, evil, capitalist monster invades our homes" in myriad ways but Rod's material never seems vicious or fanatical. It is always funny, intelligent and socially responsible - whichever side of the political fence one sits. This show is my first in the Comedy Festival and probably will be my favourite.

By Kate Herbert