Thursday, 30 September 2004

No Grace by Mick Muldoon, Sept 30, 2004

No Grace by Mick Muldoon 
La Mama, Carlton, Sept 30 to Oct 10, 2004

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Mick Muldoon's play, No Grace, cleverly unravels a plot involving a murder and three men connected with the crime.

Dominic Pedlar inhabits three discrete characters who appear consecutively on stage.

Muldoon shows us how facts can be deceiving. He cunningly has each of the three men providing us with another piece of the jigsaw about the robbery and murder of Andrew Stewart, a young, wheelchair-bound man.

First we encounter the naïve, fumbling council worker, Mick Ellis, as he awkwardly tries to set up a video camera. He then records a message to his 9-year old daughter, Grace, explaining he has not done that of which he is accused.

Mick is the dupe and had fallen prey, we discover later, to his mate, Des, and a lawyer.

The second character is Mick's slick, prosecution lawyer in a respectable suit. Jeremy Mayo prowls the stage, addressing us directly, manipulating circumstantial evidence to manufacture a credible case against poor, gullible Mick.

Finally, we meet Desmond Pickering who is in a low security jail thirteen years later. A young lawyer (Sally Bull) interviews him, appearing on a video monitor. Des is a seedy, sly criminal. We wait to witness his downfall at the hands of this unknown young woman.

Pedlar, directed by Greg Carroll, is on stage throughout, even changing costume between characters on stage. He creates a truly sympathetic character in Mick who is clearly incapable of such a crime.

We like Mick but fear the worst for him as Pedlar demonstrates how he is videotaping evidence to incriminate himself.

Pedlar plays Des, or Uncle Des as Mick's daughter, Grace knows him. with a rat-like cunning and edginess. Des is jumpy, abusive and defensive.

But the real villain here is the smug lawyer. Pedlar finds the still, almost hidden smirk and the character's own delight in massaging the facts in his closing address to the jury.

Pedlar's physical and vocal distinctions between characters could be stronger. The transformations were not quite complete but the message was clear.

The legal system is fallible, the weak can be victimised by the strong and self-interested and justice is not always done.

LOOK FOR: The lawyer manipulating evidence in his closing address

By Kate Herbert 

Personality Games, Gordon Parker & Neil Cole, Sep 30, 2004

 Personality Games  
by Gordon Parker and Neil Cole  
La Mama, Courthouse Theatre, Sept to Oct 9, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sep 30, 2004

One of the writers of Personality Games, Gordon Parker, is an academic psychiatrist and Executive Director of the Black Dog Foundation. His co-writer, Neil Cole,  now runs the Depression Awareness Research Project.

Between them, they have a fund of knowledge about mental illness.

Parker's psychiatric experience is the basis of this interesting play about Roger, a psychiatrist (Jim Daly) who takes on Kittie, (Michelle Hall) a difficult patient with Borderline Personality.

Roger struggles not only with her internal issues, but with his own attraction to Kittie. Both characters test their own and others' boundaries. The result for both characters could be disastrous.

There is a problem theatrically with setting a play inside a psychiatrist's office. There is little or no physical action.

To overcome the static nature of the relationship, two masked characters encourage him to act. They are his Id (Don Bridges) and Super Ego. (Babs McMillan)

While Roger listens to Kittie, the two fight for precedence in Roger's mind. Id wants Roger to satisfy his pleasure urges while Super Ego wants him to hold the correct line.

We see the psychiatrist as fallible, flawed, in danger and dangerous. The notion of the psychiatrist's inner world bubbling up and interfering with his professional behaviour is all too believable. We know there are some who have crossed the sexual line in the sand.

At times, the masks are an awkward theatrical device and often state the obvious.

As Roger, Jim Daly captures the psychiatrist's rigid, distant, stitched up professionalism.  We are dying for him to loosen up, preferably with his wife Dianne, (Babs McMillan) rather than his patient. Hall becomes more comfortable with Kittie's mania as the play goes on.

The final scenes are the most satisfying. There is more emotional action, Roger, Kittie, Dianne and Roger's slimy friend, Andrew (Bridges) are changed and reveal themselves to us.

This is recognition theatre for the chattering professions and the audience seemed comprised almost completely of these workers.

The dialogue is frequently expository and sometimes injected with jargon and anecdotes. This interferes with the drama of the struggle between characters.

There are two primary relationships for Roger: Kittie and Dianne. We do not need his friend, Andrew. The focus on Roger's obsession with Kittie needs balancing with his struggles to maintain his home life.

LOOK FOR: Kittie's final revelation.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 29 September 2004

Annie Get Your Gun, Production Company, Sept 29, 2004

Annie Get Your Gun   
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin, Book by Dorothy & Herbert Fields   
The Production Company
 State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, Sept 29 to October 2, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Marina Prior plays with relish the gauche, illiterate country hick, Annie Oakley. in Roger Hodgman's production of Annie Get Your Gun,

Matching her boldness is Scott Irwin, as Frank Butler, Annie's love interest, "the swollen-headed stiff" who, until Annie erupted on the scene, was the best sharp shooter in the world.

The entire production leaves the audience smiling. The story is cute, the music jolly and memorable and the characters sympathetic.

Annie, the uneducated sharpshooter, is invited to join Buffalo Bill's (Terence Donovan) Wild West Show and quickly becomes the star, upsetting Frank's ego.

The story, written in the 1940s, reflects the newfound power and independence of women and satirises the expectations of men for a pink and pretty wife that will purr like a kitten and sit on his knee like a doll.

Hodgman's direction keeps a pace rapid and varied rhythm. The efficient device of a narrator, Charlie Davenport, (Gary Down) announce each scene location.

Although without massive scenery, Annie has a full orchestra on stage and a chorus of fifteen singer/dancers.

Choreography (Paul Mercurio) is energetic, colourful and manages to neatly confine itself to the small stage space.

Musical Director, Kellie Dickerson, conducts Orchestra Victoria through the rollicking score, maintaining a charming, unobtrusive presence throughout.

Enhancing the atmosphere are evocative lighting (Matt Scott) and a simple, vivid set (Richard Jeziorny OK) establishing the Big Top, Hotel, a train and fairground.

Irving Berlin wrote singable and memorable songs for this score and Prior and Irwin make a feast of them.

It opens with there's No Business Like Show Business and, even without Ethel Merman, it is a rousing chorus.

Prior's cheeky charm is highlighted when she sings the bright and bawdy tune, Doin' What Comes Naturally. And her rendition of You Can't Get a Man With A Gun is hilarious.

We enjoy My Defences are Down, I Got the Sun in the Morning, the Girl That I Marry Moonshine Lullaby.

Nicki Wendt is brassy and funny as Dolly Tate, Renee Burleigh and Ranjeet Starr charming as the younger couple and Michael Carman is poker faced and comical as Chief Sitting Bull.

Annie is an up beat entertaining night that will leave you singin' tunes.

LOOK FOR: Prior and Irwin singing Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better at the Shooting Match.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday, 28 September 2004

I Spied by David Callan, Sept 28, 2004

I Spied - True Confessions of an Ex-ASIO Spook 
by David Callan 
Chapel off Chapel Sept 28 to Oct 17, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

David Callan's solo comedy show, I Spied, is polished, political, personal and very, very funny. 

It parodies ASIO, that bastion of Australian espionage, and challenges our James Bond influenced conceptions of the well-dressed spy.

Callan's satirical view of spies, terrorism and media-led wars is scarily accurate. He worked inside ASIO from 1986 to 1993 and knows precisely how boring it is being a spook.

The 75-minute show is not stand and deliver comedy.  Callan, dressed in a suit, tie and very shiny shoes, peoples the stage with eccentric, powerful, frightening and hilariously dull spies he has known.

He embodies, for our delectation, the infamous Bond - James Bond.  His Sean Connery impersonation is impeccable and his description of Bond's poor spying technique is hilarious. Who can be inconspicuous driving a yellow sports car with missiles?

Callan paces like a caged lion across his stage, recreating his life in ASIO, from baby spy to rebel.

He began as a humble mail boy. Let's rephrase that - in the humble position of mail boy. There is nothing humble or retiring about Callan, s a self-confessed loud mouth, wise-cracker and 'crap spy'.

Spies are subtle patient and discreet. "I am none of these," he quips.

He relives his interview with the dullest spy in the world and graduates from spy school after learning how dull and bureaucratic spying can be.

The offices of ASIO sound like a smug Private Boys School complete with pranks to relieve the boredom of paper pushing and Prefects to boss you.

There is a fascinating balance of parody of ASIO and a respect for its work. Callan satirises the Gulf War, The Fall of the Berlin War, the Gulf War, the War on Terror and John Howard's fridge magnets.

There is also a powerful sense of the underlying gravity of the work that continues inside those offices.

After wheeling his mail trolley, being a terrified hostage in a training exercise, he moved to a locked office where, for three years,  he watched wars come over his desk and over the CNN air waves.

His comical exit from ASIO is a series of faux pas with a final swan song. His political version of the old standard love song, Let's Do It is a treat.

LOOK FOR: The opening sequence - a clever physical mimetic scene with Callan as Bond.

By Kate Herbert

Sunday, 19 September 2004

Faith, Hope and Surveillance, Platform Youth Theatre, Sept 19, 2004

Faith, Hope and Surveillance by Ben Ellis 
Platform Youth Theatre

Yarra Edge Theatre, NMIT Fairfield, Sept 19 to  October 2, 2004

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Platform Youth Theatre has a policy to develop performance with input from young people.

For the company's latest production, Faith, Hope and Surveillance, John Britton directs the cast of twenty-five keeping the pace rapid and the landscape peopled with extras.

Before Britton's involvement, initial ideas for a play were followed by workshops with the larger company. Ben Ellis wrote the final script.

There are always hitches with any devised play. The narrative is confused and there are too many voices, parallel themes and characters with nothing explored in depth.

This is the case with Faith Hope and Surveillance.

The greatest failure in this production is the weakness of Ben Ellis's script.

His drawing together of myriad ideas produces a  superficial depiction of the modern obsession with electronic gadgets, marketing, media, satellite and camera surveillance.

It also takes a peek at the notion of the diminished responsibility of the general public that stands by en masse and does nothing to assist people in need or danger.

It pokes fun at marketing executives, security officers, live webcam websites, land clearing and surveillance of outer space.

Even the eternal quest for the perfect partner is parodied in the electronic matching device known as Love Match.

The enormous young cast works with great commitment and energy to express though theatre their concerns in the modern world.

Particular performers deserve to be commended.

Carli Jones and Link McElvenny as security officers at  Workstation - a mock Officeworks.

Angelo Esposito has presence as the epileptic camera installation guy. Bill Rogers is engaging as the 16 year old sneaking into bars pretending to be a marketing executive.

Amanda Johnson was convincing as Patricia, the face to face marketer/Roach and Jo Leishman was relaxed and focussed as the Love Match computer manager.

Soundscape by Chris Thatcher creates an evocative atmosphere and lighting (Marg Howell) and set designers (Dustin Bennett) are supported by the Platform Design Mentorship Program.

LOOK FOR:  The café where everyone ignores the man having a fit.

By Kate Herbert

Saturday, 18 September 2004

The Last Days of Mankind, Justus Neumann, Sept 18, 2004

The Last Days of Mankind 
by Karl Kraus, translation by Justus Neumann & Matthew Lillas
Where and When: La Mama, Sept 17 to 26, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Witnessing an actor such as Justus Neumann and his performance of The Last Days of Mankind reminds us why we go to the theatre. He makes it all worthwhile.

Neumann is a consummate actor, twice winner of Best Actor of the Year in Vienna (1984 -85).

He is a virtuoso, a compelling presence, charming, wild, electrifying, moving, hilarious - How else can I describe this man? He is a jewel.

The adaptation (Joseph Hartmann, Eva Schwing) reduces 800 pages and 500 characters by Austrian playwright Karl Kraus to a potent hour.

Neumann's translation, with Matthew Lillas, maintains the sardonic wit of Kraus's early 20th century script.

 The play allows Neumann to conjure people, locations and events from Austria and Germany in the First World War.

He transforms vocally and physically into a parade of eccentric, funny and dramatic characters.

The play opens with a Newsboy and finishes with the voice of God. We witness the Reporter, the Prussian General, a Bride, a wounded and cuckolded soldier, an invalid beggar, a school teacher and myriad others.

The Optimist and the Pacifist act as a Chorus in this discourse on war.

The staging is sparse. Neumann sits or stands at an old wooden table for the entire hour.

On the opposite side of the long stage sits Julius Schwing, an inventive and skilful electric guitarist,.

He provides momentary scene change music, sound effects, riffs reminiscent of Hendrix and a final stunning musical evocation of the Allies' invasion.

The horror and stupidity of war is the core of Kraus's play.

Idiotic military leaders muse on their war plans, revealing their absolute disregard for life or peace.

These men are more dangerous through Kraus and Neumann's parody. One even rewrites Silent Night as Violent Night, thinking it hilarious.

Kraus's cynicism about war heightens the lunacy of the German Austrian fantasy about victory and military might.

Apart from some longer speeches, descriptions of scenes and dialogue are mostly read from the pages of a large book on the table.

The Last Days of Mankind brings the energy, excitement and magic of great acting up close in this provocative anti-war play.

LOOK FOR:  The psychiatrist's tirade: a denouncement of war.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 16 September 2004

Second Childhood, MTC/Hothouse, Sept 16, 2004

 Second Childhood
adapted by Glenn Perry from Morris Gleitzman  
Melbourne Theatre Company with Hothouse Theatre
Alexander Theatre , Monash University, 16 - 24 September
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sept 16, 2004

Second Childhood, adapted from Morris Gleitzman by Glenn Perry, has already run a successful season in Albury at HotHouse Theatre.

As a play, it resembles the effective and ubiquitous Theatre in Education shows of the 1980s.

Mark Smalley (Justin Lehmann) arrives at High School and discovers that he is no longer the Dux of Primary School but a D student.

His desire is to fulfil his father's ambition that he be a somebody, not a demolition contractor like dad. ((Dennis Coard)

His friends, Pino, (Sam Hryckow) the rebellious poor student, and Debbie, (Nicci Wilks) the wannabe Olympic gymnast, struggle with the ne constraints of secondary school.

When their teacher, Mr.> Cruickshank's (Coard) daughter, Annie, (Sharon Oppy) arrives in class, their lives change.

The horse mad Annie believes she is the reincarnation of Pharlap, jewel of the Aussie racing industry in the 1930s.

One by one, they all come to believe they are reincarnated special people

Mark is Henry Ford, Debbie is John batman and Pino is Elizabeth Kenny, a pioneer of polio treatments.

The play, directed by Melanie Beddie, picks up pace in the later half.

Particularly entertaining for the audience of 10-14 year olds was the naughtiness of the characters and the acrobatic antics of Wilks and Hryckow.

The children decide that even great somebodies made mistakes. They discover, in their research into their alter egos, that Ford's development of vehicle manufacture is responsible for escalating pollution.

Debbie's Batman, (not to be confused with the superhero) cheated the aboriginal people of Melbourne out of their land.

Lastly, Annie believes that Pharlap's phenomenal success triggered the growth in gambling which impacts on Annie's life as her mother (Debra Lawrance) is a gambling addict.

This is a simple lesson in activism, social politics and how to learn without getting bored.

The play is fun, fast moving, cheekily written and performed by a colourful and multi-skilled cast.

School holiday performances should be packed with cheerful kids and parents.

LOOK FOR:  The highjacking of Pharlap

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 9 September 2004

The Dutch Courtesan by John Marston, Melbourne Uni, Sept 9, 2004

 The Dutch Courtesan by John Marston
Union House Theatre, Melbourne University
Guild Theatre September 9 to 18, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The Dutch Courtesan, directed by Suzie Dee, is a lively production with entertaining moments and a couple of promising performers.

This university production comes with all the delights and problems of a student theatre show.

The cast is energetic, committed and clearly excited to be in this bawdy Jacobean comedy written in 1605 by John Marston.

 For some, the language, age range and comic characters are out of their reach - but others shine.

Jacobean comedies epitomised the excesses of the period.

While some were performing grotesque, graphic revenge tragedies to the court, others, such as Marston, were writing broad, sexy comedies.

Franceschina, (Hester Van der Vyer OK) a beautiful and tempting Dutch whore, seeks vengeance on her noble lover, Freevill,(OK) ( David Frazer) when she discovers his betrothal to a chaste maiden, Beatrice. (Rachel Purchase).

She plans to seduce Freevill's sorrowful and lovelorn friend, Malheureux (Michael Wahr) and compel him to murder Freevill in return for sexual favours.

Her plans go awry, of course, and the noble and chaste prevail.

In a sub-plot, the cheeky Cocledemoy  (Hugh Holt) dupes the inn keeper, Mulligrub (Seamus Magee) steals his goods and almost costs him his life.

The play is a frippery of its period bearing some resemblance to Shakespeare's comedies: broad comedy, bawdy themes and issues of propriety, morality, betrayal and honesty.

 Suzie Dee keeps the pace rapid and the mood light. She integrates physical comedy, montages and a woodwind trio. (Hanna Coleman, Tilly Junker, Steve Scholte)

Hester Van der Vyer is compelling as the manipulative strumpet, Franceschina. She balances delicacy with sensuality and venomous revenge.

Performances from Frazer and Wahr are competent. Purchase is a convincing whining Beatrice while Margaret Paul is a jaunty Mary Faugh.

Sam Koehne as Tysefew, has presence and has the only voice among the men that can handle the language of the period and age of the characters.

Ellen Hayward, as his love interest, Crispinella, is arch and entertaining.

It is perhaps no wonder that wicked plays such as this drove Marston, after a short theatrical career, to renounce the naughtiness of theatre and become a priest.

LOOK FOR: Fraceschina's song

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 1 September 2004

Take Me Out by Richard Greenberg, MTC, Sept 1, 2004

Take Me Out by Richard Greenberg 
Melbourne Theatre Company
 Playhouse, Sept 1 to  October 2, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Take Me Out, by Richard Greenberg, is a witty narrative about a US baseball player (Kenneth Ransom) and one fraught season with his team, the Empires.

Darren Lemming leads a charmed life - until he announces his homosexuality to the world.  After this crucial episode, he lives up to his surname.

The play is about baseball, which makes it inaccessible at times to an Australian audience. References to baseball rules, batting averages and home runs lose impact in a culture of Aussie Rules.

However, issues of sporting hero worship, sportsmanship, macho behaviour, homophobia and ambition are not isolated to baseball teams. Consider recent emotional moments at the Olympics.

Greenberg manages to integrate entertaining diatribes about democracy, language, religion and racism into a play that, at first view, is about a gay man coming out in a bastion of male achievement.

His dialogue is often pithy, satirical and riddled with acerbic wit.

Take Me Out turns from a bright, wordy comedy to a darker shade in the second half. The problem is we are never emotionally connected to the characters. The words get in the way.

Characters are two-dimensional: the African-American made good, the intellectual WASP, the dumb southerner, a couple of argumentative Hispanics and an aggressive Japanese.

The style of the jokes, the use of a narrator, the New York location, even the construction of the play is reminiscent of Neil Simon. The play has a very conventional structure with no real surprises.

Kate Cherry's direction is slick and well paced, keeping the sharp dialogue firing and physical images engaging..

Richard Roberts stylish set is exceptional, with a locker room complete with real showers for lots with scenes of naked men..

Ransom is charming, relaxed and credible as Darren and Bishop maintains the ironic voice of the writer as the narrator.

Jeremy Lindsay-Taylor is the stand out. He totally inhabits the role of Shane Mungitt.  the simple-minded stuttering hick who pitches like a demon.

Simon Burke makes a meal of the camp financial manager with a newly discovered penchant for ball games and ball players.

Cherry's production is energetic and makes this rather wordy play look very good.

LOOK FOR: Jeremy Lindsay-Taylor's outburst after his fateful pitch.

By Kate Herbert