Thursday, 21 December 2006

2006 Theatre Wrap Up, Melbourne, Dec 21, 2006

Theatre Wrap up 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

2006 was a patchy year but small shows, solos and new musicals win the accolades.

The exceptional solo performance was Jeffferson Mayes in I Am My Own Wife, playing an aged, East Berlin drag queen who survived Nazism and Stalin.

On the other end of the budget spectrum, Peter Houghton performed a parade of characters in The Pitch at La Mama. Houghton featured again as the incapacitated despot, Hamm, opposite David Tredinnick, in a grim but comical Endgame by 11th Hour.

Tragedia Endogonidia, from Italy, was a fascinating theatrical investigation of the fragility of human existence and violence but the two productions I missed were the top of the pops for many: I La Galigo by Robert Wilson and Festen. Pity!

The Commonwealth Games Festival was a huge hit. Two compelling companies demonstrated that circus is now indistinguishable from theatre: Les Septs Doigts de la Main (Montreal) and Cirque Eloize (Paris) who poured their Rain over the Casino stage.

I missed Honour Bound about David Hicks, but two political shows grabbed me. Wages of Spin was a cunning multimedia take on Australian politics but it was Catch a Star…Falling that stole my heart. Ex-junkies, prisoners and homeless rural teens performed a musical based on their lives at risk.

Musicals made a splash and the inspired Keating - The Opera was the leader. Hugh Jackman displayed his star quality in Boy from Oz and the bold, androgenous Iota inhabited Hedwig, the transsexual drag queen in a raunchy rock musical. City of Angels, the Film Noir musical, was a happy surprise as was Women With Standards, a cabaret quartet. Tomfoolery featured the hilarious, laconic songs of Tom Lehrer but overdressed them.

Stephen Sewell’s It Just Stopped was overrated as was Tony McNamara’s The Give and Take and Melbourne Workers’ Theatre remounting of Yanagai Yanagai.

The clangers were many and varied but the Melbourne Festival dropped its bundle with dumb type, an overwhelmingly loud, pretty but emotionally bereft Japanese performance and Now That Communism is Dead… was mostly incomprehensible, loud and punishing theatrical chaos. 

But taking the cake for theatrical disaster was Vignettes and Reminiscences; if only it had called itself a parody we could have roared laughing.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Let’s Do It! Women With Standards, Crown Casino, Dec 19, 2006

 Let’s Do It! by Women With Standards
The Palms at Crown, Tues to Sun, Dec 19 to Dec 24, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Take a night off from late night Christmas shopping and parties to see Women With Standards before they close on Christmas Eve. They are worth the trip. 

These four talented professional singers offer a startlingly entertaining and slick jazz cabaret show. Their voices blend deliciously in complex, four-part harmonies that will make your hair stand on end.

The quartet introduces innovative vocal arrangements enhanced by a tight and understated jazz trio of double bass, drums and piano. They sing jazz standards, soul numbers, medleys of sappy love ballads and the odd original song or rewritten lyrics. All are accompanied by stylish yet simple choreography.

They are good-looking, sleek, sophisticated and sassy, each having an individual style, character and personal story to tell. In the first half, they are garbed in eye-catching, jewel-coloured gowns and they open with dreamy harmonies in My Mamma Done Told Me, I’m Every Woman and Girl Talk.

They tease us with cheeky patter; “ I bet you think you’ve got us tabbed: the lesbian, the mum, the bitch and the air-head.” Well, two of these are true but these women are much more than stereotypes. I called them The Mum, The Blonde, Skinny and Spike (Naomi Eyers, Lee McAlistair, Melissa McCraig, Libby O’Donovan).

They do an exciting scat version of I Got The World On A String, a slow and sultry Che Sera Sera then a comical series of lyrics for women to live by, including Keep Young And Beautiful and Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend.

McCraig and Eyers do a cute medley of duets such as Baby It’s Cold Outside and Don’t Go Breaking My Heart. McAlistair sings a smoky-voiced Saving All My Love For You and O’Donovan belts a hot Gospel song, Are You Ready For A Miracle.

Eyers set our spines tingling with her soaring vocals in Aretha Franklin’s Respect and McCraig croons the sad ballad, What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life.

These women have super singing credentials, coming from The Fabulous Singlettes and other cabaret groups. The voices are phenomenally powerful and versatile and each woman is engaging. Their comic patter could do with some editing or directing but Let’s Do It! is a happy Christmas surprise package.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Requiem for the 20th Century–Volume One, Nov 20 2006

Requiem for the 20th Century – Volume One 
By Tee O’Neill & Theatre@Risk 
New Ballroom, Trades Hall, Carlton, Nov 20 until Dec 3, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Requiem for the 20th Century is an ambitious project by Theatre@Risk and Tee O’Neill and it succeeds in part. However, one cannot help thinking that it bit off more than it could chew.

The project proposes “to capture the spirit of the 20th century” in two parts. Volume 1 spans the first 45 years and runs for three hours. It sets the story of star-crossed lovers, Red (Angus Grant) and Cassandra (Isabella Dunwill) against the background of the struggles and achievements of 1900 to 1945.

Red grows up in Melbourne then, with his brother, Gerry, (Andre Jewson) enlists in 1914. Meanwhile Cassandra, child of an English diplomat (Alex Pinder) and a Russian aristocrat (Odette Joannidis), arrives in Cairo where she falls in love with Red.

Despite Cassandra’s father’s aim to keep Red safely ensconced in a desk job, Red goes to Gallipoli where he witnesses horrors. Cassandra and Red are parted indefinitely when he returns to Melbourne too late to nurse his mother or shell-shocked brother. Being of noble heart, Red marries his dead brother’s pregnant fiancĂ©e, Alice (Jude Beaumont), and he and Cassandra embark on separate, loveless lives on opposite sides of the globe.

The performances are strong. Durwill is feisty and sympathetic as Cassie and Grant balances Red’s early boyishness with his more mature dignity and bookishness. The supporting cast play multiple roles with alacrity and their chorus work is engaging.

Director, Chris Bendall, keeps the pace swift, wasting no time between the perhaps too numerous scenes.
He composes attractive stage pictures and imbues each scene with energy.

The play begins well but it is simply too long and has too many ideas. O’Neill aims to write an epic play but, although individual scenes are entertaining, the structure is rambling and the script lacks a clear theme or through line. Some dialogue becomes expository with too much historical information.

At times it feels like a lesson in 20th century theatre styles as we visit the Weimar Republic cabaret in Berlin, Meyerhold’s theatre in Moscow and Fernando Arrabal’s play, Guernica, during the Spanish Civil War.

Cassandra spends her time with Picasso, Dali, Marlene Dietrich, Lorca, Meyerhold and Brecht. We witness real and fictional scenes about Chaplin, Einstein, Chamberlain and Hitler. We travel to Cairo, Gallipoli, London, Moscow, Spain, Berlin and more.

Despite such weighty material we are left unmoved by any one character or story line. Writing and staging an epic is no picnic and Requiem, although it definitely has merit, needs some retouching – and editing.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 7 December 2006

Vignettes & Reminiscences, Daniel Kahans, Dec 6, 2006

Vignettes and Reminiscences by Daniel Kahans
La Mama, Wed & Sun 6.30pm, Thurs to Sat 8pm until Dec 17, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Daniel Kahans’ Vignettes and Reminiscences, directed by Jill Kahans, is an odd collection of writings. It comprises twenty pieces, all only minutes in duration, but the evening does not make a theatrical whole.

Many pieces are snippets of Kahan’s poetic writings presented in a superficially theatrical mode, that is, they are spoken, sung or danced. Kahans is a retired psychiatrist and his themes range from the more serious topics of depression (Frozen and Seized, Severe Endogenous Depression), Jewish orthodoxy (Talmudist) and Islamic martyrdom (Suicide Bomber) to simple domestic or pastoral themes (Lullaby, Warrandyte, Pied Butcher Bird).

Although most are densely worded and earnest there are some that are quirky and two that rely on dance or movement (Tango with Two Women, Sorrow in Spanish).

Kahans’ poetry is often so florid and cryptic that the meaning is impenetrable and we find ourselves floundering in a sea of complex language and images. Warrandyte is perhaps the most accessible piece with its gentle musings on semi-rural landscape.

Other vignettes are more successful by being sung, allowing the words to become musical and the meaning to be less central to the performance. Julian Wilson, in his rich bass baritone, intones Elegie while dressed as a priest who bemoans his guilty sins and mortifies his flesh with words. David Lawson-Smith hums Lullaby to a baby and Rosalynd Smith imitates, rather awkwardly, a butcherbird’s call.

In a dialogue-based scene, a young woman (Sarah Hamilton) shrieks and writhes her way through an actor’s nightmare audition. The wild overacting became comical here – perhaps unintentionally.

The acting is very uneven and the direction unimaginative. With such short pieces, the scene changes need to be crisp, theatrical and efficient but they are often clumsy. The actors look uncomfortable and members of the ensemble are either underacting or grossly overacting.

Alicia Benn-Lawler’s dance in Sorrow in Spanish seems out of context in this show but it is has some interesting movement. The final tirade, called Funding Cuts to a Throbbing Theatre (Emily Nisman), is a speech about saving La Mama from its Australia Council funding review. Preaching to the audience of converted may not be the most useful political action.

This show lacks a consistent style or form and the writing and direction lack theatricality.

By Kate Herbert

City of Angels, Dec 7, 2006

City of Angels
Music by Cy Coleman, Book by Larry Gelbart, Lyrics by David Zippel
fortyfivedownstairs, Wed to Sat 8pm,  Dec 7 to 16, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

City of Angels is a Film Noir musical set in the 1940s but written in the late 80s. It has a stellar pedigree of writers (Cy Coleman, Larry Gelbart, David Zippel), won six Tony Awards in 1990 and the Edgar Award for Best Play.

Coleman’s score is steeped in the jazz of the 40s and is complemented by Zippel’s complex lyrics that reflect the rhythms and rhymes of the period.

Gelbart constructs a cunning dual plotline. Hero number one is Stine (Mark Doggett) who is writing screenplay of his own detective novel for Buddy (Chris Watkins), the fast-talking Hollywood studio boss. Buddy controls both the script and Stine’s career.

Meanwhile, Stine’s characters come to life in a parallel tale inside the movie script. Stine’s hard-nosed gumshoe, Stone (Tom Stringer), assisted by his loyal secretary, Oolie (Nicolette Minster), struggles to solve the mystery of a missing girl, to resist the wily femme fatale, Alaura (Jane Harber), and to avoid being beaten, shot and arrested.

Gelbart’s script is homage to Raymond Chandler. “She was a handful - maybe two if you played your cards right,” quips Stone. The dialogue is colourful and witty and the twin stories are woven together with characters having counterparts in each story.

Commonly, the movie scenes are played in black and white and the Hollywood writer’s scenes are in colour. This production uses a clever, cartoon-like Noir backdrop (Sahr Willis) for both realities.

Doggett is compelling as Stine, with a rich, soaring voice. His rendition of Double Talk and of Stine’s solo, Funny, were rivetting and his duo with Stringer, You’re Nothing Without Me, was exhilarating and impassioned.

Stringer plays Stone with a laconic ease although his character is more downbeat than suave and sexy. Harber has a feline seductive quality in her twin sex-kitten roles while Minster sings the lament of the secretaries, You Can Always Count on Me, with great conviction.

There is a good support cast in Sarah Louise Younger, Paul Gartside, Margaret Paul and Jeremy Hopkins. The Angel City quartet, singing the quirky chorus numbers, is to be commended for its truth to the 40s style and the seven-piece band, under Adrian Portell, was tight and polished.

Although some of the acting and voices are uneven, director, Peter Mattessi, has created a charming show.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Killing Jeremy by Bridgette Burton, Dec 6, 2006

 Killing Jeremy by Bridgette Burton
Hoy Polloy and Baggage Productions
Courthouse Theatre, Wed to Sun 8.15pm,  6 to 16, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Killing Jeremy, by Bridgette Burton, is a two-hander about a young woman coming to terms with her boyfriend being in a coma after a serious car accident.

Director, Wayne Pearn, leaves the stage clinically empty apart from a single hospital bed and a chair. The play begins with Madeleine (Burton) seated by Jeremy’s (Fabian Kahwati) bed, chatting to his lifeless body about their lives, her dreams, his family and avoiding the pressing issue of turning off his ventilator. As his girlfriend, she has no power in the decision, but Jeremy’s family are waiting until she is ready to say goodbye.

Initially, it seems that we are watching a solo show, with Jeremy merely a silent receptacle of Madeleine’s musings. Burton plays not only Madeleine, but her own mother, sister and father, a businesslike nurse, Jeremy’s cool mother and pleasant father. Rather suddenly, Jeremy begins to respond to Madeleine’s chatter, as if he were still alive. Madeleine’s secret, inner dialogue with him becomes real – at least to her.

The pair revisit their first encounter, Jeremy’s love of Heavy Metal music, their dinners with his parents, playful times at home in bed and, most importantly, the fatal drive that led to the car crash. Each time we see the couple in the car, a little more information is revealed. Jeremy wants to marry, Madeleine refuses him, he suggests she is not committed, she says she loves him but was never the marrying kind, she drives erratically and he panics.

The first half provides background to the story but the latter half of the play is the more successful as it concentrates on the relationship between the pair rather than on the other factors and characters in their lives and Jeremy’s death. Madeleine’s obsessive drive to hold on to Jeremy and prove her commitment to him is moving and the denouement tragic.

Burton and Kahwati are playful and engaging performers and Pearn’s concentration on the intimacy of the relationship is effective.

There may be a few sections to iron out in this script but it is certainly a potent vision of one woman’s journey to deal with loss.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 29 November 2006

Short & Sweet Festival 2006, Melbourne, Nov 29, 2006

 What: Short & Sweet Festival 2006

Where and When: Fairfax Studio, Victorian Arts Centre until Dec 17, 2006

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The Short & Sweet Festival, a play-writing competition for ten minute plays, runs over three weeks at the Fairfax Studio. In Week One, the quality of the ten productions varies wildly in script, direction and acting.

The most compelling and dramatic writing is in Relics, by Brett Danalake and Iain Triffitt. It is a cleverly wrought story of a Jewish woman who collects Nazi memorabilia, her most recent collectable being an horrific souvenir of her dead husband. The performances are very strong and the ending rivetting.

The Emotional Anatomy of a Relationship Breakdown (Suzie Miller) is a simple idea that comes to life on the stage with a capable cast. Miller effectively uses the device of having three actors play both the man and the woman in the relationship.

Memoirs (Emma Henshall, Ella Fenwick, Brian Opedal, Skye Gellman) approaches playwriting from the point of view of non-verbal, devised theatre. This melancholy and lyrical piece uses circus and movement in a non-verbal exploration of relationship and memory.

Other plays have some interesting elements but do not fulfil their potential. The 11 O’Clock (Josh Lawson) is a comedy sketch portraying a psychiatric patient who believes he is psychiatrist. When We Fall (Tamara Searle), a series of interlacing monologues, is initially poetic and obtuse but makes sense by the end.

Charlie (Iresha Herath), about a boy who has a crush on his grandparents’ farmhand, is a little heavy-handed as is Moving Fast (Adam Gelin), a broad comedy about an unemployed man who decides to take over the world and become an aboriginal-Muslim – all this while his wife is buying milk.

Eight Gen X Women (Rachel Ford), reads like a diary of young women lamenting their love lives. The stage is crowded with eight actors and the incorporation of singing and direct address does not always work.

Jack Rabbit (Gareth Ellis) is so abstract and wacky that its intention is unclear while Spring Session (Chris Hodson) relies heavily on two actors playing very cute dogs and a few repetitive jokes about Kim Beasley and John Howard.

A couple of themes pervade the plays: relationships and loss with a touch of madness thrown in. The great advantage with Short and Sweet is that, if you do not enjoy one play, it lasts only ten minutes and there are nine more.

By Kate Herbert

For Samuel Beckett, Eleventh Hour, Nov 29, 2006

For Samuel Beckett
 by Eleventh Hour Theatre
Eleventh Hour Theatre, 170 Leicester St, Fitzroy

Tues to Sat, Nov 29 to Dec 9, 2006

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The Eleventh Hour production, For Samuel Beckett, is Beckett’s Endgame with a nod to his influences at the beginning, namely some footage of Buster Keaton and part of Molly Bloom’s monologue from James Joyce’s Ulysses.

The cast of four (David Tredinnick, Peter Houghton, Evelyn Krape, Richard Bligh) displays an exceptional understanding of Beckett’s style and form. They capture the absurdity, the existential dilemmas, the slapstick and verbal comedy and the eccentricity of the characters and dialogue.

Endgame, in classic Beckett style, is a grim, comic view of human existence. It highlights human foibles, physical weaknesses, ageing, desperation and confusion as well as the awful reality of our personal power relationships.

Hamm (Houghton), an invalid, is the master who treats Clov (Tredinnick) like a slave. Nagg (Bligh), Hamm’s father, and his wife, Nell (Krape), are entrapped in two large rubbish cans. They represent all humanity, all damaged in some way and heading for degeneration and death.

All four are incapacitated in some way. Hamm is blind, crippled, in pain and restricted to a huge crate-like chair on wheels; Clov has bad legs and cannot sit; Nagg and Nell rest on stumps for legs and their sight and hearing are failing. “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness,” says Nell.

Beckett’s debt to clowns such as Keaton and to vaudeville is evident in Endgame as it is in his Waiting For Godot. The dialogue is often rapid-fire, like that of a playful vaudevillian duo and the characters are archetypes, drawn with broad, comic brushstrokes.

Houghton’s plays the villainous master, Hamm, with a huge dose of irony and a fine, wheedling tone not unlike the egocentric Mr. Burns in The Simpsons. As Clov, Tredinnick plays the resentful servant with a shuffling gait and grumbling tone.

Krape’s eccentric voice and manner make the smaller role of Nell entertaining and Bligh’s Nagg is suitably whining and weasel-like, reminiscent of Wilfred Bramble in Steptoe and Son.

Directors, William Henderson and Anne Thompson, set the audience on two sides of the actors and focus effectively on the physicalisation of characters and adherence to Beckett’s principles of style. Designer, Julie Renton, uses distressed walls and canvas to create a grey environment that is highlighted by Niklas Pajanti’s dusky, evocative lighting. Live violinist, Miwako Abe, adds a musical dimension with Bach’s Chaconne from the Partita for Solo Violin.

Beckett could happily celebrate this year, his 100th anniversary, with this production.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday, 21 November 2006

Babes in the Wood, Malthouse, Nov 21, 2006

 Babes in the Wood by Tom Wright
By Malthouse Theatre

Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, Nov 21 until Dec 2, 2006

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Babes in the Wood, directed by Michael Kantor, is a chaotic blend of Victorian pantomime, political satire and new cabaret. 

It may have lost some of its surprises since its premier in 2003 but it succeeds as entertainment despite, or perhaps because of, its shambolic nature.

This remount has some new jokes and one entirely new audacious scene that leave the audience gasping. You might think that Steve Irwin (Eddie Perfect) and a chorus of stingrays singing a satirical ditty called, Die Doing The Thing You Love about the sting of love piercing your heart might be simply bad taste.  Strangely, it is a celebration of Irwin’s joy in his work. Its barbed (sorry!) criticism is directed at Germaine Greer - who will talk herself to death.

Babes is a play within a play within Australia’s history. An old-style travelling theatre tours to grim, remote towns performing Babes in the Wood in rough marquees out the back of grotty pubs. The complicated internal sexual politics of the actors keep interrupting the play.

Max Gillies relishes his role as the tipsy old actor playing panto dame, Auntie Avaricia, a vicious, greedy old cow. Auntie sends her servants Boingle (Julie Forsyth), an immoral kangaroo, and Flapgherkin (Francis Greenslade), a dim-witted emu, to murder her recently orphaned, newly wealthy niece, Ruby (Caroline Craig) and nephew (Lucy Taylor).

The pretty darlings are lost in the Australian bush but Auntie’s do-gooding daughter, Phyllis (Diana Emry), enlists her reluctant beau, Jack (Perfect), to rescue them.

The show is littered with anachronisms, historical fact and fiction, topical political references, bushfires, drought, mythical cities and a hashish-riddled dreamscape of old Baghdad.

Contemporary characters and songs hurl themselves into the Victorian melodrama. Gillies’ John Howard impersonation is impeccable, Perfect sings a mad version of Hello This Is Joanie and Emry’s rendition of Nutbush City Limits as Amanda Vanstone is outrageous.

There is a cameo of a creeping, shrouded terrorist, plenty of references to White Australia and the “Unaustralians” and a very funny Rumsfeldian reference to “unknown knowns”.

The original songs (music by Ian Grandage) are a highlight including, We Liked It Better the Way It Was, They Hate Us Because We Are Good and the finale, There Was Something Here. Eddie Perfect is a master of the cabaret song but the entire cast sells a song with verve and Grandage is versatile on numerous instruments.

Babes is a romp worth seeing.

By Kate Herbert

Hellbent, Red Stitch Actors' Theatre, Nov 29, 2006

adapted by Ailsa Piper & Hugh Colman from The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster
by Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre
Nov 29 to Dec 16, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The Duchess of Malfi, by John Webster, is a revenge tragedy from the early Jacobean period after the death of Elizabeth 1. 

Hellbent is an assiduously edited version of the script rather than an adaptation. It is reduced from three hours to 100 minutes.

The editing reduces the cast of characters from fifteen or more to six. Several characters are folded into one. Lines of dialogue are reallocated and action is compressed into a shorter time frame. This has both positive and negative effects.

On the credit side, the story is more sharply focussed on the major players. On the debit, the narrative hastens too rapidly to its climaxes without our having developed clear understanding of the characters or issues at stake. The relationships cannot fully develop with such editing.

The play was a venomous indictment of the misuse of power and the excesses of the secular and religious leaders of the Renaissance period who were hell bent on power, violence, deceit or lust.

The beautiful, young and lusty Duchess (Kate Cole) is newly widowed. Her two very powerful brothers, the Duke Ferdinand (Dion Mills) and the Cardinal (Felix Nobis), are hell bent on stoping her remarrying. Secretly, the Duchess proposes, beds and marries her estate manager, Antonio (Nick Coghlan). Her lady’s maid, Julia (Verity Charlton) assists in the deception of the brothers.

The revenge and tragic repercussions are the result of the brothers’ actions and their enlistment of the soldier and murderer, Bosola (Simon Wood), as their spy and assassin.

The violence in Webster is typical of the revenge tragedies of the time but it can be too much for a modern audience to take seriously or tolerate. In some of the final scenes, particularly for Mills as the malevolent and crazed Duke, it tilts into melodrama.

Coghlan captures the steadfastness and honesty of Antonio. As the Duchess, Cole is best in her early skittish scenes before the onset of horror and grief. Nobis, as the Cardinal, has a stately, sinister dignity.

Wood goes some way toward making the murderer, Bosola, sympathetic as he fulfils his masters’ orders without the taste for blood.

There are compelling moments, particularly in the scenes after the Duchess’s demise where the story has time to unfold.

The play gallops along a little too fast and awkwardly in the first half but it is an interesting version of Webster’s classic.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 15 November 2006

Tomfoolery, Nov 15, 2006

Lyrics and music by Tom Lehrer, adapted by Cameron Mackintosh & Robin Ray
 Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre, Nov 15 until Dec 16, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

This reviewer is an unashamed Tom Lehrer fan. Tomfoolery, adapted by Cameron Mackintosh and Robin Ray, is a tribute to Lehrer’s masterly satirical songs.

Lehrer began at Harvard as a fifteen-year-old Mathematics prodigy where he then taught mathematics and began his parallel career as a musical satirist. He performed university revues but quickly developed a reputation that took him to concert tours, television and finally into recording studios when he tired of performing.

He is often vitriolic and his political satire remains pertinent in the Noughties. Nothing is spared criticism in the thirty songs featured in Tomfoolery. We hear favourites including Poisoning Pigeons in the Park, The Masochism Tango, The Vatican Rag and I Hold Your Hand in Mine, some of which were banned by philistines in Adelaide and Brisbane when he toured Australia in 1960.

Lehrer’s lyrics are sublimely clever, cunningly wrought and his rhyming owes much to William S. Gilbert. Punctuating the songs is Lehrer’s inimitable, acerbic patter.

The show is a pastiche performed by Rhonda Burchmore, Mitchell Butel, Gerry Connolly, Bert Labonte and Melissa Madden Gray and directed by Simon Phillips and choreographer, Ross Coleman.

The ensemble romp across sparkling Broadway steps before tattered velvet curtains designed by Gabriela Tylesova. Upstage, the tight five-piece band play and, on stage, Connolly accompanies songs on piano.

There is far more glitz than Lehrer employed. His unembellished, laconic style is absent from this production. At times, the complex choreography, multiple voices and characters interfere with the delivery of the songs. However, the group renditions of the anti-war songs, Who’s Next? And We Will All Go Together When We Go, are rousing.

Butel and Gray’s Masochism Tango is hilarious, Connelly wraps his mouth around the tongue-torturing The Elements and the group enjoy the riotous satire of English grammar, Silent E – Snore, Sniff and Sneeze - N’t.

The five diverse voices are not a perfect harmonic blend and the second half includes more solos. One huge hit was Gray’s version of The Irish Ballad as she Irish jigged her way through the murderous verses of Lehrer’s parody of an interminable Irish folk tune. Lebonte’s croons The Old Dope Pedlar that remains topical.

Lehrer as a bashful master of lyric and satire. One can’t help thinking that making a glossy show is the antithesis of what makes him special.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 2 November 2006

Catch a Star…Falling, Somebody's Daughter, Nov 2, 2006

Catch a Star…Falling
By Somebody’s Daughter and Highwater Theatre
Chapel off  Chapel until Nov 5 then Butter Factory Theatre, Wodonga Nov 8-11, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 2, 2006

 Recently we saw plenty of esoteric and indulgent art during our festival. It is a delight and a relief to see Catch a Star… Falling: raw, moving and inspirational community theatre that gives a voice to marginalised rural youth and ex-prisoners. 
This is a unique experience that everyone in a position of privilege and safety needs to see.
With Artistic Director, Maud Clark, a small group of women ex-prisoners with a history of drug addiction work in Northern Victoria with 12 to 16 years olds who exhibit anti-social behaviour or drug and alcohol abuse. Many dropped out of school and are, or have been, homeless. Their situations are a result of abuse and family trauma.
The eight teenagers working with four women on stage, reveal stories that are tragic, hopeful, enlightening and often funny. Each of the kids and adults has a different range of problems and challenges to overcome.
To avoid their dad’s violence, Clyde and his sister live in a tent by the river with their mum, Grace. They are hungry, unshowered and exhausted and are taunted at school for their dirty clothes.
When Barney’s Nana dies, his much older sister, Zena, a police officer, returns to town to try to look after him. Johnny, with the help of Trina, the School Youth Support Officer, ditches his criminal behaviour and returns to school.
Bert, the son of a heroin addict, is fostered by his teacher, a former junkie. Bert resorts to getting stoned daily. Ebony is a persistent runaway from many foster homes but now she lives with Trina and her daughter, Savannah, who escaped from Trina’s violent husband.
Many of the subjects were abused as children and their anti-social behaviour is a reaction to this abuse. The circumstances of the young people and their mentors are just examples of the many kids in trouble in our environment.
The stories are peppered by songs that are revealing, tragic or celebratory and there is plenty of humour and well-observed characters. The story of the boys trying to seduce girls in the park is hilarious.
Catch a Star demonstrates that, with early intervention and support, young people can find success, love and joy and pathways back to education. Highwater Theatre aims to help break the cycle of abuse, violence, addictions, institutionalisation and poverty through an intensive arts-based education programme.
By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 25 October 2006

Peepshow, Marie Brassard, Melbourne Festival, Oct 25, 2006

 Peepshow by Marie Brassard
Melbourne Festival of Arts
Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse,  Oct 25 to 28, 2006

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 25, 2006

The tentacles of Marie Brassard’s fascinating solo performance, Peepshow, draw one in from the first moment she speaks. She is a consummate performer.

Peepshow, like her exceptional show, Jimmy, combines storytelling with the idiosyncratic style of Brassard, Alexander MacSween’s complex sound technology and lighting by Simon Guilbault.

Although performed on a stage empty but for a carpet and a single chair, Peepshow is transformational, transporting us from story to story, place to place and changing character and gender in a nanosecond. We see and hear Little Red Riding Hood playing in the woods then the Big Bad Wolf who beguiles Red then eats her grandmother.

She transforms into the broken-hearted young woman, the wily seducer and cad, the sad masochistic teacher, the girl who finds herself in a bondage game with a stranger, the rejected young gay man and the child afraid of the monsters she hopes are not under her bed. Finally, she becomes the monster himself lurking dejectedly in his labyrinth, or perhaps in the recesses of our minds.

Brassard does not create characters with the naturalistic physicalisation often employed by actors but with subtle shifts in position, a lilting dance, a pose on the chair. In an instant and often mid-sentence her voice, manipulated by MacSween’s real-time application of multi-effect processors, becomes the “other”.

The personal tales are compelling; some are predators, others are prey. We are absorbed into their psyches, touched by the child’s innocence, by the teacher’s horrific self-mutilation, the girl’s loss of love and we are frightened by the immorality of the seducer and the real danger of the monster under the bed.

Brassard is fascinated with the world of wonder or otherness. She takes to the extreme the notion that we absorb elements of those we encounter and she executes this by swallowing the voices of man, woman, child and monster. She peoples the stage with a parade of characters that merge and evolve magically from her voice.

Lighting and ghostly filmic imagery create environment and atmosphere but it is Brassard who casts the spell on us.

Peepshow may have less resonance than her previous show, Jimmy, but this is another bravura performance by the charming Brassard.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 19 October 2006

Objects For Meditations, William Yang, Melbourne Festival, Oct 19, 2006

Objects For Meditations by William Yang

Melbourne Festival of Arts
Arts House, North Melbourne, Oct 18 to 21, 2006

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

William Yang’s monologue is like a soothing, guided meditation. 

Accompanied by Paul Jarman’s evocative woodwinds, he stands almost still before a table laden with his own special objects, speaking slowly and deliberately about his life as a marginalised, homosexual, third-generation Australian-Chinese artist.

But although this sounds indulgent, there is no whining. He shares with us object after object, describes how he received them and then ambles on with his unadorned stories of friendship, art, sex, war, disenfranchisement and travel.

Yang is a photographer - a very good one. Behind him, on two enormous screens are projected his beautiful images, both still and moving, depicting the places, people and objects. We are shy voyeurs into the minutiae of his life.

We begin in his cluttered Sydney apartment. Through the photos, we witness the growth of his balcony plants and the saplings, see his birdbath and are warmed by his love of plants and visiting birds.

Throughout, Yang reveals snippets of Daoist philosophy and its relationship to his life. His list of Daosit guidelines reads as something like: be real, live simply, embrace others, desire little. It is a reminder of how heavily we walk upon the land and how complex our lives become.

We are introduced to his favoured objects: a little shrine from the Dalai Lama, a Canadian Indian Dream catcher, his mother’s plate, a weed pot from his friend, Jill or a steaming replica of a mountain in China.

Each object is connected to a friend or a place that appears larger than life on screen. We are intimates now, in Yang’s world. We see his lovers lounging on his sofa or naked on his bed. We meet his mother as a young and an old woman. We travel to a collective farm in Maleny, Queensland, where his friend, Jill, after forty years, still lives her warm and generous hippy lifestyle. We meet Gerhard, Yang’s German groupie and his family.

Yang is committed to seeking out indigenous peoples and investigating the disenfranchised. Merv Bishop, an aboriginal photographer, leads Yang through a shattered town in Northern Australia. On tour in New Zealand, Yang meets and photographs the powerful faces of Maoris. In Canada he compares the plight of the Native Canadians to the Stolen Generation in Australia. In Singapore he celebrates the Chinese heritage and recognises the fate of the native Malays.

Objects for Meditation is a charming and gentle reminder that there is more than one way to perform and more than one way to live.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 18 October 2006

Voyage by dumb type, Melbourne Festival, Oct 18,2006

Voyage by dumb type
Melbourne Festival of Arts
Playhouse, Arts Centre, Wed 18 to Fri 20 October, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

“Voyage really takes you on a trip,” says a member of the Japanese company, dumb type. This performance does seem to have a great deal in common with LSD trips, perhaps more than with terrestrial journeys.

dumb type is a Japanese avant-garde troupe with its origins in performance art and this is still evident twenty years after its inception. Although its founders chose to comment on socio-political issues, the style and form has become significantly more abstract, non-verbal and conceptual now.

Voyage is fascinating to watch for its technical skill, beautiful imagery and complex technology, but the production lacks heart. There is no emotional connection and an audience struggles to make meaning of its series of disconnected vignettes.

It is also a savage assault on the eardrums. The recurrent, roaring soundscape, reminiscent of a jet engine at ten times normal volume, is unbearably and, frankly, dangerously loud. The sound literally rattles one’s bones.

This noise accompanies the opening scene in which, in near darkness, a frail woman moves like an insect in a slow, sustained dance in front of giant, round inflatables. The scene is disturbingly nightmarish.

A more playful scene follows. Two women, wearing miners’ headlamps, are lost underground. Their journey through darkness is represented in contact movement as they crawl over each other to reach their destination. Their quest is accompanied by the sound of stones being raked into pathways by two men.

A woman searches a map under a flickering light bulb then lies across her desk typing airline departures on an electric typewriter. Flight numbers and destinations are projected on a huge screen.

The more lyrical, often mesmerising scenes involve a young woman lying on a blanket on the gleaming reflective surface of the stage. With each new film projection she appears to be floating in a lapping ocean, a snowy mountain scape, fields of flowers or windblown trees. In a childlike voice she wishes for everything she ever wanted.

Another playful travelling vignette is the dance of the air stewardesses. They create a jolly dance set against a stark silence broken only by the clatter of their high heels.

An astronaut floats amongst clouds, snow travellers roll across an icy landscape and the frail woman returns, flailing gently in a dark and alien environment.

Voyage has much in common with performance art and dance but it is the kind of theatre that makes an audience of the uninitiated feel stupid for not understanding it. Why should they?

By Kate Herbert

Saturday, 14 October 2006

Now that Communism is Dead My Life Feels Empty, Oct 14, 2006

 Now that Communism is Dead My Life Feels Empty
by Richard Foreman
Malthouse Theatre

The Tower, Malthouse, Oct 14 to Oct 28, 2006

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The chaotic nature of Richard Foreman’s script, Now that Communism is Dead My Life Feels Empty, is at its most effective in this production when the acting and direction are at their most controlled. 

When all the elements are out of control, the piece becomes an incomprehensible, loud and punishing theatrical mess.

Yes, Foreman purposely designed his award-winning theatrical form (He dubbed it “Ontonological-Hysteric Theatre”) to reflect the fragmentation of thought and the complex and diverse realities that are presented to us in the world, all of which can be perceived in different ways.

However, because there is no narrative and no consistent characterisation we, the inveterate meaning-makers, struggle to attend to the entire show. It becomes mentally exhausting so we abandon all hope of drawing its threads into a whole. My neighbour simply went to sleep.

Max Lyandvert, known best as a composer, not only directed and composed the soundscape, but he designed the set. He heightens the on stage chaos with random sounds of dogs barking, machine guns, white noise and voice overs. The constantly changing set of chairs, boxes, white paper and small scaffold towers is accentuated by Luiz Pampholha’s (OK) severe and dramatic lighting.

The play is described as a satire but a great deal of comedy in the script that is missed by Lyandvert. Fred (Benjamin Winspear) and Freddie’s (Gibson Nolte) interaction resembles the absurdist comedy of Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon and other clown duos. However, the jokes fly by unacknowledged or inadequately explored and the grotesque comedy sometimes becomes simply ugly.

The actors work very hard in this play. Their work is often stylised and contained but becomes more hysterical as the play continues, but there is too much shouting and the thumping of their running feet on the floor of  The Tower becomes annoying.

There are resonances of the chaos that followed the Fall of Communism, of the McCarthy trials and of revolution. The most sustained image, unfortunately, is of a blow-up sex doll that becomes a real woman (Rebecca Smee). She is disturbingly described as a dog, kept in a box, chained, gagged and bandaged, mysteriously appearing and disappearing, silent and servile.

Given that Foreman is a much-awarded writer in both the US and France, perhaps there is more theatrical merit in this play than is apparent in this production.

By Kate Herbert