Friday, 31 August 2007

Mercury Fur, by Philip Ridley, Aug 31, 2007

Mercury Fur
By Philip Ridley, by little death productions
Theatreworks, August 31 to Sept 16, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 31, 2007

Mercury Fur by Philip Ridley, if it were on television, would have a list of warnings: contains violence, language, drug use, adult themes and perhaps we could add obnoxious, nasty young people.

It depicts a war-torn world in which the morally bankrupt torture and kill unwitting victims for the entertainment of the wealthy and powerful. Murder becomes an extreme sport.

Two brothers, Elliot (Luke Mullins) and Darren (Xavier Samuel) clean an abandoned flat in preparation for a party to which the threatening Papa Spinx (Gareth Ellis) brings an excitable Party Guest (Paul Ashcroft) and the blind Duchess (Fiona Macys). Lola the transvestite (Russ Pirie) and young Naz (Aaron Orzech) dress up the drugged victim, AKA Party Piece (Wazzzadeeno Wharton-Thomas) for his impending ordeal.

Although Ridley emerged out of the 1990s British grunge movement, the form and language of Mercury Fur owes a debt to A Clockwork Orange of the 1960s or the violent pornography of the 18th century Marquis de Sade. Every new work is derivative and by now we are virtually unshockable. Writers put more and more unpleasant things on stage to make their reputations or to jolt us into some visceral response.

Having said all that, director Ben Packer and his cast portray this degenerative and disturbing world with energy and commitment. Mullins is compelling and restrained as Elliot and holds the piece together. Samuel plays the damaged Darren with a pained and distracted desperation. Orzech finds a sweet and trusting naivete in Naz and Pirie is entertaining and creditably underplayed as the drag queen, Lola.

The world of Mercury Fur could be a post-apocalyptic future or any war zone in our time. History has become bastardised: the boys think that President Kennedy started World War Two and was married to Marilyn Monroe. The community is decimated by poverty and drug use: everyone routinely eats hallucinogenic butterflies that induce a variety of delusional states.

Packer creates a claustrophobic and demented world with a sense of impending doom. The constant ominous soundscape (Kelly Ryall) could be a sandstorm, butterfly wings or the roar of bombers overhead while Adam Gardnir’s design and Danny Pettingill’s lighting are inventive and atmospheric.

There are some laughs in this production but Mercury Fur is more of an assault to the senses than titillation.

By Kate Herbert

Sunday, 26 August 2007

The Venetian Twins, VCA Graduates, Aug 26, 2007

The Venetian Twins 
by Carlo Goldoni
Give ‘Em Enough Rope, Graduate Season Victorian College of the Arts
Grant Street Theatre, VCA , Aug 26 to Sept 3, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 26, 2007

Carlo Goldoni, the Italian playwright who removed the masks from the Commedia del’Arte actors in Italy, wrote The Venetian Twins in 1745.

It remains a classic comedy and the graduating class of the School of Drama at the Victorian College of the Arts perform it with youthful exuberance.

Director, Gary Down, maintains a rollicking style and a rapid pace allowing the cast to relish the physical and verbal gags. This script is clearly a British translation with English colloquialisms and dialects that are particularly evident in the dialogue of the peasant twin, Zanetto (Brendan McCallum).

The play is set in Verona and the story is a standard Commedia plot of mistaken identity and corruption, masters and servants, lovers and arranged marriages.

The twins, Zanetto, who inherited the family fortune but has the manners and desires of a peasant, and his brother Tonino (Cameron Moore), who left Venice two years earlier in a scandal, arrive simultaneously in Verona. Their resemblance, of course, causes them to be constantly mistaken for each other with absurdly comical results.

Down does not modernise the context of the play so the simple but effective design (Andrew Bellchambers) and classical costumes (Esther Hayes) reflect the period.

The cast of eleven is a versatile ensemble and their energy and vitality enlivens the standard jokes of the Commedia, each actor creating a delightful clown.

McCallum captures the oafish and lusty Zanetto with excellent comic timing. Moore portrays with style and wry wit Zanetto’s educated, genteel brother. Ben Pfeiffer is hilarious as the foppish, craven Lelio and Tim Ross creates a comically sneering, conniving old Pancrazio.

They are supported by a parade of characters. The high status personae include the demure Rosaura (Celia Mitchell), her dignified father Balanzoni (Nick Jamieson), the passionate, abandoned Beatrice (Meredith Penman) and the loyal, love-lorn Florindo (Tim Potter).

The servants include a playful and cheeky Arlecchino (Terry Yaboah), his fiance the pert and wilful Columbina (Julia Markowski) and the quietly obedient Brighella (Michael Wahr).

The Venetian Twins is a colourful and mischievous production that highlights the comic skills of Company 2007 at the VCA. 

It plays in repertory with Tom Healey’s production of the French classic comedy, The Imaginary Invalid by Moliere, which runs until September 4.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 23 August 2007

The Killing Fever Season, Aug 23, 2007

The Killing Fever Season
Four short plays by Lauren Bailey, Adam J.A.Cass & Anna Den Hartog
 La Mama, Aug 23 to Sept 9, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 23, 2007

The Killing Fever Season is four short plays of varying quality, the most successful being two ten minute two-handers by Adam J.A.Cass.

The evening, directed by Cass, opens with The Suspicious Package. The premise is simple but engaging; a man narrates his meeting with a woman. While standing under a sign that reads “No Suspicious Packages”, Tom (Paul Brown), who is holding a package wrapped in brown paper, waits at the train station for his friend Enid (Emma McDonald). He offers her the package as a gift but she is influenced by the ominous sign and refuses to take it. It is easy to make people afraid.

Another ten-minute piece, If She Isn’t Wearing Underwear, also by Cass, has a similar tone. A small man (Allan Domantay) sits next to a young woman (McDonald) in a train and wonders if she is wearing underwear. She reveals that she had a devastating night but details are sketchy.

The least effective play is Sisters Three by Anna Den Hartog. The play is about the fraught relationships between three sisters one of whom is murdered. Although the story has some promise as drama, the acting is uneven, the script over-written and the staging awkward.

Killing Fever, the longest play of the series written by Cass with Lauren Bailey, attempts to illuminate the experience of lost love through an allegorical narrative told by various female voices in poetic language. This play is at its best when it does not take itself seriously and shifts further into parody.

 The play is a meeting of a mythical and a contemporary story. But the story of broken hearts of the damsel in distress, Madeleine (Katie Astrinakis) and her white knight rescuer Jim Bangle (Sarah Hamilton) eventually collide with that of the modern lovers, Kristen (Lauren Bailey) and Stephan (Fionn Quinlan).

The mediaeval costumes and rather florid poetic language make the play very self-conscious and indulgent and the meaning opaque. Too often we are watching young women in gowns gliding and intoning sentimental poetic dialogue. The mediaeval characters are too obvious symbolic representations of love. Two, for example, are called Rien Coeur (Natasha Jacobs) and Belle Amore (Sarah Oldmeadow).

The actors work hard in this program but it is the smaller plays that are definitely the most effective.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Little Me, Production Company, Aug 22, 2007

 Little Me
Book by Neil Simon, music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Carolyn Leigh
The Production Company
State Theatre,  Victorian Arts Centre, Aug 22 to 26, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 22, 2007

Debra Byrne and Mitchell Butel are deliciously wicked in Roger Hodgman’s taut production of Neil Simon’s musical satire, Little Me. Byrne plays Belle Poitrine (nee Schlumpfert), the poorest girl in Drifters’ Row who lives with her Momma (Heather Bolton), a “nurse” at the Red Light “Hospital”.

 At 16 Belle falls for Noble Egglestone (Butel), the richest boy on Quality Hill, and spends her life seeking wealth, culture and social standing to be worthy of him.

Simon adapted Patrick Dennis’s hilarious mock autobiography, Little Me: The Intimate Memoirs of the Great Star of Stage, Screen and Television, Belle Poitrine. Both book and musical are barbed parodies of the rich, the famous and unashamed social climbers and are riddled with puns, gags and innuendo. Belle Poitrine, for example, means “pretty bosom”, Belle’s only genuine talent.

Byrne captures delightfully the wide-eyed, trashy ambitious starlet who sleeps her way to the top, accidentally killing off lovers on the way. Her voice is rich and resonate and its best as the mature Belle. She does justice to Cy Coleman’s songs including The Other Side of the Tracks, Here’s To Us and the rousing Little Me. She and Butel relish their reprised duet, I Love You (As Much As I Am Able).

Butel, a consummate musical artist, showcases his comic versatility playing all of Belle’s lovers/victims: octogenarian miser, Mr Pinchley, French entertainer Val du Val, myopic Marine Fred Poitrine, ailing Prince Cherney of Rozenzweig and arrogant screen director, Otto Schnitzler.

But it is his portrayal of rich boy wunderkind, Noble, that is inspired. He prances and poses, tossing his head coltishly as the blue-blooded Noble advances ridiculously from captain of every school team to Harvard and Yale graduate, Air Force Colonel and Governor of both Dakotas.

Guy Simpson conducts Orchestra Victoria in tight orchestrations of Coleman’s diverse musical score and Roger Hodman’s direction is deft and colourful, highlighting the comedy and over-the-top characters. The entire support cast is skilful but Bolton is devilish as both Belle and Noble’s mothers. The multi-talented chorus enlivens Dana Jolly’s choreography, Richard Jeziorny’s design is flexible and Paul Jackson’s lighting creates atmosphere and location.

Little Me is a hoot from start to finish. Now read the book. It is a winner too.

By Kate Herbert

Monday, 20 August 2007

Crying Out Loud: VCA Directors’ Season 1, Aug 20, 2007

Crying Out Loud: VCA Directors’ Season 1
Smashed by Lally Katz
Between Today & Tomorrow by Daniel Keene
La Musica by Marguerite Duras
Space 28, VCA School of Drama
Season 1- Aug 18 to 22, Season 2 - Sept 5 to 8, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 20, 2007

The final works of Post-Graduate Directors from the School of Drama, Victorian College of the Arts feature in two seasons of short plays. Season One comprises three diverse productions.

Andrew Gray creates a jewel with La Musica by Marguerite Duras. On the day of their divorce, Anne-Marie (Edwina Wren) and her ex-husband Michel (Anthony Ahern) meet late at night in a familiar hotel in the town where they lived. The sexual tension in this relationship is palpable. The couple, both now in happier, stable relationships, are uncomfortable and irritated in each other’s presence but cannot part. As they relive precious and unpleasant moments from their marriage their bond strengthens and the pain of parting becomes unbearable.

The piece has a marvellous balance of grace and awkwardness, passion and reserve, dignity and anger. The gloriously elegant design (Naomi Wong) of a charcoal and burgundy French salon provides the perfect stylish world for these tortured lovers.

Adena Jacobs directs Smashed by Lally Katz. Jacobs focuses on the other-worldliness of the play, creating a dimly lit, ominous landscape that reflects the fragmented structure of memory and an expansive universe. Two teenagers, Hazel (Miriam Glaser) and Ruby (Amanda Falson), grapple with a recent catastrophic shared experience by reliving moments leading up to the horror.

The fear and uncertainty of these dislocated teenagers is effectively created in their frenzy of playful activity. The confusion of early scenes resolves when we witness the accident that changed their lives.

Suze Smith directs Between Today & Tomorrow by Daniel Keene.  In this intimate play about a fractured family, we again see the dream world intersect with the real. Claire (Emily Taylor) moves into a shabby boarding house with her daughter Julie (Caitlin Murphy) to escape the cruelty of her husband (Simon King).

While Claire is depressed but relieved about their departure, Julie pines and conjures up visions of her father when Claire is asleep or absent. The disconsolate atmosphere is pervasive although it sometimes interrupts the dramatic tension.

Season Two comprises Riders to The Sea by J. M. Synge and Woyzeck by Georg Buchner and opens on September 5.
By Kate Herbert

Friday, 17 August 2007

The Club by David Williamson, HIT, Aug 17, 2007

The Club by David Williamson
by HIT Productions
Athenaeum Theatre, Aug 17 to until Aug 19, then touring Victoria

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The Club by David Williamson, although first staged in 1977, is surprisingly reflective of many issues still facing Australian Rules Football teams: money rather than team spirit or tradition govern the management of clubs; coaches are sacked; administrators control decisions; players are bought for absurd sums; and bitter disputes are played out in the media. The main difference is the number of zeros after the dollar sign.

The play records the turning point in the 70s when VFL was heading to AFL, coaches were no longer ex-players from the team they coached and businessmen took over clubs.

This popular Williamson play encapsulates what thing he did best: write about Australian men engaged in macho competitive battles. Ted, the blustering President, (Denis Moore) conspires with his oily administrator, Gerry (Simon Wilton), and bully-boy board member, Jock (John Wood), to replace ex-player /coach, Laurie (Christopher Connelly), and to buy top players in order to win the club’s first premiership in 19 years.

The club is riddled with sabotage, betrayal, backstabbing and resentment. If you want a secret kept do not tell any of these men.

The play, directed skilfully by Bruce Myles, is big, broad and very funny even if you know nothing about footy. Wood has a field day with the role of Jock, playing him with a jovial thuggishness and relishing Jock’s unwitting flirtation with marijuana. Jock is the unreconstructed male: he biffs his wife and the players, drinks too much and childishly boasts about his record of playing 282 games and coaching four premierships.

Moore is an hilarious combination of wheedling and autocratic behaviour as the ambitious President, Ted. Despite Ted’s idiocy we feel sympathy for his final predicament. Connelly is credible and substantial as Laurie, the moral, loyal coach. Wilton makes Gerry the consummate Machiavellian manipulator, a smiling villain, the one who cares nothing for the club but will be the last man left standing.

Player behaviour on and off the field still makes hot media gossip and disillusioned golden boy Geoff, who feels that chasing a pigskin ball around is futile, is no exception. Guy Kable plays him with an edge of arrogance mixed with adolescent confusion. Christopher Parker is charming and boyish as the bolshie Danny who is loyal to Laurie.

There is something all too familiar about the men in this club that makes them great comedy.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Weary by Alan Hopgood, Aug 15, 2007

Weary by Alan Hopgood 
Comedy Theatre,  Aug 15 to 25, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 15, 2007

Weary is a sobering experience. Adapted by Alan Hopgood from the War diaries of Sir Edward Weary Dunlop, the play focuses on Dunlop’s period of incarceration by the Japanese as a Prisoner of War from 1942 to 1945.

The horror and heroism surrounding Dunlop in the POW camps is compelling. Weary was a non-combatant officer, a surgeon working at a casualty hospital in Java when the Japanese forced the surrender of Australian and other troops.

Initially captives suffered minimal abuse and had sufficient food and freedom. What followed were some of the worst atrocities ever visited upon Australian wartime prisoners. Dunlop and his comrades who worked on the Burma-Thailand Railway were brutalised, starved and diseased.

Three actors bring Weary’s memories to life. Ronald Falk is dignified and laconic as old Sir Edward who struggles to read and collate the 40-year old diaries he wrote on scraps of paper.  Encouraging him to confront his past is the Unknown Soldier (Dion Mills). Mills represents with sympathy the sick and dying men Weary treated and plays Japanese officers and guards sometimes with humour and at others with terrifying violence.

As his memories flood back, Old Weary meets his younger self, performed with a serious and occasionally playful demeanour by Samuel Johnson.

Hopgood, with director Roger Hodgman, includes only selected stories from Dunlop’s diaries that were published in 1986. The staging does not attempt to recreate the camps, the tortuous marches and the masses of soldiers. The simple but evocative design (Shaun Gurton) places Weary’s desk amidst an empty space with rice paper screens and wooden hut walls. Unobtrusive music (David Bridie) and dramatic lighting (Matt Scott) enhance the atmosphere.

Although Hopgood is selective about the stories, there is a significant amount of expository detail and explication in the script that interrupts the dramatic tension and sometimes removes us emotionally from the awfulness of the experiences. The scenes are most successful when the characters are immersed in the drama or the description is most vivid.

We see a surgical procedure performed by flickering lamplight and Weary being threatened with a Japanese sword and we hear details of a man being beaten to death while suffering malaria or a macabre funeral procession through the jungle.

Dunlop saved many lives by confronting Japanese officers and improvising medical procedures. His spirit is captured in these 90 minutes.

By Kate Herbert

Sunday, 12 August 2007

The Glass Soldier by Hannie Rayson, MTC, Aug 12, 2007

 The Glass Soldier 
by Hannie Rayson
by Melbourne Theatre Company
Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre, Aug 12 to Sept 8, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 12, 2007

Hannie Rayson tellingly represents the cycle of war and its physical and psychological toll on our men and their families in The Glass Soldier. 

The play, which is also to be a movie, spans the First and Second World Wars and Vietnam War and is based on the life of Nelson Ferguson, a Great War veteran. His brief battlefield diary and other research are the basis for the play.

War stories are often compelling but the span of one man’s life does not have a natural dramatic arc so the dramatic tension in this script ebbs and flows. The second half is the more successful and is deftly directed by Simon Phillips. The structure of the first half is episodic and a little unfocussed. It attempts to follow the experiences of numerous men, including Young Nelson (Jay Bowen), so its dramatic focus is initially difficult to isolate.

The style of the act one is perhaps better suited to screen. Its rapid shifts from the horrors of the trenches at the Somme to the salons of wartime London are sometimes awkward. The first half contains some overly sentimental speeches and didactic or expository dialogue. Sometimes research can get in the way of good drama.

The story of Ferguson and his mate, Wolfie Kessler, really takes off after the men return to Australia. We witness the trauma and social dislocation of the soldiers trying to reintegrate into their communities.

 Young Wolfie (Ben Geurens), a war hero, turns to grog to mask his pain and guilt about his less heroic wartime actions whilst Young Nelson struggles with the aftermath of the Germans’ mustard gas that damaged both his eyes and his lungs. It seems his career as an artist and his engagement to English girl, Madeleine (Asher Keddie, Kerry Armstrong) are doomed.

The second half changes to a more naturalistic, conventionally theatrical style. Robert Menzies as Older Nelson is commanding and sympathetic as he manages his family, his artistic career and the need to support his friend. Steve Bisley convincingly captures the belligerence, humour and charisma of Older Wolfie and Kerry Armstrong is gracious and dignified as Older Madeleine.

Bowen plays Young Nelson with charm and warmth and Geurens is a feisty Young Wolfie. Keddie’s Young Madeleine is elegant and composed. Sara Gleeson is delightful in various cameos.

Dale Ferguson’s contemporary design opens and shuts to create many locations and the stage is lit dramatically by Nick Schlieper.

by Kate Herbert

Saturday, 11 August 2007

LaLaLuna by Wolfe Bowart, Aug 11, 2007

LaLaLuna by Wolfe Bowart
by Spoon Tree Productions
Where and When: Aug 11-12 Clocktower; Aug 18-19, 2007 Frankston Arts Centre.
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 11, 2007

LaLaLuna, a delightful one-man clown show by US clown, juggler, magician and acrobat, Wolfe Bowart, returns to Melbourne venues as part of a nationwide tour.

“What if one night the light of the moon went out,” says a haunting voice over celestial music at the start of the show. Bowart’s character, dressed in daggy pyjamas, a red silky robe and a nightcap, enters through the audience, brushing his teeth and preparing for bed. The problem is that he cannot go to sleep because the moon refuses to stay alight and, while he
searches for a way to reach the giant orb with a new light bulb, he entertains himself and us with a grab bag of tricks and illusions.

As is the norm for any good clown, his attempts to solve his problem are foiled at every turn. His tall unicycle and wings fall to pieces, his box of light bulbs is smashed and every corner seems to be inhabited by marauding fluffy bunnies.

While he waits for sleep to come, Bowart’s cute clown fills the night hours juggling anything that comes to hand: scarves, dinner plates, helium balloons and mysteriously luminescent balls. The children squeal with delight when he climbs inside a giant balloon with only his head emerging like some alien organism and when he transforms into a peculiar emu-like
creature with a boot for its head and feather dusters for plumage.

He incorporates the audience into the action in inventive ways. He uses a plumber’s plunger to check the brain activity of various audience members and sends enormous, cratered, moon balls bouncing over our heads. But when he invites a young boy on stage with him the house erupts – in more ways than one. While Bowart plays Moonlight Bay on the ukulele, the boy accompanies him with five whoopee cushions that provide hilarious percussion.

The play ends with an inspired use of visual technology as Bowart performs with a second version of himself on screen. The final solution to relighting the moonlight is both lyrical and ingenious.

This short show worked better uninterrupted by an interval and in an intimate venue as it was in its original 2006 version, but it is still fun and engaging for both children and adults.

By Kate Herbert

Friday, 10 August 2007

Holiday by Raimondo Cortese, Aug 8, 2007 *****

 Holiday by Raimondo Cortese
Ranters Theatre 
North Melbourne Town Hall, Tues to Sat 7.30pm until Aug 8 to 22, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 8, 2007

In Raimondo Cortese’s new play, Holiday, two men (Patrick Moffatt, Paul Lum) appear inside a starkly lit white box (lighting - Niklas Pajanti, design - Anna Tregloan). 

They seem unwitting specimens in an over-sized display cabinet as they chat casually and comfortably about innocuous subjects. We observe them as they explore their leisure; they stand looking relaxed, perch on swivel stools, lounge on a chaise or splash in the wading pool in the centre of their white room.

There is no linear narrative to their interactions; they quietly share their musings on a list of unrelated topics as if engaged in a mutual stream of consciousness. Intermittently, one spontaneously sings an Italian Baroque love song. Every move is concentrated on finding a further state of relaxation. Their interaction has no conventional dramatic tension, nor does it need it. There is no conflict, no demands or aggressive challenges, just simple acceptance or questioning of the other’s ideas and attentive and restful listening.

Their conversation is like a prolonged jazz improvisation of ideas, a stroll through random thoughts, memories, theories and hopes. For us it is a 90-minute meditation, an escape from pressures outside the box in the real world where we are pushed to our limits.

Cortese’s writing seems to have developed out of the actors’ improvisations; their absolute ease as they ruminate together feels completely unrehearsed and totally natural. Moffatt and Lum are charming and engaging, their dreamy manner allowing us to observe them with impunity and to witness every idiosyncrasy.

Director, Adriano Cortese, keeps the pace rhythmic and slow without stalling. There are long silences as we and they cogitate; we absorb their stories, consider our own and wait for them to surprise us with another non sequitur.

They talk about holidays: being at the beach, trekking in the Himalayan mountains, visiting Thailand. But their abstracted thoughts wander to unexpected places. Moffatt tells how liberating it is to confess one’s sins in a Catholic confessional and recalls selling a garish tie to an unhappily married woman. Lum remembers driving for hours with a woman he met by chance many years after he kissed her and talks about his dream about flying a Messer Schmidt.

Holiday is a happy, happy time in the theatre. We leave quietly delighted and at rest after our experience with these two amiable men.

By Kate Herbert

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Stretch of the Imagination by Jack Hibberd, July 24, 2007

 Stretch of the Imagination by Jack Hibberd
 La Mama, Courthouse Theatre, July 24 to Aug 4, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 24, 2007

Jack Hibberd’s play, A Stretch of the Imagination, was written in 1972 and is now an Australian classic. Hibberd’s style is related to the absurdists but he adds a distinctly Australian flavour.

Stretch is a solo play about Monk O’Neill (Peter Hosking), a cantankerous and ailing old bloke who struggles through his meaningless daily routines, watching the sluggish clock and waiting for his imminent demise. He lives in isolation on One-Tree Hill - he cut down the one tree years ago – without any creature comforts or human contact and surviving on home grown tomatoes and his addled memories of love, lust and luxury. His only contact is Mort Lazarus, a passing traveller who died of frostbite years earlier and who Monk buried on his plot of land.

Monk is a significant part of the Australian theatrical heritage. Hibberd’s irascible old man is reminiscent of Beckett’s aged and eccentric character, Krapp, but Monk speaks Hibberd’s idiosyncratic poetic form of Australian vernacular and has a distinctly Aussie irreverence and larrikinism. The language blends the sophisticated, the salacious and the vulgar and refers to cultural icons such as the Malvern Star bike, Onkaparinga blankets and the Koolgardie safe.

Hosking, who played this role successfully ten years ago, relishes playing the mercurial Monk. He is monstrous and comical, combining slapstick with elaborate witticisms and cultural references. Hosking grotesquely distorts his mobile face with his grimacing and mugging as he limps and cavorts around the stark space.

Monk’s ailments read like a bizarre medical text: prostrate problems, adenoids, premature rigor mortis cataracts and ossification. His exotic memories contrast with his current comical and often poignant issues with ageing and dying. He recalls scandalous sexual romps with lovers including Muriel the maternity nurse and Dorabella, his friend’s wife, and reminisces about foie gras and champagne at Melbourne’s salubrious French restaurants.

Director, Greg Carroll, keeps the pace rapid and the prat falls frequent. Monk appears in shadow behind a paper screen creating a whole new world of visual gags and Joe Dolce’s recorded sound design adds an outback flavour with harmonica, didjeridoo and percussion.

Monk is grubby, ugly, vengeful, belligerent and decrepit but we still love him despite his glaringly obvious flaws. Hosking’s portrayal is both modern and faithful to an Australian icon.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

The Chapel Perilous by Dorothy Hewett, Aug 1, 2007

 The Chapel Perilous by Dorothy Hewett
Where and When: La Mama Wed & Sun 6.30pm, Thurs to Sat 8pm until Aug 1 to 1, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 1 2007

Dorothy Hewett’s 1972 play, The Chapel Perilous, was dangerously autobiographical. 

Hewett lived the abandoned life of her character, Sally Banner, a young woman who craved sexual, social, political and literary liberation but who had the misfortune to be born into a generation that did not allow any of it.

Her play is as fractious and fractured as was the playwright. Sally Banner (Zoe Ellerton-Ashley) is a deliciously naughty teenager in 1930s Western Australia. She flouts all convention at her Anglican boarding school by professing love for another girl, threatening to jump from the balcony, meeting and kissing boys outside the gates and refusing to bow to authority.

At school her teachers say, “I cannot bear that much individuality.” At university she is known as a trollop, the university “bike”. Sally is a rebellious, talented and maddening child who grows into a promiscuous, unreliable, slightly unbalanced literary light.

The script itself is equally infuriating. It switches styles wilfully, hurling itself from vaudeville and parody to direct address and Brechtian political commentary. It shifts between songs, both holy and profane, and occasionally lights upon dramatic and naturalistic interactions that penetrate Sally’s melancholy inner life.

Hewett’s writing is often didactic, particularly when her/Sally’s life reaches the period when she flirted with Communism. In other scenes, Hewett employs more lyrical language reminiscent of her poetry. Despite its rough edges and flighty form, The Chapel Perilous is an enjoyable ride, a journey through the mind and daily grind of this outrageous, insecure and demanding egoistic.

Suzanne Chaundy directing a cast of six in multiple roles and a musician (Carolyn Connors), manages with some contortions to fit this epic tale into the tiny space of La Mama. Ellerton-Ashley is a sensuous and compelling Sally as she flits from lover to husband and school to soapbox. Grant Cartwright is capable as her fickle first lover, Michael and Matt Crosby is versatile as the creepy school chaplain, David the doting but celibate suitor and Saul, Sally’s feisty Jewish Socialist mentor. Jane Bayly,  Carmelina di Guglielmo  and Glenn Perry enliven numerous roles as teachers, lovers, nuns and others.

A biography does not necessarily have a dramatic structure so The Chapel Perilous is at times unwieldy and meandering, just like a life. Nonetheless it is cheering to see this Australian classic play on stage.

By Kate Herbert