Sunday, 1 December 1996

1996 Reviews by Kate Herbert, Herald Sun

1996 Reviews by Kate Herbert, Herald Sun

The following are all reviews published in Herald Sun during 1996. They are still available through

They will all be uploaded in full soon.  KH

 LOVE ON THE RUN   Herald Sun, 07-12-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 081, 421 words , ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Passionate feelings can be a hit and myth affair, writes KATE HERBERT IN the end, Tristan and Yseult die the death they should have died in the beginning: suicide for the lost love. Truth and passion don't rule the world; power, history and comfort d...

   THE PAIN GAME   Herald Sun, 06-12-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 085, 342 words , ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Double or Nothing Presented by: $5 Theatre Where and when: Napier St Theatre until December 15 IT'S funny how official and government bodies are now calling gambling "gaming". By simply dropping a couple of letters we lose the disease, the social ill...

   A TALE OF TWO CITIES, REAL AND IMAGINED   Herald Sun, 04-12-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 055, 444 words , ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Little City Melbourne Worker's Theatre Where and when: Brunswick Town Hall until December 15. WE SEEM to be entering a period of consciousness-raising theatre, and Little City, by the Melbourne Workers Theatre, is in the vanguard. Of course, the need...

    HUMOR SHEDS LIGHT ON LIFE   Herald Sun, 03-12-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 043, 325 words , ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
REVIEW theatre Mr Melancholy A HERMITAGE a trois is one way of describing the characters in this absurd comedy. It features three hermits with varying degrees of sociability who live together in a lighthouse without light. Ollie (Wayne Hope), the lig...

    JOINING FORCES IN SEXUALITY   Herald Sun, 03-12-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 045, 289 words , ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
REVIEW theatre Mind's Eye Where and when: Lonsdale St Power Station until Saturday THEATRICAL collaborations can produce new and wonderfully unpredictable ideas or they may breed only conflict. Back to Back, a company for intellectually disabled acto...

    GROWING OLD WITH SHAME   Herald Sun, 29-11-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 085, 204 words , ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
REVIEW theatre Old People The Great Divide Writer: Tony Reck Where: VCA Drama School THE aged are often believed to live in their pasts in a non-sexual haze of heart drugs, tea and toast. The two oldies in Alex Green's short work, Old People, are no ...

   TAKING THE RUFUS WITH THE SMOOTH   Herald Sun, 27-11-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 050, 308 words , ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
The Mysteries of Rufus Bummings Where and when: Polyglot until November 30 DROP some letters from Ruffhouse Burmingsley Rufus Manufacturings, stamped on the wooden soldier's back, and you are left with Rufus Bummings. Rufus, the title character of Ch...

    REIGN UP IN CLOUDS   Herald Sun, 25-11-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 055, 328 words , ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Kelly's Reign WHEN writing The Cherry Orchard, Anton Chekhov purposely placed the railway station eight kilometres away so that his naturalistic director Stanislavski, could not use train sound effects. It is a pity Chekhov was not dramaturg for Kell...

    ACTS OF TEENAGE DRAMA   Herald Sun, 23-11-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 079, 288 words , ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Monash Schools Drama Competition Monash Performing Arts Theatre The festival, sponsored by Monash University Arts Precinct, attracted students from 16 schools, both private and government. They were judged on their creativity, use of the theatre spac...

    TOM'S CHANTS   Herald Sun, 20-11-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 059, 365 words , ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Thumbul by Tom E. Lewis & Mac Gudgeon When and where: Gasworks until December 30 T HERE'S no denying it, Tom E. Lewis is charming. His autobiographical show, Thumbul, is a perfect vehicle for his entertaining and often poignant solo journey through h...

   ACTORS BREATHE LIFE INTO SNORKEL   Herald Sun, 16-11-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 070, 183 words , ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Snorkel Where & when: La Mama until Dec 1 INCEST, patricide, fratricide: not a cheery piece is Richard Bladel's Snorkel. But it is briskly directed by Ariette Taylor and stylishly performed by Belinda McClory and David Pidd. The small space at La Mam...

    A CHURCH'S FATE   Herald Sun, 08-11-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 079, 358 words , ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Sanctus Where and when: Merlyn Theatre performed by Ballarat University until tomorrow C HRIS Dickins is a gem of a playwright whose plays continue to appear in country Victoria productions. The latest, Sanctus, is the graduate production for perform...

   SHALLOW DIG AT A GRAVE ISSUE   Herald Sun, 30-10-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 057, 373 words , ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
The Mourning After Where and when: Playbox, until November 23 IF you have never experienced the death of someone close, it is impossible to explain the odd actions and reactions grief may cause. For example, why would a woman whose husband has died t...

   POLLIE'S POSER   Herald Sun, 26-10-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 077, 382 words , ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Alive at Williamstown Pier Where and when: La Mama; until November 11 THE combination of politician and mental illness is evidently a sure-fire entertainment drawcard. La Mama was stuffed to the rafters even on the second, notoriously quiet night of ...

   YANG'S YEARNING   Herald Sun, 24-10-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 057, 371 words , HIT
The North Where and when: George Ballroom, St Kilda; until November 2 T HERE is something harmonic in William Yang's The North - and it's not only because of the eccentric musical accompaniment. Yang's voice is not resonant but its unaffected quality...

    CHI'S BRAN NUE WAY   Herald Sun, 19-10-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 077, 304 words , ENTERTAINMENT
Corrugation Road Where and when: Fairfax Studio until October 26 S HEER anarchy was let loose on an unsuspecting audience on opening night of Corrugation Road. Jimmy Chi, who also wrote Bran Nue Dae, flies in the face of musical theatre convention. H...

    A REAL FAIRYTALE OF THE HEART   Herald Sun, 18-10-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 092, 250 words , ENTERTAINMENT
Corazon Where & when: Theatreworks until tomorrow KATE Herbert describes Corazon as a Gothic fairytale, and it is a nightmarish fantasy. It's a cross between the Addams Family and Mervyn Peake, with grisly goings-on that make a Verdi opera plotline l...

   TAKE A GIANT JUMP FOR JOY   Herald Sun, 09-10-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 061, 374 words , ENTERTAINMENT
Jump! By: Crying in Public Places When and where: Beckett Theatre until Saturday WHEN my mouth falls open I know I've seen a good show - and I gaped all the way through Jump! again. Crying in Public Places grabs you by the heart, lungs and soul from ...

   KING OF THE YARN-SPINNERS   Herald Sun, 08-10-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 045, 315 words , ENTERTAINMENT
Blimey! It's Matt King Where: Star and Garter Hotel, South Melbourne When: Wednesday-Saturday, until October 19 IT'S been a while since I was at a pub comedy gig. Aah! My misspent youth!...

   PRIMITIVE TALE LACKS A BIT OF SPARK   Herald Sun, 07-10-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 047, 355 words , ENTERTAINMENT
FRINGE THEATRE Kaspar Where and when: The Vault Theatre, Banana Alley Flinders St; until October 19 "CIVILISED" cultures have always had a fascination with the barbaric. Unfortunately, this romance with the "savage" has often manifested itself in gro...  

 BARD'S KNIFE-EDGE SLICE OF LIFE   Herald Sun, 05-10-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 035, 372 words , ENTERTAINMENT
The Rape of Lucrece Where and When: La Mama, until October 20 POURING a play into the confines of La Mama Theatre in Carlton is no mean feat at the best of times, but when it is Shakespeare it is nigh on miraculous. Of course, performing a mythic poe..

.    THE FUN'S ON FOR YOUNG AND OLD   Herald Sun, 27-09-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 083, 397 words , ENTERTAINMENT
Schnorky the Wave Puncher THERE'S no denying it - kids' theatre can be great entertainment for adults too and Schnorky the Wave Puncher at the Arena Theatre is a good example. The laughs rippled up from the shoreline of children seated on mats and ro...

    MARG'S STORY A DEAD-SET HOOT   Herald Sun, 27-09-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 085, 360 words , ENTERTAINMENT
Not Dead Yet - The Romantic Story of Margaret Catchpole Where and When: La Mama at The Courthouse until October 12 L OTTIE Lyell may not have had a movie house named after her, as film-making lover Raymond Longford has, but Sarah Vincent and Vanessa ...

   BLOODY TAPESTRY OF WAR'S TRUE PAIN   Herald Sun, 24-09-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 041, 339 words , ENTERTAINMENT
Because You Are Mine Where and when: Melbourne University Student Theatre at Guild Theatre; until October 5 INVARIABLY, before a war, there is a period during which there is the hope that possibly there will be no conflict. Before the horror and desp...

    CIRCUS EXPOSES BODY AND SOUL   Herald Sun, 14-09-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 035, 372 words , ENTERTAINMENT
Aqua Profonda Presented by: Circus Oz Where and when: Melbourne Town Hall; until October 6 E VER seen a nearly naked man play 80 squeezy horns with body parts? Well, go and see Circus Oz. When circus meets the bizarre, the witty and the political the...

   A GAG-FEST FROM THE BARD   Herald Sun, 10-09-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 045, 347 words , ENTERTAINMENT
Love's Labour's Lost Where and when: Beckett Theatre, Malthouse, until Saturday LOVE'S Labour's Lost is simple comic-romance fluff with little substance, which is probably why it is rarely done. The Victorian College of the Arts production, directed ...

    NEW FACES, OLD STORY   Herald Sun, 09-09-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 061, 348 words , ENTERTAINMENT
Chay Vong Vong Where and when: Napier St Theatre: until September 15 WE should despair that each cultural group which arrives in Australia as migrants suffers frighteningly similar troubles. The Vietnamese characters in Tony Le Nguyen's play, Chay Vo...

    STAND TALL TO DELIVER   Herald Sun, 27-08-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 045, 268 words , ENTERTAINMENT
Home Brew Last Laugh Theatre Restaurant PETER Rowsthorn has been doing stand-up comedy around town for about 10 years and he's still funny, even when he is doing old material. It's his physical humor that makes him stand out. Rowsthorn conjures Austr...

    STREETS AHEAD   Herald Sun, 17-08-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 041, 411 words , ENTERTAINMENT
REVIEW comedy Wrung Out! Glynn Nicholas Where and when: Comedy Theatre; from August 15 GLYNN Nicholas certainly knows how to work a crowd. All those years doing classical mime on the streets of Adelaide and Paris paid off. Once a busker, always a cha...

    STALKING THE NIGHT FOR KICKS   Herald Sun, 12-08-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 070, 314 words , ENTERTAINMENT
theatre Strangers in the Night Where and when: Playbox Theatre until August 31 LOWER West Manhattan feels like Blade Runner dubbed into several foreign languages: incomprehensible, bleak, dangerous, poorly but stylishly lit. Everybody in the subways ...

   INTRODUCING PIOTR THE GRATE   Herald Sun, 06-08-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 063, 382 words , ENTERTAINMENT
Maestro Where and when: Courthouse until August 17 THERE is a clause in small print at the bottom of every artist's contract with the devil which declares, "Create great art and be a tortured soul ". Piotr Tchaikovsky was no exception. Geoffrey Willi...

   ROCKY ROAD TO UNDERSTANDING   Herald Sun, 03-08-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 027, 325 words , ENTERTAINMENT
Road Movie Presented by: Back to Back and Melbourne Workers' Theatre Where and when: Lonsdale St Power Station until August 10 THE road movie genre is a modern version of the mythic Hero's Journey, in which the hero leaves a secure environment, takes...

    BLURRED REALITY HITS HOME   Herald Sun, 02-08-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 099, 327 words , ENTERTAINMENT
Sextet Where and when: Napier St Theatre until August 18 LEONARD Radic's Sextet, which he vows is not autobiographical, draws on his years as The Age critic and observations of the theatre industry and its creatures. It is directed by Malcolm Roberts...

   DEVOTION TO CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL   Herald Sun, 31-07-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 065, 356 words , ENTERTAINMENT
Kafka's Dick Where and when: Athenaeum Theatre until August 18 ALAN Bennett's play Kafka's Dick is no euphemism but a reference to Czech novelist Franz Kafka's penis. An odd topic? Evidently Kafka's was tiny and, for a man with a psychotically distor...

   CAR-ING APPROACH   Herald Sun, 20-07-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 033, 238 words , ENTERTAINMENT
The Brand New Ford The four members of this eccentric stage family prattle at each other in rich, complex and allusive phrases. The play's starting gate is cars - grotesque V8s and other revving, noisy, petrol-guzzling motors. Dad (Jim Daly) talks li...

   GRIM TALE OF LOSS BY FIRE   Herald Sun, 17-07-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 057, 373 words , ENTERTAINMENT
Hearts of Fire Where and when: Carlton Courthouse Theatre, 349 Drummond St; until July 27 BUSHFIRES are in many ways an intrinsic part of Australian identity. They are the horrific flipside to footy and Vegemite, a quintessentially Australian phenome...

   FIRED BY BURNING DESIRE   Herald Sun, 04-07-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 062, 444 words , HIT
THE effects of the Ash Wednesday bushfires continued long after the final flames were extinguished in 1983. Psychological scars still smoulder in the minds of fire-fighters and victims who lost their homes. In Kate Herbert's latest play, Hearts of Fi...  

  SILENCE SPEAKS VOLUMES   Herald Sun, 11-06-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 053, 392 words , ENTERTAINMENT
Easy to Say Where and when: La Mama until June 25 AN ORDINARY life can be so strange if examined too closely. Kevin Nemeth's latest play draws us into the orbit of several people related by family or friendship. Both the naturalistic style and the in...

    SCARE WAY TO HEAVEN   Herald Sun, 10-06-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 067, 320 words , ENTERTAINMENT
Autopsy In fact, for this writer, who has nightmares after The X Files, the lurid computer graphics of a dissected body were most unsettling. The show is like an 80-minute video clip with substantial content and welcome irony. It opens with pounding ...

   BARBS FOR BARD   Herald Sun, 07-06-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 096, 363 words , ENTERTAINMENT
REVIEW theatre William Shakespeare: Hung, Drawn and Quartered Not Yet It's Difficult Where and When: IRAA, 14 Lowther St, Alphington; until tonight IT IS peculiar that Anglophiles have elevated a very dead white male, notwithstanding his exceptional ...  

 IN SEVENTH HEAVEN OF DEATH   Herald Sun, 31-05-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 090, 311 words , ENTERTAINMENT
Seven Stages of Grieving Working under the umbrella of Brisbane-based Kooemba Jdarra Indigenous Performing Arts (supported by ATSIC, Arts Queensland and the Australia Council), director Wesley Enoch, with co-writer and solo performer Debra Mailman, d...  

HSUN0596.SRC.011   Herald Sun, 28-05-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 045, 521 words , ENTERTAINMENT
Rocky Jason Show JASON Donovan is planning his Australian stage debut. He will play Frank 'N' Furter in the Rocky Horror Show when it opens in Perth next month. "People don't realise he has not been on stage in Australia," promoter Paul Dainty says. ...

   COLLEGE RAISES HOUSE COLORS   Herald Sun, 28-05-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 045, 352 words , ENTERTAINMENT
A Doll's House Where and when: St Martin's Theatre, Victorian College of the Arts, until June 1 FINAL-year drama college productions are often good - but rarely this good. The Victorian College of the Arts production of Heinrich Ibsen's A Doll's Hous...

   DABBLE IN A DREAM   Herald Sun, 25-05-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 032, 333 words , ENTERTAINMENT
Away by Michael Gow MTC Schools Season The narrative spies on the summer holidays of three families tenuously connected through a school production of Midsummer Night's Dream. Teenagers Tom and Meg (Simon Russell and Jennifer Priest) have a mutual cr...

   WAILS OF LOVE   Herald Sun, 18-05-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 035, 332 words , ENTERTAINMENT
Banshee Where and when: La Mama/Courthouse Theatre; until June 1 WHEN a banshee screams it warns of a death in the household. In Jodi Gallagher's Banshee, two die: father Collum and daughter Imogen, played by Kirk Alexander and Caroline Bock. It is n...

   BIG TEST OF CHARACTER   Herald Sun, 04-05-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 037, 254 words , ENTERTAINMENT
A MONODRAMA is one of the most testing forms for an actor. Damien, performed by Daniel Kyle, is a solo piece of theatre based on the extraordinary life of a Belgian priest. Father Damien, who was beatified last year, single-handedly ran a leper colon...

   RUSSIAN ROULETTE   Herald Sun, 27-04-1996, Ed: 2, Pg: 028, 391 words , ENTERTAINMENT
The 8.16 Vodka Syndrome Actor Jim Daly was astonished and the audience confused but the incident did little to dampen a vigorous, entertaining show that is epic in style and, at a duration of 21/2 hours, length. The 30-odd characters are played by Da...  

Kelly's Reign, Dec 1, 1996

By Hume Theatre Company
At Theatreworks until Dec 15, 1996
Reviewed by KH around Dec 1, 1996

When writing The Cherry Orchard, Anton Chekhov purposely placed the railway station five miles away so that his naturalistic director Stanislavski, could not use train sound effects. It is a pity Chekhov was not dramaturg for Kelly's Reign.

They "seek to modernise the theatre space" but use a naturalistic set of knocked together wooden huts, woodchips and logs. They abandoned a 1943 "antiquated text" by Douglas Stewart, wanting to update but have created an over-written melodrama. The concern that "women were completely left out" of the original is not addressed. They remain incidental in a play with more testosterone on stage than a gymnasium weights room.

In this production about super-highwayman, Ned, sound effects rule. Constant, taped, out of sync gunfire with period pistols and costumes give an unhappy impression of playground Cowboys and Indians. This, unfortunately is not the only flaw.

The company of fourteen actors and five live musicians have great commitment and energy but the end result is some passable acting in  a very dated style of production. There is an enormous amount of work in this show but they kept breaking cardinal rules.

One stated intention is to "meld the world of film and popular culture" but they confuse film with theatre. Opening with interminable video credits (all in the program anyway) unnecessarily delays the start. Every scene is preceded by video "newsflash" rolling text and voice-over which under-estimates the audience's capacity for gleaning subtleties. Video images were often running invisibly in full light.

The music is enjoyable bush balladry but holds up the action in the 135 minutes. Three co-writers (Michael Hurse, Nicholas Reid, Richard Sutherland) have tried valiantly to touch us but have missed any genuine emotional level.

Both text and performance lack depth. Any dramatic tension is dissipated by noisy overkill of guns, deaths and running about. The director attempts to shock with burnt flesh on video, stunt deaths, boys kissing, but it ends up producing a melodrama with dancin', drinkin', cussin', shootin', yellin' and killin'- all in Irish accents.
I want to be encouraging. Perhaps a shift towards the abstract, which happens for a fleeting moment at the end, could salvage this piece. It is a valiant effort but it has not worked.  


Double or Nothing, Dec 1, 1996

By  $5 Theatre
Napier St Theatre until Dec, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert round Dec 1, 1997

Funny isn't it how official and government bodies now call "Gambling" "Gaming". By simply dropping a couple of letters we lose the disease, the social ill, the family problem.

It is no longer a matter of luck or loss, fortune or misfortune. It is a Game! It's Fun! Thank you, Jeff, for saving us from such painful definition. We feel much better losing our salaries now.

$5 Theatre Company's latest devised show focuses on gambling, probability, chance, superstition and Crown Casino. It reverts to the old "agit-prop" (Agitational Propaganda) style of theatre that was very popular in the 70's in Britain and harks back to Leftist theatre all over Europe. It is simple in form but leaves one thinking in the truly Brechtian way. It is light and entertaining employing a series of vignettes, tableaux, and direct engagements with the audience. It even runs a real horse race complete with TAB tickets and audience winners and losers.

But, in spite of its light touch, we cannot leave blithely. It has an uncannily discomfiting after-bite. It clearly triggered after-show discussion of a political nature. The old-boy private school network of John Elliot, Kerry Packer, Lloyd Williams and Ron Walker (all responsible for Crown), wields enormous public and clandestine power.

 The casino is robbing the public blind. Casinos never lose. Punters lose. The government may be taking taxes from gambling, sorry, gaming bodies such as TAB and Crown but the losses are still incurred by the people of Victoria.  This state is eating its own young.

The political satire, the comfortable chat of the actors and their accessibility allow us to be lulled into a false sense of having seen something inconsequential but the didactic is at work on our little psyches. Clever old $5.

The one piece of realism in the show is Seamus, the recovering compulsive gambler who confesses his dreadful but all too credible sins directly to us.

This is the stuff of great human drama but naturalism is not the core of this piece. $5 do not want us absorbed in a single emotional drama, a private torment of one man. They want to leave us thinking and screaming for change. Perhaps Kennett has done us one favour. We may have some theatre that challenges the status quo.

Friday, 29 November 1996

Mr. Melancholy, Nov 29, 1996

Written by Matt Cameron
Chameleon Theatre
Beckett Theatre until Dec 14, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Nov 30, 1996

A Hermitage a' Trois is one description of the characters in Mr. Melancholy by Matt Cameron and Chameleon Theatre. To be more precise, “three's company, four's a crowd" in this absurd comedy about love, loss and isolation.

It is essentially a long, very funny comedy sketch with a poignant ending. Three hermits suffering from varying degrees of sociability, live together in a lighthouse sans light. They all seem to have fallen out of society, or a passing ship, purposely or not we do not know. They struggle with their existential dilemma. Their routine is settled.

Ollie, (Wayne Hope) the light-housekeeper, no longer bothers to watch for ships. He collects flotsam luggage and steals a beachful of sand. Meanwhile the maudlin, hapless bride, Margot, (Maud Davey) steals it all back after burying another cold fish which has died in her care.

 Silly, naive, blathering Enzo, (Ernie Grey) the caretaker, bemoans his mute ventriloquist doll  and studies meaning in the dictionary. Shades of Samuel Beckett without the bleak existentialism.

The routine is settled; until Dolores, (Suzie Doherty) a clown escapee from the circus, arrives in a trunk and we all know that new blood unsettles the old. Everyone wants change and fears it except Dolores who will risk everything, transform herself for love.

Mr. Melancholy is entertainingly crammed with terrific groan-wrenching puns and gags but the first half feels unsatisfyingly insubstantial. The dialogue becomes glib and any flow or depth in characters or relationship is constantly undercut by one-liners. After interval the drama checks in, the emotional stakes are raised and the text comes closer to the examination of the human condition promised in the first half.

Performances are uniformly strong. Hope 's impeccable comic timing and Grey's quirky clown are excellent while Davey's acerbic gloom is an appropriate foil to Doherty's child-like peppiness. Anna Tregloan's design of enormous rickety piles of lost luggage and an encompassing ring of rocks/sandbags provides accentuates the isolation and containment for the characters. The evocative, dislocated circus calliope music, composed by Johna Doty and is effective while remaining unobtrusive.

Melancholy is the natural state. People stay too long in unhealthy relationships. Whichever way you slice it, all human activity is an exercise in futility.


Thursday, 28 November 1996

Mind's Eye, Nov 28, 2017

by Handspan & Back to Back
Lonsdale St Power Station until Dec 7, 1996
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Nov 28, 1996

Theatrical collaborations can be a breeding ground for new and wonderful ideas in the land of the unpredictable or they may breed only conflict. Back to Back meeting Handspan Theatre is a successful example of the former.

Mind's Eye is weird in every sense of the word.  It is riddled with rich and disturbing Jungian imagery. One character's 'female parts' argue with her and represent her uncontrollable sexuality. It mews like a kitten and is attacked by a mangy mongrel which is in turn thrown ruthlessly into a furnace by the witch.

The character is played by Sonia Teuben, an experienced actor from Back to Back, a company for intellectually disabled actors.  Her provocative 'pussy' raises awareness about social repression of sexuality in disabled people.

The plot of Mind's Eye is simple. It is a fairy tale about a bored witch-mermaid who sends several messages in bottles inviting strangers to her birthday party on her island home.  Her invitation reads peremptorily, "Bring a present" and she is none too gracious if she does not like the gift. In fact, put a foot wrong and you're likely to be chained, burned or bewitched.

The company has a charming and disarming style. Mark Deans once again performs his inimitable natural clown and Rita Halabarec as the witch is both menacing and cute. Tom Lycos accompanies Back to back actors with a terrific physical presence naive clown.

Puppeteers (John Rogers, Liss Gabb, Megan Cameron) are, as is often the case in Handspan's black theatre, visible and active as characters who not only manipulate the puppets but who interact with them and with the actors. The mechanics of the theatrical form: lighting, musicians, movable sets, the creatures which droop before life is breathed into them, are all revealed in an almost Brechtian way. The process is demystified without destroying the magic of visual theatre.

Design by Cliff Dolliver includes a couple of mad cartoon-like critters: a huge " stupid jungle animal" and an animated drawing which scuttle about then go to sea together. ˆThe haunting live music is played by Helen Mountford and Hope Csutoros with recorded music by My Friend the Chocolate Cake. It provides an emotional layer for the piece.

There are messy bits, slow sections and some incomprehensible images but the whole is so entertaining it doesn't matter a jot. The crowd cheered and stamped at the curtain call – and Mark Deans did his cartwheels to steal the limelight.

Wednesday, 27 November 1996

Tristan and Yseult, Nov 27, 1996

Tristan & Yseult by Peter Jetnikoff & Stephen Joyce
 La Mama at Lonsdale St Power Station until Dec 12, 1996

In the end, Tristan and Yseult die the death they should have died in the beginning: suicide for lost love. Truth and passion don't rule the world but power, history and comfort.

Yes, comfort. People choose the comfortable worn armchair. Even Yseult returns to her royal husband and abode after three years desperate exile and scrounging in the forest with her lover. Living hand to mouth with a loved one is not much fun as anyone on the dole can vouch.

This non-Wagnerian Tristan & Yseult, written by Peter Jetnikoff & Stephen Joyce is performed at the Lonsdale St Power Station. It is produced by La Mama which now has tentacles reaching right out into every available small theatre venue.

The disused warehouse contrasts the concrete industrial location with the delightfully classical style of the text. The poetic almost Elizabethan form of the dialogue and narration is coupled with stylised action and compelling performances by the entire ensemble.

The audience, after initially standing around uncomfortably, is seated around a manually revolving "Wooden 'O' " to witness the unfolding of the poignant tale of passion, besmirched honour and betrayal. One never tires of these such human frailties. The two are star-crossed, like Romeo and Juliet, coming from warring kingdoms of Cornwall and Ireland. As he escorts Yseult to marry King of Cornwall and end the conflict, Tristan (Luke Elliot) falls in love with his Queen-to-be (Vanessa O'Neill) and here begins their tale of doom and destiny.

The poetic, almost Elizabethan, form of the dialogue and narration is coupled with stylised action and compelling performances by the entire ensemble. There is a warmth and richness in the storytelling and a tautness in Bruce Naylor's direction which holds us for three hours. The recipe of tragedy with a tincture of irony which is inherent in the text, is heightened by Drew Tingwell's dwarf-narrator and Bruce Kerr's King. Alex Pinder provides the weight of experience and rationality in his Governal.

Luke Elliot's complex and driven Tristan is layered with the naivete and lust of youth and Vanessa O'Neill portrayal of Yseult is intelligent and detailed. The two create exciting and credible lovers. The whole piece is coloured and supported by subtle lighting and live music by Nick Papas and Caroline Lee.

The very opening fifteen minutes were slow with narration over dumb show but the piece flies for the remaining hours. This is really gripping myth-telling See it!.ˆ


Friday, 22 November 1996

The Mysteries of Rufus Bummings, Nov 22, 1996

by Chris Dickins
 Spirit Theatre.
At Polyglot Theatre 14 -30 November, 1996
Reviewed by KH around 22 Nov 1996

'Ruffhouse Burminglsey Manufacturings. Drop a few dozen letters of the manufacturer written on his back and you are left with 'Rufus Bummings'.

Rufus, the title character of Chris Dickins' play the Mysteries of Rufus Bummings, is a wooden carnival soldier who hangs from a child's mobile. The child is the warm, vibrant but severely intellectually disabled Ruth.

This is her story told through the eyes of Rufus, her loyal soldier, friend and historian. Rufus awaits his fate in Ruth's parents' garage sale, along with his brothers Ricco, Ricco, Ricco and Keith.

Dickins candid, poetic and poignant writing is evident in this monodrama performed by Bradley Hulme and directed by Dickins himself. Hulme presents the story sympathetically with an engaging directness as he gambols about on stage, shifting between Rufus and Ruth, her parents and friends at her special school where she paints everything made of paper.

It is a bitter-sweet tragedy. Ruth is shocked to realise she is "a creature". Rufus is aware before she is that she is stared at and scares others. Her home is with the other special kids. "Last one in the bus is normal!"

She finally declares to her remote parents that she has ten wishes before she dies which include a new dress, going to the ballet ("I didn't think they could kick you out just for laughing.") and Scienceworks and putting Rufus's letters back on his coat.

The life-size carnival carousel dolls and horses, designed by Artery, are delightful amongst the garage detritus of Ruth's family's life. The fragmented structure is initially confusing but the second half clarifies much of the narrative. There are some awkward moments theatrically but the emotional tale eventually takes over and leads us gently to its conclusion.


VCA Theatre Makers 1996 Nov 22, 1996

 Theatre Makers - Two plays
Victorian College of the Arts Drama School
The Great Divide by Tony Reck
 Old People by Alex Green
 VCA Drama School

The aged are often believed to live in their pasts in a non-sexual haze of heart drugs, tea and toast. The two oldies in Alex Green's short work, Old People, are no exception to this myth.

This black-comic masked piece is located in the rough, concrete back space of the Drama School building of VCA. The location provided the perfect setting for a cyclone wire enclosed rubbish dump. Do the old couple live on a tip? Is it a metaphor for their dislocated lives? Either way, the design serves the narrative.

These two, who appear to be Eastern European post-war immigrants who have not done to well financially in the land of milk and honey, pine for their pasts, their secrets, imagined or long-lost friends, their almost forgotten sexuality. They play games, taunt and dress up in giant teddy costumes. The past is a place of joy and sadness. Paraphrasing Shakespeare, "It's rosemary." "That's for remembrance." It seems to be all they have, apart from each other.

Tony Reck's play script was workshopped at the Playwrights' conference this year but it required a full production to realise its predominantly visual and physical emphasis. David Symons, himself a VCA graduate, has scattered the sparse dialogue amidst multi-media imagery provided by multiple slide screens, film projector, soundscape and recorded voice. It is primarily a conceptual piece of theatre, influenced by the abstraction of performance art.

The juxtaposition of imagery is effective at times but most often it remains bewildering or overstated. The hour long piece takes off fifteen minutes in when the actual narrative about a family is clarified to some degree. To suggest that there is a coherent narrative thread is to undermine the style and concept of Reck's work and Symon's direction.

The characters are representative of the family of parents and two sons. The jump-cut physical movement style fragments moments of their lives and the shifts in relationships. The dislocation of people in suburbia is accented and the dysfunction of families in the modern world is heightened by the abstraction.

The work of the VCA Theatremakers (writers, directors and animateurs) is showcased this week in various college venues.


Saturday, 16 November 1996

Thumbul, Nov 16, 1996

By Tom E Lewis & Mac Gudgeon
At Gasworks until Dec 1996
Reviewed by KH around Nov 15, 1996

There's no denying it. Tom E. Lewis is charming. His autobiographical show, Thumbul, is a perfect vehicle for his entertaining and often poignant solo journey through his 40-odd years on this planet as a bicultural Australian.

Lewis straddles the twin worlds of remote Arnhem Land and urban /urbane St. Kilda. More precisely, he has spent his years tumbling backwards and forwards from his tribal home in the far north and the strange, artsy-fartsy world of film and theatre.

The pivotal point both theatrically and in his personal Road Well Travelled was the moment, at age seventeen, he was discovered at an airport by Fred Schepsi and tossed headlong into playing the title role in The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith Lewis, in a darker moment, muses that he may have been Jimmy reincarnated. As he re-enacts Jimmy's gruesome slaughter of the white women, he seems to be purging all his childhood abuse at the hands of the white church, schools, red-necks and the Welsh father who abandoned him.

John Bolton's direction is brisk and often physical representation of Tom's story. Lewis speaks directly to us. We are part of his trip. He engages us with his quips, anecdotes and songs and his warm, amiable, vigorous and, above all, totally natural persona. It is a joy to be with him.

The text, developed with writer Mac Gudgeon, is light and funny and is coloured by Lewis's constant improvising as he stumbles over a word, hears a digital watch in the audience or plays with toy farm animals in the red sand covered floor. His comic timing is impeccable and the audience roared at his jokes and stood to cheer at his curtain call.

It is the sheer simplicity of the piece and its delivery which is its greatest asset. In combination with Lewis's natural charm and the dark underbelly of his story of cultural dichotomy, this makes a compelling 90 minutes in the theatre.


Thursday, 14 November 1996

Snorkel, Nov 14, 1996

by Richard Bladel
At La Mama until December 1, 1996
Reviewed by KH around Nov 13, 1996

Incest, patricide, fratricide ­– not a very cheery piece is Richard Bladel's Snorkel. However it is briskly directed by Ariette Taylor and stylishly performed by Belinda McClory and David Pidd.

The small space at La Mama becomes dangerous and the emotional and physical violations perpetrated by the two characters re intimidatingly close to us. McClory and Pidd's portrayal of adult siblings, Snorkel and Sis, shifts in a complex emotional dance from child-like to adult, lovers to loathers.

During what begins as an eerie wake for their murdered father, they taunt, tease, attack, withhold and terrify each other with threats of abandonment, revelation and escape. They fear aloneness but Sis fears Snorkel, drunk on metho and milk, will turn into her abusive father. Their chequered past is slowly revealed.

McClory gives a magnetic, fluid and often beautifully realised performance of the fraught and terrified Sis. Pidd's Snorkel is perilously close to the edge of insanity as he literally climbs the walls and leaps across tables. They work hard and fast, providing the text with layers of subtext with a glance, a pause, a tear.

The mutton bird, on which they are about to dine, is a pivotal metaphor. "These plain little grey birds returns to the same burrow every year." Sis is a mutton bird. She has never been able to escape father or brother. Perhaps tonight.

Director and actors have given a flawed script a new and successful fourth dimension. Adrienne Chisholm's set design of totally bleached grey removes any touch of naturalism in combination with the abstract, heightened performance style.

The script wanders a little, is unclear in style, repeats itself and reveals too much too early, reducing its dramatic tension.  There is a flat patch in the middle but the actors kick it up into top gear for a swift and furious finale.


Tuesday, 12 November 1996

Monash Schools Drama Competition, Nov 12, 1006

At Monash Performing Arts Theatre
November 12-16, 1996
Reviewed by Kate Herbert on Nov 12, 1996

Perhaps it's time to hand over the theatre industry to the teenagers when one of the most compelling pieces of theatre I’ve seen recently was written, directed and performed by 15-16 year olds.

The Schools Drama Festival sponsored by Monash University Arts Precinct and adjudicated by professionals in the theatre field, was a week long series of heats with sixteen participating schools, both private and government.

Students were required to develop their own work with only supervision by teachers. They were judged on their creative conception, use of the theatre space and facilities and the quality of their final production on the night.

Drama teachers, in spite of cuts to arts education programs in recent years, are providing kids with sound skills to express opinions by making their own theatre. Issues arising in the five finalists' shows ranged from social and parental control and expectations,  identity, peer pressure and fashion (particularly amongst the girls), sport and competition (for the boys!) and the struggle with change.

One Day at a Time by year ten boys from St. Bede's, was streets ahead in its level of skill, perception is a moving 25 minute sustained naturalistic play with twin narrative threads. Rob (Daniel Robinson) discovers, at sixteen, that he is adopted. His mate, Johnno, (Brayden Haynes) is faced with his girlfriend being pregnant.

These adolescent fears are not simplistically handled but tackled with emotional and philosophical maturity and sophisticated dramatic form. Major and minor characters are credible, three-dimensional and totally inhabited by the actors. The artistic voice behind this play is Daniel Robinson who has a formidable talent and energy. His script was "80-90%" of the project and others wrote additional scenes. He is a talent to watch in the future.

BeaconHills Christian College took second place with a series of vignettes relating to social control. Methodist Ladies' College created a choreographic piece about the tyranny of fashion. Sandringham Secondary College investigated, in short scenes, changing relationships, sudden life-changing situations and our ability to cope.

Haileybury devised a slick, seamlessly directed collage of images about boys, men and sport. It was a knockout and would have been my choice for second place. This was a night worth visiting.


Wednesday, 6 November 1996

Sanctus by Chris Dickins, Nov 6, 1996

At Merlyn Theatre
Performed by Ballarat University
Until November 9, 1996
Reviewed by KH round Nov 5, 1996

Chris Dickins is a gem of a playwright whose plays continue to appear in productions from country Victoria. Sanctus is the latest and has arrived as the graduate production for Performing Arts students from Ballarat University.

The core narrative of Sanctus is the convergence of two stories based in a church on the Murray River. One begins in 1900 when the church was constructed, the other in 1996 when it is to be demolished. They collide during the war in 1940.

Dickins has always been interested in challenging dramatic structure and Sanctus does so with a cocked eye. It is a brain teaser to follow the story both backward and forward through discrete episodes, but Dickins' writing has such a lively lyrical quality and his characters are so quirky and colourful that it a joy to watch and listen to his ramblings. A priest's nightly "midnight moan", a swaggie's broad Aussie lingo, a novice's existential dilemma, a madwoman's dislocated ravings: all fill the broad stage at the Merlyn.

Director, Peter Tulloch's production showcases students' acquired skills in an entertaining and coherent piece which has a fluid choreographic style. Although actors shifting character was at times difficult to follow, the story rolled on like the Murray alongside which it resided. Tulloch has developed a delightful, live vocal soundscape with actors out of scenes but visible evoking creatures, elements and Gregorian chants.

The students must be commended for have found funding, designed, produced and mounted the production, in line with much of the fringe theatre industry in Victoria.

Although, for some of the actors, the emotional layering of Dickins writing is out of reach, there are several strong performances within the ensemble: Kylie Lockwood's cameo as the madwoman, John Bolger's Father Brendan and Renee Willner as the 60's hippy, "Jesus H Christ'.

However, for this audient, Damien Muller's exceptional design was the star of this production with its extraordinary flexibility and swift scene changes creating evocative spaces.


Saturday, 26 October 1996

The Mourning After, Oct 26,1996

The Mourning After by Verity Laughton
Playbox Beckett Theatre until Nov, 1996
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Oct 25, 1996

If you have never experienced the death of someone close, it is impossible to explain the very odd actions and reactions which grief may cause. For example, why would a woman whose husband has died the night before, spend Christmas Eve picnicking alone on a beach?

Well, she does not feel alone. Former singer and radio star, Belle Doyle, (Nancy Hayes) dines with the phantoms of her absent children and dead husband on the familiar beach by Aunt Luce's holiday home.

As she lays out the turkey and scoffs a bottle and a half of wine, she ambles about in her past, leading us gently through births and marriages, comings-out, conflicts, joys and pains. Mainly, she tries to fathom whether she killed hubbie, Harry by proposing to accept, against his wishes, the lead role in a new musical. Harry has controlled her world for too many years it seems.

The basic idea for the play is a good one. We listen to the unfolding of Belle's history, her fraught relationships with Harry, lesbian daughter Yvette and smug, pretty son "Magnus the Magnificent". The problem is that there is little dramatic tension in the text. The narrative and emotional journeys of the character are simplistic, lacking the layering which is essential for a solo piece. 

It relies on the stage being peopled with characters by one actor and this is not effectively realised. The other characters are not sufficiently significant and are left incomplete. There is too much explication in the dialogue which could be left to the action. The major conflict for Belle is whether she is betraying Harry by taking the role of Ned Kelly's mother but her final decision is so swiftly achieved, that the drama of the problem is obliterated.

Nancy Hayes was well received by the mainly older female audience at the Saturday matinee but her musical skills were wasted in this piece in which she sings only a single finale. Her performance and direction by another musical identity, Tony Sheldon, did not provide the dynamic range which might have invested this piece with some emotional texture.

The Mourning After is quite watchable but it does not even scratch the surface of the issue of grief and its associated guilt and nostalgia.


Thursday, 24 October 1996

Aive At Williamstown Pier, Oct 24, 1996

Alive at Williamstown Pier Neil Cole
La Mama until November 11, 1996
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Oct 23, 1996

The combination of politician and mental illness is evidently a sure-fire entertainment drawcard. 

La Mama was stuffed to the rafters even on the second night, notoriously quiet night of Alive at Williamstown Pier written by Neil Cole (MLA Melbourne). One wonders whether Jeff Kennett's appearance on IMT had something to do with a psychotic episode.

As a playwright, Cole is a better politician. This is not to suggest that Williamstown does not have its merits. It boasts some sharp political satire, numerous snappy gags and a singular, interesting, well-shaped character in Mick, the manic-depressive.

The deficiencies reside in the fragmented structure of the script, its mixture of styles and in the clumsiness of the actual production. The script is at its best when it focuses on the relationship between Dave, the manic-depressive politician who is Cole's alter ego and his institutionalised pal, Mick. The naturalistic warmth and wit of their dialogue is a great strength.

The text would be enhanced by concentrating on this instead of the rather awkward stylised Vox Pop-come-cabaret interludes and unnecessary readings from a "Premier's award-winning" novel.

Cole, as playwright, has drawn on his own experience with bi-polar disorder, otherwise known as manic-depression, to create this narrative. The character's battle with the public airing of his dirty psychological linen is directly related to his own newsworthy illness. Not only is the play a courageous "outing" but it gives mental illness a high profile and a human face which can only be a positive move.

The direction is unwieldy and the production suffers from clunky scene changes, painfully slow pacing, a cluttered although interesting set design and unimaginative staging. The problems with performance arise from expecting stand-up comics to carry a play. At times, the lead actor was inaudible in the tiny venue and the emotional landscape of his character remained unexplored. Richard Heath, however, had some high points as the lively and tragic Mick.
Death in this play is somehow life affirming. Those who survive their illness carry on after losing friends to their psychic demons. It is chastening to remember that the wolf, psychosis, is never too far from the door.

Kate Herbert

Tuesday, 22 October 1996

The North, William Yang, Oct 22, 1996

The North William Yang 
George Ballroom St KIlda Until Nov 2, 1996
Reviewed by KH around Oct 22, 1996

There is something harmonic in the tone of William Yang's The North which is not only due to its eccentric musical accompaniment. Yang's voice is not resonant but its unaffected un-actorly quality is refreshingly naive.

As he did in the deeply evocative and moving Sadness, Yang stands in a spotlight at the side of the stage in front of huge projections of his own photographs. The images are of his childhood home in Dimbula, North Queensland, his Chinese-Australian relatives and his visit to mainland China. Like Sadness, this is no mere holiday slide show. Although it lacks the anguish and pain of Sadness, Yang's attachment to people  and place is simply but intensely felt.

Through his monologue, we meet people from his family and his past, we encounter the arid North country, tobacco plantations and small town anecdotes. We travel to his parents' "home" in China and watch him discover Daoism and his deep-buried Chinese-ness.
The lyrical quality is enhanced by an exceptional live soundscape by Collin Offord who plays his invention, the Great Island Mouthbow which conjures sounds akin to a Chinese violin, wind through tunnels and a whole string section.

Yang explores the nature of cultural identity in a very personal way. the moment he stepped into the obviously topical and political, namely the Pauline Hanson racism debate, he lost his focus. His very circuitousness and dreamy delivery allows us to be surprised when ideas are suddenly woven together and we have an ' ah-ha" experience.

"Home is many places,” he says "-and one". Denying one's cultural heritage is a way of absorbing racism to the point where it becomes self-loathing.

The path is warm and easy for we, the audience, but it is evident that Yang's own path to self-awareness and acceptance has been more of a struggle. As he says, "It is easy to hate and blame but hard to understand another and change oneself."

Kate Herbert