Tuesday, 24 February 1998

The House of Bernarda Alba , Feb 24, 1998

The House of Bernarda Alba by Ferdinand Lorca
Malthouse until March 1,1998
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around 23 March 1998

The Spanish produced the first Revenge Tragedies in the 17th century and its inherent vengeance was invariably related to defence of a woman's honour. This theatrical tradition of blood and passion continues in Ferdinand Lorca's play, The House of Bernarda Alba, written in 1936, the year of his death.

Flamenco choreographer, Charito Saldana, with aid of a Women Artists' Grant, has recreated Lorca's tragedy about an autocratic mother and her five unmarried daughters, less focussing more on flamenco than text.

Her collaboration with director, Simon Palomares and musical director, Richard Tedesco, heightens the dramatic intensity of particular moments although, as a whole, the text remains unintegrated with the dance and music.

It is a play about women: their social and sexual repression, which continued in Spain until quite recently. When father dies, Bernarda (Veronica Gillmer) controls their lives. A beautiful young man wants to marry the 40 year-old Angustia (Elena Maya) for money but has a clandestine tryst with the youngest, Adela (Saldana). The sisters' frustration, passion and anger is palpable in the Lorca version.

Two actors (Susie Dee & Sergio Tell) play comic serving women and comment on the action which is so subtly depicted in dance. The two are charming characters, but their scenes become repetitive and, by Act Three, interrupt the momentum of the escalating tragedy.

The inexorable surge toward Adela's suicide is imperative in the narrative, but it is anti-climactic in this version. Perhaps the series of passionate climaxes experienced in each flamenco piece has made it impossible to reach another with the final subdued image of Adela's hanged body.

Images of the women are seen in silhouette against huge bedsheets pegged on washing lines and some dramatic backlighting at the opening highlights the funereal quality.

The six musicians and singer (Titi De Algeciras) capture the essence of pain and anguish in the wailing vocal vibrato combined with sensual saxophone and guitar with pulsing percussion.

Each of the talented women has a distinctive dance style although the details of Lorca's characters and their fraught relationships and rivalries remain shadowy. The suitor, Pepe, (Johnny Tedesco) brings a forgotten maleness to the stage with his vibrating youthful energy.

This is an exciting and entertaining project that could have better integrated text. It could benefit from swifter scene changes and better sightlines.


Thursday, 19 February 1998

Dialogue Between a Priest and A Dying Man, de Sade, Feb 19, 1998

Dialogue Between a Priest and A Dying Man, by Marquis de Sade 
at  La Mama until March 1, 1998

Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Feb 17 1998

The work of the Marquis de Sade is generally read rather than performed, although, perhaps in privacy of some homes - who knows?

His "Dialogue Between a Priest and a Dying Man", directed by David Meadows who also plays the dying man, is a Socratic dialogue between a hedonistic, disease-riddled man and an insubstantial priest (Kiran D'Costa) who wishes to save him from hell-fire.

The design is simply white cloth decking wall and table, piles of neatly folded clothing and a symbolically cruciform pile of white shoeboxes and the transferring of clothing to boxes is the sum of the physical action.

The text is thick with theological concepts, philosophical argument and moral dilemmas. It is a fascinating diatribe. The Man questions the after-life. He calls the priest's god "superfluous' wonders why one would choose a Christian god as opposed to any other. He suggests that Jesus was killed because he was a troublemaker and that humans should shun crime through reason not through fear of divine retribution.

The problems arise not in the wonderful density of de Sade's material but in the performances. As the dying man, Meadows is a large and powerful presence and there are a couple of distinctive moments when we see his potential, but he rushes through the text like a juggernaut. It is philosophy on speed. This relentless pace makes it almost impossible to grasp all the subtleties of the argument because it leaves no space for reflection.

Having an outside director might have solved this glitch. The directorial eye may have dealt with Meadows being in profile for most of the 35 minutes, which diminishes his strength. The metaphorical filling of the boxes and shrinking of the crucifix becomes repetitive

The final image of the naked, dying man was too swift and it would have been riveting to witness the confused, nearly corrupted priest, lingering over his downfall as he peeled off his clothing to follow the Man to the six waiting women. The finish is performed in an unsatisfying rush.

The role of the listener is a difficult one requiring both intensity and detail but D'Costa's performance lacks weight and he is swamped by Meadows' gravitas. 

Some rapid changes of staging and slower paced delivery of such a complex text would lift this show 100 percent. It has potential.


Thursday, 12 February 1998


Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Feb 10, 1998

There are many varieties of a "love which dare not speak its name”.  In Oscar Wilde's terms it was homosexuality that is no longer illegal in most places. In Marguerite Duras' play, Agatha, it is sibling love; the kind that is still illegal and taboo almost everywhere.

This production is the fourth in a series of Duras plays directed by obsessive Durasophile, Laurence Strangio, in the intimate confines on La Mama. The intensity of Duras' imagistic, poetic words is compounded by Strangio's close focus, low-key minimalist direction in conjunction with our proximity to the two actors, Caroline Lee and Anthony Morton.

Duras writes in languorous, honey-drenched language which is exactly how Lee plays Agatha as she shifts in space like an alabaster figurine draped in her clothing. There is a seductive quality in her last farewell to her lover. We are made uncomfortable by the palpable agony of the man who leans against the white wall, his head turned away in private grief at his impending loss.

The woman has telegrammed him with news that she is in love with another leaving him for ever to go far away. They float, almost disembodied, through the space avoiding each other, moving with the slow ache of grief, loss and guilt.

The eyes have great power- because eye contact is so restricted both between the protagonists and with the audience. They are like blind mice. The eyes reflect anguish and revisit past ecstasy too immediately. It is frustrating to witness, but Strangio has captured the maddening destructive disconnection of parting.

Duras always dives headlong into a sea of grief and happily splashes about in it. "Agatha" is a Jungian landscape spattered with watery emotional references. For their farewell, they revisit their seaside childhood holiday location, Villa Agatha, after which she named herself.

Time is elastic for Duras. The two 'speak of the past as though it were an event to come". They recount stories and fabricate memories about "that summer", how their love was hushed up , she was "married off" and he was jealous. Duras peels away layers to reveal the dark secrets at the core of their story.

This production is exquisitely but excruciatingly slow-paced. It lacks the narrative drama of L'Amante Anglaise and the layering in the production of La Maladie De la Mort but this script has a complex emotional texture that makes it compelling.


Wednesday, 11 February 1998

Confidentially Yours, by Deirdre Rubenstein, Feb 11, 1998

Confidentially Yours, by Deirdre Rubenstein
Playbox Beckett Theatre until Feb 28, 1998
Reviewed by Kate Herbert round Feb 10, 1998

The dramatic monologue is a perfect vehicle for both playwright and actor. Deirdre Rubenstein had the luxury of selecting from texts commissioned by some of our finest Australian writers including Nick Enright, Andrew Bovell and Daniel Keene.

 Being given carte blanche to create their own quirky characters, they must have thought all their Christmases had come at once.

Deirdre Rubenstein, in her solo show Confidentially Yours opens the 1998 Playbox season. She scampers skilfully and breezily from New Yorker, Mrs. Sonenberg to the unknown Fleur who lives in the shadow of her famous sister, (Nick Enright), from Lorna, the blind dipsomaniac tart (Daniel Keene) to Ronnie the tastefully ageing ballerina (Joanna Murray-Smith).

Ten characters are interspersed with eight original songs composed by Alan John (The Eighth Wonder) with lyrics by poet, Alison Croggon.

Rubenstein, almost without exception, creates, with minimal costume change, a distinct and discreet persona for each by shifting tone, accent and body. Lorna is heavy, working-class, angry, jammed blindly behind her kitchen chair as she faces police interrogation.

Carol (Debra Oswald) is in perpetual motion as she flutters over her singles' 'date at 'Dinner for Six  while Jane and Paula (Andrew Bovell) reek of anguish.

It is the monologues that are the highlight of this production. Enright's delicate, evanescent New York tale of the heavily sun-glassed 'Mrs. Miller' is a feast of subtle inflection, fine language and impeccable craftsmanship.

The problems in this show arise from some unimaginative direction. Rubenstein is left pacing up and down a corridor of light from stage apron to chair. The pieces are begging for more evocative design and lighting and some physicality. The songs need some choreography; not to create a razzamatazz musical confection, but to give dramatic colour and visual interest to a very long series of mostly unconnected pieces.

It is a tall order to create eight new and inspired songs. Waiting Room, a witty Brechtian cabaret number with a distinctive style and wry humour, is the most memorable. The predictability of monologue followed by song by monologue unfortunately it gives an otherwise fine show a washing line effect.

Cutting four or five songs, and perhaps one or two more monologues, would make this an even stronger show.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 4 February 1998

The Shed by Jason Cross, Feb 4, 1998

The Shed by Jason Cross
 La Mama at the Courthouse until Feb 14, 1998
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Feb 1, 1998

A man needs a shed! It provides the great back yard escape from family, responsibilities, workplace and domesticity. "The Shed", by Jason Cross, constructs a 4 X 4 metre garden shed on stage after 80 minutes.

Cross describes his 'new theatre' as arising from 'a single physical image rather than a character-driven narrative.' This concentration on object', rather than narrative is not a new process but can inspire innovative conceptual art.

Unfortunately, 'The Shed' suffers from an overload of ideas and a lack of coherence or cohesion. It is billed as "a performance exhibition" which barely excuses its lack of form, structure and limited content. It is, finally, a poor version of a dated idea

This is not to say it has no merit. The opening augured well with its wry eye on the supercilious language and pedantic directions of an artist's exhibition contract. Tom Consadine's laconic and lateral commentary provided some much needed humour as the piece became self-indulgent, taking itself too seriously.

The sound design (Roger Alsop) was interesting but the dynamic imbalance made voices inaudible or incomprehensible. Adrian Martin's projections provided some striking visual imagery.

The piece highlights the mechanics of process. We hear instructions from the exhibition contract. We observe the completion of the paving of the space as a suburban patio, the placement of spinifex grass and scattering of red sand according to plans.

The 'performer' is also an 'object', a prop in the space Tom Consadine is dressed, by Dario Vacirca, as a handyman with his overalls stapled to his shirt and tools propped in his limp hands.

Finally, the text meets the shed. Four backyard Village People 'play' power tools to 'Land of Hope and Glory': 'The opening of the Proms in the Outback' said an audient.

This was too late, too unclear, too limited in its exploration of the sound and the notion of tools. and didn't explore the machismo of men with tools. The shed is erected sloppily. If it is the main object, why not get it right?

The aimless dialogue and irrelevant rapping and political interpolations were messy. Abstraction can make magical or diabolical theatre.

My problem is not a lack of understanding of the style and intention of this piece but that it is so poorly executed. It is an exercise in tedium and pedantry. Much 70's-80's theatre experimented with boredom and real time elapsing. Some succeeded. The Shed does not.


Tuesday, 3 February 1998

Where Have All The Comics Gone? Feb 3, 1998

Where Have All The Comics Gone?
Article by KATE HERBERT for Herald Sun, early Feb 1998

Since The Last Laugh laughed its last in 1996, the joker and their jokes seem to have wandered off stage and onto the airwaves. Its closure marked the end of the boom era of live comedy in Melbourne, indeed in Australia.

Initally, it was television which had the royal flush. Now it seems that radio has killed the live comedy star. Breakfast and Drive Time radio comedy gangs are the rage. Several of the D Generation worked on radio before the success on ABC TV of the satirical masterpiece, Frontline.  Now we have not only funny DJs but also radio comedy commando teams

Grant Tothill, Programming Manager of Triple M, says that Richard Stubbs and the D-Gen started the new radio comedy era. Mick Molloy and Tony Martin have a top-rating drive-time program on FOX. Wendy Harmer escaped the comedy capital to be Queen of the airwaves on Sydney's 2DAY FM, although she is on comedy maternity leave at present. Judith Lucy, with Helen Raser, did The Ladies' Lounge on Triple J but recently began a Sunday brekky show with Kaz Cook on FOX.

Triple M, says Tothill, wanted to 'combine rock, sport and comedy' so they have 'exceptionally quick-witted' comics, Tim Smith and Steve Bidwell, doing breakfast. They are negotiating a further series of The Schnitzel Brothers, with Eric Bana and Dave O'Neill.

Most of our top live comics have given up the smelly, boozy barroom environs of comedy clubs. Comics, says Tothill, "like radio as a medium and radio has adopted them." Clubs folded over the years and we are left with the Comedy Club in Carlton and a number of one night a week pub venues which have a few old hands and myriad wannabees.

Angus Bell from Token Productions describes Comedy try-outs as people getting up relatively new. Some of them break through and some continue. Some have been there for years and never change. Some die and go on to live their lives elsewhere.'

Some of the good old boys and gals, Bell says, are still treading the boards at live venues. Greg Fleet and Matt King feature regularly at The Espy in St. Kilda and do shows for the Adelaide, Comedy and Fringe Festivals. Christine Basil, Pommie Johnston, Chris Bennett, Dave Grant, Kim Hope, Will Anderson, Dave Hughes, Brad Oakes and Adam Richards are a few of the other die-hards awaiting their radio gig.

The crowds stopped coming to venues such as The Last Laugh and Comedy Cafe, audience expectations were rising and the cost of top comics was escalating. TV snatched the golden boys and girls and offered them big dough. Now there are whispers of certain comedy radio celebs getting $900,000. Better than braving the hecklers in a blokey bar, eh?

In the 80's, television comedy took risks. Rod Quantock did Australia: You're Standing In It, Max Gillies The Gillies Report and Dingo Principle. Vizard and McFadyen produced The Eleventh Hour but struck oil with Comedy Company. Sketch and variety shows followed thick and fast: Larger than Life, Big Gig, Kitson and Fahey and, in the 90's, Fast Forward and Full Frontal. Television syphoned off all the funny buggers.

Where are the stars not heard on radio? Jimeon is huge in the UK. Jean Kitson is somewhere in Sydney. Rod Quantock, Glynn Nicholas and Max Gillies are in theatres. Vizard produces, Mark Mitchell does Con and Marika, Mary-Anne Fahey made a TV satire. Many do corporate gigs. Why do pubs for $200 when you can get $3,000?

Live comedy is now left for dead. There is no money in it for artists or producers. Commercial venues such as The Comedy Cafe produce US. acts who pull audiences. The one saviour of live comedy in Melbourne is The Comedy Festival in April that has a huge program of local and overseas artists.

What happened? Did we get bored eating bad food and watching questionable shows at exorbitant prices when we could watch Vizard? Were the 80's the era of going out, being rowdy and spending cash?

Perhaps we are too busy in our '90's scramble for comfort, to go out, or maybe it is just cheaper and more convenient to listen to gags in the car, the shower or from under the doona.

Comedy on radio
·       Fox FM
·       Tracey & Matt in the Morning with Russell Gilbert 6-9am Mon-Fri
·       Martin & Molloy  4-6pm Mon -Fri
·       Best of Martin & Molloy 9-12am Sat
·       Foxy Ladies: Judith Lucy with Kaz Cook Sundays 9-11am
·       (Sydney 2DAY FM) Wendy Harmer with Peter Moon 6-9am Mon-Fri
·       Triple J
·       Adam Spencer with Helen Raser Departure Lounge 4-6pm Mon -Fri
·       Mikey Robbins with Stephen Abbott 6-9am Mon-Fri
·       Roy and HG Sunday 2-5pm
·       Triple M
·       Tim Smith and Steve Bidwell 6-10 am Mon -Fri
·       (Sydney)Andrew Denton with Amanda Keller 6-9am Mon-Fri
·       Crud Julian Schiller and Tony Moclair 7-10 pm Mon -Fri
·       GRILL team 4-7pm Mon-Fri
·       Dougie and Dunstall 10-12am Mon-Fri
·       TTFM
·       Early Openers 6-9am Mon-Fri

Live Comedy venues still running
·       Comedy Cafe Lygon Plaza Carlton
·       The Espy, St. Kilda Tuesday Nights Sunday Arvo The Waiting Room
·       The Armadale Hotel: Mondays
·       Elbow Grease: The Other Room Nicholson Hotel N Fitzroy Sundays
·       Star and Garter: Sth Melbourne Thursdays
·       Construction Site: Ringwood weekly

Live venues gone to God
·       Last Laugh and Le Joke
·       The Comedy Cafe
·       Hilton Comedy Room
·       The Banana Lounge
·       The Flying Tapeze
·       The Prince Patrick
·       Dick Whittington
·       Albion Charles
·       Botanical


Sunday, 1 February 1998

Comedy Festival in Melbourne: What's happening? Feb 1, 1998

Comedy Festival in Melbourne: What's happening?

Here's a snippet I never finished about Comedy in Melbourne. It was written on Feb 1, 1998
 See next article for a different, completed article about Comedy. KH

The Melbourne Comedy Festival (up to 1998) features Overseas acts including Greg Proops from US, Jeff Green and Bill Bailey from UK. Smaller theatre comedy shows come and go.

 The festival is huge and a little unwieldy. It had now taken over the Town Hall and Trades Hall for three weeks a year but nothing survives the April boom period.

The political comedy of the late 70's early 80's and the wacky, off-the-wall stuff of the same has gone for good it seems. Quantock is the only political animal around thank God.
Theatre restaurants have dribbled along. Naughty Nineties Music Hall from the early 70's gave way to Dracula's and Witches Brew an recently to Capers' which does traditional old vaudeville and panto. Where are all the innovators now?

 There was a time when we were challenging the DADAists of the 20's or the Berlin cabaret of the 30's with cutting edge commentary. Some of this has filtered into the fringe theatre scene but it rarely goes further than comment. There is no comedy form social change or for risk except Quantock.