Wednesday, 18 November 1998

Legacy & Petroleum, Nov 18, 1998

 by Raimondo Cortese, by Ranters Theatre
At La Mama until November 29, 1998
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

A short play is like an entree: a good one can be just as satisfying as the main course. Raimondo Cortese's half-hour pieces, Legacy and Petroleum, are both tasty, if insubstantial, morsels.

The two plays, directed by Adriano Cortese are part of Ranters Theatre and Cortese's series of 12 two-handers entitled Roulette and both deal with the meeting of two strangers.

Legacy snatches a glimpse of a lunchtime meeting between Theo, (Tony Nikolakopoulos) a warm and earthy building worker, and Sonia, (Beth Buchanan) a nervy young woman who is selling oddments on the street corner. Sonia is confused, earnest and pedantic. She epitomises the ill informed, crusading segment of our youth.

Theo relaxes, scoffing his salad and a couple of joints before the work siren blares. The apparent differences between these two are eliminated as they share a bench, a few smokes and some pearls of wisdom about work, love, life and intoxicants. There is little content. The focus is on the drawing together of strangers, the finding of common ground despite cultural, age and class differences.

Nikolakopoulos is hilarious and credible as Theo, while Buchanan is more effective later in the piece after a shaky beginning.

Petroleum sees two men, Steve (Robert Morgan) and Gordon (Torquil Neilson) thrown together in a very outer-suburban service station on a Sunday after Steve's untimely collision with a wallaby. As they await the return of young Gordon's uncle the mechanic, it becomes clear that the two have nothing in common apart from their humanity.

The emotional development of the relationship depends totally on conflict. This is a play constructed on the dynamics of disagreement. Steve is edgy and uncomfortable. He chews handfuls of Tic Tacs and washes them down with gulps of Diet Coke. Gordon, in contrast, is a quiet, serene country boy who is philosophical about the world, believes in marriage, loyalty and family in a way only the uncontaminated are able.

Both actors are compelling. Morgan has an underlying dangerous tone which threatens to erupt at any moment. All is explained when he reveals the events of the previous evening. Neilson finds a strength in the polite shyness of Gordon which makes him the adult in the relationship.

The two plays may not deal with the larger issues, but the dialogue is peppy and natural, characters are familiar and the performances are entertaining.

By Kate Herbert

Countdown the Musical Comedy, Nov 18, 1998

, by Brian Mannix
At Comedy Club Carlton from November 10, 1998
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

If you think "My Sharona" was a little-known Melbourne Cup winner and Molly Meldrum a Playschool host, do yourself a favour. Go make a cup of tea now.

Remember Marty Rhone? Mi-Sex? (It was a band if you refuse to go to the kitchen) Plastic Bertrand? Mark Holden's shmaltzy "I'm gonna make you my lady"? "Howzat?","Boney Maroney", "Denim and Lace?" If you do, are you embarrassed or slipping into your Queen T-Shirt and scouting through old vinyls for your autographed copy of Bay City Rollers?

Countdown was a hit pop music phenomenon on ABC TV from 1974 until its demise in the late 80's. Molly "mix my metaphors and forget my questions" Meldrum hosted with his infamous, hilarious tongue of clay. Countdown The Musical Comedy is the spawn of Brian Mannix, ex-lead singer of regular Countdown guests, The Uncanny X-Men.

This satirical show keeps you grooving in your seats with re-creations of faves. While 70's stars smiled seductively in their garish Glitter Rock costumes, in the 80's black was the host colour and a sexy snarl the predominant expression.

This production is entertaining but sits uncomfortably on the fence between comic satire and homage when could happily tip into well-targeted, scathing satire. It is an hour too long but the second half, more of a musical celebration with fewer Benny Hill-isms, is better paced.

Michael Veitch's consummate reincarnation of Molly is excruciatingly funny and includes his embarrassing Prince Charles interview and memorably garbled intros: "First things first... No, seriously, ...Settle down...What was I talking about...I don't know where you've been but they're gunna be huge... ".

The musical component of this production is the other star. The six singer/impersonators are fab. David Knox is wickedly funny as Plastic Bertrand, Boy George and a sleazy member of Blondie's backing band. His voice uncannily captures Shirley Strachan. Steven Judkins' vocal characterisations are impeccable

Richard Macionis, James Sherry and Maurie Annese play other characters with flair (in flares) and the few female stars of the period, Suzie Q. Debra Harry and Kim Wilde, are played by singer/dancers Wendy Mooney and Sally Bayes.

The show has no dramatic tension, no narrative, no links (apart from segues between songs), and the build to the ending – the Countdown Top Ten – is disappointing. But the show is saved by the finale: AC DC's It's A Long Way to the Top".

Do yourself a favour. See it.

Kate Herbert

Piccadilly Bushman , Nov 18, 1998

Piccadilly Bushman by Ray Lawler by Playbox Theatre
 at Merlin Theatre until Dec 5, 1998
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

When we think of writers of Australian theatre classics, we think immediately of Ray Lawler and his Doll trilogy written in the 50's. His plays dealt with the Australian landscape, language and character in a way that was provocative in its truth.

Actors no longer spoke with English accents, characters were representative of Aussie culture and dialogue was peppered with our slang. It was time for Australian Theatre to grow up.

Later, he wrote a lesser-known play, The Piccadilly Bushman, which premiered at the Comedy Theatre in 1959 directed by John McCallum Lawler was in England so this re-vamped incarnation is the first time he has seen it staged. Aubrey Mellor directs a stellar cast including Julia Blake, Rachel Ward and Frank Gallacher. Sleek contemporary design (Shaun Gurton) and evocative lighting (David Murray) establish a strong atmosphere.

The play, in spite of re-writing, is a time capsule and its naivete and datedness must be judged accordingly. For its time, it was progressive, provocative and perhaps risque. Today, it is tame and its issues predictable and unchallenging.

Expatriate actor, Alec Ritchie (John Walton) returns to his native Sydney after ten years of cultural cringing in England eliminating his Aussie accent ("It rasps the nerves like tearing tin") where he is a successful Shakespearean actor. He arrives with producer Vincent (John Finlayson) and script writer Stuart (Humphrey Bower) in tow, to make a film based on a gritty Australian novel written by Mick O'Shea (Frank Gallacher). He is cossetted by his ex-agent's wife (Monica Maughan)

He returns to his fraught marriage to Meg (Rachel Ward) who, with Chris her son, has been in hibernation here to eliminate her alcoholism, sexually predatoriness and offensive Aussieness. Daddy wants Chris to go to English boarding school. Mummy doesn't.

The minor players are the most effective. The two leads, particularly Walton, seem uncomfortable. Julia Blake as Elaine, Alec's wealthy Anglophile fan, is superbly detailed and hilarious. Terry Norris's cameo as her embarrassingly antipodean husband is wonderful. Finalyson plays the perfect snob. and Gallacher is compelling as the educated, earthy Mick .

The play is less meaty than The Doll but it attacks the issues of colonialism that forced most of our top artists, including Lawler himself, to rush off to London to talk posh and get a good job. Hollywood companies  now replace snobby Brit film crews but what’s changed? Our actors are still being whisked off to far shores for bigger bucks and larger audiences.

By Kate Herbert

Monday, 9 November 1998

Mum's the Word, Nov 9, 1998

At Athenaeum Theatre 1, from Nov, 1998
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Mum's The Word is critic-proof. People, particularly women with children, will flock to it no matter what is said hereafter. The show is a phenomenon akin to Wogs Out of Work in the 80's. It is identification theatre that is theatrically naive but socially and emotionally significant.

If you've given birth, you will identify with the six women on stage who spin yarns about excruciating labours, messy houses, dirty nappies, screaming infants, demanding toddlers, absent husbands, tantrums (from both mother and child), loss of memory, libido, career, earning power, beauty... The list goes on.

What is evident is that, in spite of all the grime and discomfort, pain and anguish, having a bub is the greatest love affair you will ever have. One woman quotes a husband, saying, "It's difficult sitting here watching you fall in love with someone else."

Six Canadian women wrote Mum's The Word when they met every Saturday without their kids, to tell stories and develop a stage show. It is not a play so much as a collection of candid, recognisable anecdotes and monologues told directly to the audience by each actor as the other five look on, nodding and laughing in sympathy.

The problem is that the show lacks any sense of the theatrical. The direction is pedestrian and the script lacks any dramatic tension, character development or narrative. The most complete character is the fraught, forgetful young mum (Pepe Trevor) who shakes bodily in order to rock her baby to sleep.

Director, Kaaren Fairfax, could have been more adventurous with the staging and direction. There are only two segments with any theatricality: the park and swimming pool scenes. The actors struggle to bring any theatrical life to such a banal script. It relies on skilful comic acting and this re-mounting misses two of the previous cast, Denise Scott and Sally Cooper.

Jane Clifton is hilarious and engaging throughout, with impeccable comic timing. Tracey Harvey's broad comic brush-strokes are exactly what the piece requires. Carmelina Di Guglielmo, Meg Nantsou and Trevorall give creditable performances but Mickey Camilleri is out of her comic depth much of the time.

The audience of mostly women were muttering in sympathy and recognition constantly. Mum's The Word is entertaining, but repetitive and an hour too long. It is essentially a community theatre piece for women with babies but the more dramatic stories are compelling for anyone.

Dark: The Adventures of Diane Arbus, Nov 9, 1998

 by Gerald Lepkowski
Universal Theatre II from October 14, 1998
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Diane Arbus should be discovered at the age of 20. Her photographs are essential stimulus during that brooding, philosophical period when drugs and suicide seem exotic, freaks compelling and one is young enough to look artistic rather than deadbeat crouching in the gutter.

Gerald Lepkowski was so riveted by this American photographer's representations of the underbelly of the New York population that he wrote a play based on Arbus' life and work. Dark began its life on stage in Perth then developed into a play for Radio National. One wonders how the work of a visual artist could be portrayed with only sound.

This third incarnation has the textual tone of radio but is enhanced by the addition of projected photographic images. These are not from Arbus' collection (her estate is tetchy about use of her images), but by local photographer, Ilana Rose whose photos of people from the "Underbelly" of society resonate with those of Arbus and are also exhibited in the foyer.

Lepkowski has compressed Diane's (Nell Feeney) life after her divorce from her husband. She is attracted by difference and depredation: hermaphrodites, the intellectually disabled, deformed, the freakish. In one distressing and silent scene she stares obsessively at a man's facial birthmark, awaiting his tacit approval for her to photograph him.

Her images appear in magazines, exhibitions and finally in a book and were considered offensive, repulsive, peculiar but compelling. Norman Mailer said,"Giving Diane Arbus a camera is like giving a baby a hand grenade." Given her own depressive and dysfunctional personality, it appears that she contemplates her own internal deformities through the reflection of her "freaks".

Feeney captures the compulsion of Arbus and portrays her vulnerability in a face that looks like a broken heart. An ensemble of four (Mandy McElhinney, Peter Roberts, Louise Siversen and Lepskowski) supports her superbly, and people the stage with Arbus' associates and subjects.

Special mention must be made of Siversen's numerous marvellous cameos, which range from a bag lady to Germaine Greer, and of McElhinney's extraordinarily accurate portrayal of a disabled child.

Arbus may have vowed that she always took photos with the subjects' permission but her work was invasive and manipulative in spite of this. She was an artist. Her work was for herself not for the greater glory of humanity. In the end she was the greatest freak.

by Kate Herbert

Dream Kitchen, Nov 9, 1998

 by Rhonnda Johnson
Universal Theatre 1 until Nov, 1998
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Walls the colour of peach cooler: that's what Betty is considering for her dream kitchen colour scheme. Or perhaps she may choose apricot and olive, the same colours as her bridesmaids' outfits forty or so years ago.

Betty is the working class creation of Melbourne playwright, Rhonnda Johnson and is brought to full technicolour life by Toni Lamond in Dream Kitchen, a one-woman play directed slickly by her son, Tony Sheldon. Lamond's years in the Tivoli, musicals and television sketch comedy stand her in good stead as she struts her stuff before an audience of true believers, none under 50.

Betty not only has appalling colour sense but has equally poor taste in husbands. Jack, since retiring, "Gardens, drinks, sleeps". Nor has her fortune in offspring been too hot. Leanne, a recalcitrant daddy's girl as a teenager, is now married to the "Rabbit". Betty's son, Brian, a 34-year-old public servant, still lives at home, trapped in his adolescent CB radio phase.

In the style of Shirley Valentine, the audience is like flies on the wall. Betty asks our advice on colour choice, tells anecdotes about her wedding, parenting, her stale marriage and her humble but happy working life. She slaved at the meatworks on the 'offal table" stuffing sausages.

With a youthful voice, Lamond interpolates songs into Betty's narrative, Moonlight Becomes You and If You Ever Go Across the Sea to Ireland to name a couple. The radio is Betty's companion. She is an avid listener to Frank Lee, an evening talk-show host. Like innumerable other middle-aged lonely, married women, she has a long-distance crush on him and fantasises about calling to talk with Frank about important things, instead of the trivial complaints of all his other fans..

Lamond is engaging, warm and accessible as Betty and captures a naivete and sweet sadness in this cheerfully lonely woman, incarcerated in her kitchen. She relishes Johnson's dialogue which comes thick and fast, riddled with gags. She quips, "Without the Irish we'd just be white lumps of Pom."

But mostly, the humour is cleverly observational. Betty is familiar. Like so many women who battled unsatisfactory marriages in the suburbs she is laconic, good-humoured and easy-going. She cooks, irons, plans her new kitchen or talks back to her lolly-pink radio. She putters about preparing snags for dins, laying the table and entertaining herself. She is strong in her domain and she is not allowing the "Rabbit" and Leanne to move her into a tiny unit. Nobody pushes Betty around.

By Kate Herbert

November 1998 - list of shows

  • The Idiot, VCA graduating year Nov 6, Grant Street Theatre, VCA  (Very good adaptation of Dostoyevski

  • Stage Right: 2 seasons of Short Plays (New Writers, Nov 4-8 11-15, 1998) at Gasworks

  • Heavy, Lucy Guerin Choreography, Nov, 1998,  Ath II (before Lucy goes to NY for something big)

  •  Fuckwit by Angus Cerini Nov 10, 1998, at  Courthouse (A clever young writer)

  • Man from Ironbark,  Nov 10, 1998, Trades Hall   

  • Legacy and Petroleum Raimondo Cortese   Nov 11, 1998, La Mama

  • Savanah Bay, by Marguerite Duras, Nov 12, 1998, La Mama 
  • Horace and Doris, by Henry Maas,  Nov 17, 1998, Universal Theatre

Teatro, Nov 9,1998

By Renato Cuocolo & Irene Vela
 Playhouse October 21 – 24, 1998

We are fascinated by our immigrant backgrounds whether they are recent arrivals, second generation, or fifth generation settlers and convicts.  This undying interest demonstrates that the potential exploration of the migrant experience as theatre is limitless. Renato Cuocolo, director or IRRA Theatre, continues his penetration of stories and characters that emerge from observation and personal experience as a Italian migrant.

Teatro is the third in Cuocolo's Exile Trilogy and his second collaboration with composer, Irene Vela, Canto Coro and musical director, Mark Dunbar. The first collaboration was the very successful Little City.

Teatro does not function as a musical or strictly as a piece of theatre. As in an opera, the score provides the emotional layering to a simple story although there are other strata to the narrative.

One level is our reality: a choir (Canto Coro) has come to rehearse a musical version of I Love A Sunburnt Country on stage for an invited audience under the eagle eye of their Director/Conductor (David Pledger). An obsequious old Stage Manager prepares the space and fawns on the Director.

The singers introduce themselves in their real, culturally diverse identity. Their own stories filter through as do images from a tragic immigrant couple who died years ago

Within the choir are dissenting voices objecting to the repetitious rehearsal and irrelevance of this old-fashioned, unrepresentative poem set to music. The first rumbles of mutiny come from a single voice (Elly Varrenti) who believes it does not reflect their mixed cultural nature.

They are patronised by the Director who is excited by working with an ethnic choir. Mistake! "We're not an ethnic choir!" "This is what we want to sing!" "I want to sing in my own language!"

Teatro is warm and charming in its simplicity and Vela's music is evocative. Set in a sea of duck feathers, the light swims and th floor moves. I pity singers with fluff in their throats.

The narrative threads need further development and parts are awkward and uncomfortable.  The occasional political statements are simplistic and the earlier generation Aussies get a verbal beating with no justification apart from the paternalistic attitude of the "on stage" Director.

Cuocolo always challenges the theatrical convention and shatters one's expectation of theatre. It craves more of the orchestration of the choir as a physical mass to kick it into a more visually enthralling performance.