Wednesday, 29 April 1998

Miracles by Tobsha Learner, April 29, 1998

Miracles by Tobsha Learner
Playbox until May 2, 1998
Reviewed by Kate Herbert on or around April 28, 1998

We have no Aesop but we live in a time that cries out for contemporary fables. We must leave it to our novelists, filmmakers and playwrights. Such is the style of Tobsha Learner's latest play, Miracles.

Learner draws her characters with broad comic strokes as stereotypes. Trinity Supermarket, a Flemington family business, is stocked with as colourful a range of people as the goods going out of date on its shelves. Ida (Heather Bolton) is a brassy shop-owner whose husband Clive (Greg Stone) is a dodgy small-time crook and gambler. Sparks (Sophie Lee) is a tacky, loud-mouthed checkout chick.

The feature act is the virtuously named Immaculata (Laura Lattuada). She has worked the cash register for 20 years without complaint about her oppressive Italian father, Irish priest, Aussie bosses or Catholic God who seems to have abandoned her.

This is Immaculata's journey from excruciatingly shy, illiterate cripple to star status as a miracle worker. She has a visitation from God (or Mary) who appears to her in a cash register and gives her healing powers. Lattuada plays her with great warmth and humour without stepping into the dangerous territory of mocking a 'cripple'.

Kate Cherry, who was responsible for the recent stylish production of Woman at the Window for MTC, has directed Miracles with a deft hand. Scenes and characters move swiftly, the comedy is broad and clown-like and, in the second half when Immaculata's sainthood becomes martyrdom, the shift of gear is effective.

Learner is a good gag writer; consider SNAG and Mistress. She makes the most of the jokes in Miracles. There is little subtlety in the dialogue or narrative. This is addressed in the second half to some extent when the dialogue necessarily becomes more introspective as Immaculata faces stardom, her demons and incarceration. .

With new work there is always the need for editing or re-writing during rehearsal. But with the writer not only out of the rehearsal room, but out of the country (Learner lives in in LA), it may be impossible.

The Torres Strait Islander narrator (Maryanne Sam) who observes Immaculata's journey and draws attention to the relationship between indigenous spirituality and Christian faith, seems extraneous. The sub- plot about the policeman and his junkie sister, serves the narrative little.

The play could be a fast, funny and perhaps poignant one-acter in its next life but it is an entertaining piece simply exploring a woman's journey of self discovery.


Sunday, 12 April 1998

She'll Be Right by Lynda Gibson, April 12, 1998

She'll Be Right Lynda Gibson
Melbourne Town Hall until April 26, 1998
Reviewed by Kate Herbert on or around April 11, 1998

Lynda Gibson is a yard of stump water. Part of her comedy is built around her leggy, awkward physique and quirky wriggling. Either that, or her wacko face-pulling.

The rest of her new solo show, She'll Be Right, is an idiosyncratic telling of Australian history through a melange of stories about Oz politics, pop music and her life in the theatre.

She was born in 1956. "Land of the Long White Liberal...John Howard's Dreamtime." In the first minute we know she is unhappy with our conservative government but she is not about to lose any blue ribbon lib voters by getting too serious.

Her material has broad appeal and her manner is charming and cheerful. She declares she has never been able to fight for her rights and craves some larrikin chutzbah. However, she has a disarmingly warm but confronting style.

She questions Menzies Order of the Thistle. "Is there an order of the cooch grass?" She praises Holt's referendum on the Aboriginal vote and says McMahon looked like a koala.

In her youth she failed sewing, over-acted in drama class, couldn't understand her film director and was booted from a TV commercial because of a pimple. She wore an afro, a poncho, Amco V-knees and looked like "a long, thin, white Chuppa-Chup on legs."

The skill in this satirical show is in Gibson's ability to sharpen her political point then break the tension with a gearshift into pop music, bad hippy dancing or schoolyard remniscences.

Her commentary on Australian music since the 60's is very funny. We travelled in a short period from Slim Dusty's "A Pub with No Beer" to sexy old rock legend, J O'K, The Wild One and then back to Englishman Charlie Drake's racist, blackface rendition of "My Boomerang won't come back."

We watched Denise Drysdale dancing in Happening 70 then turned to Countdown for inspiration. For culture we watched Skippy and Homicide while some bizarre real murders went unsolved in South Australia. We valued Kelvinators, Axminster, venetians and veneer.

Her running personal tale of woe is her slow journey to acting fame. For a while she realised she 'had tickets on herself", a dire sin in our tall-poppy-lopping culture. But she continued to practise her Oscar acceptance speech and, in the show, you'll hear it. Only an hilarious dinkum Aussie like Lynda (named after the electric blanket) could sell it.

Rod Quantock, Crown Of Thorns, April 12, 1998

Rod Quantock, Crown Of Thorns
 Melbourne Town Hall until April 26, 1998
Reviewed by Kate Herbert on or around April 11, 1998

It's already public knowledge: Rod Quantock is my comedy hero. He is smart, informed, articulate - and seriously FUNNY. What makes him so different from everybody else is his overtly political agenda.

His material slaps both state and federal governments and, although he is blatantly critical of Kennett and Howard, he takes swipes at naughty Labour Party PMs too. Crown of Thorns follows in the footsteps of his two shows from 1997: Sunset Boulevard and Merry Christmas Jesus.

In the former he deconstructed the secret machinations of our economy, in the latter he launched Kennett's plan to promote Jesus' Second Coming as part of Victoria's "event-led recovery." Both of these issues rear their ugly heads in Crown of Thorns.

 The title resonates with criticism of Crown Casino bosses although he avoids direct references except for a smirking, "Haven't the last two weeks been fun?"

It is his easy manner and relaxed delivery that lull us into a false sense of comfort. Quantock forces the audience to look at hard questions: unemployment, poverty, economic rationalism, media monopolies, corruption, WIK, wharfies and - at the base of all of these - Power.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely and Quantock is not letting any villainous social cockroach slide under the carpet. He is courageous, even suicidal, in his frontal attack on Kennett who is not known for his tolerance of criticism.

The show is filled with witty and laconic yarns. He wanders off on satirical detours about doing gigs for a Plants Plus convention or at a Ringwood nightclub where the only thing he has in common with the 18 year-old audience is breathing. He reminisces about the days of the Vietnam draft when he was not yet a real radical.

But even what appear to be his most innocuous diversions pertain to our political and social environment. This comic has a clear moral and political philosophy. "Whenever I say 'democracy' people get nostalgic." .He bemoans Arnotts’ being sold to US concerns  "The history of Australia is written in its biscuits."  He declares there are advantages in being poor. "You never have to worry about what to wear to the opera."

Quantock never lets us forget what we have lost since privatisation of public utilities, bulldozing of our heritage, selling of our assets etc. etc. Lest we forget.


Saturday, 4 April 1998

Jenny Eclair, April 4, 1998

Jenny Eclair
Supper Room Melbourne Town Hall until April 26, 1998
Melbourne International Comedy Festival 1998
Reviewed by Kate Herbert on or around. April 3, 1998

If you have delicate sensibilities, or pride yourself on maintaining the high moral ground, then Jenny Eclair (or "that cake woman" as she is now known) is not for you. Rude words and naughty bits are her forte.

Eclair is a brassy blonde. There's absolutely nothing prissy prim and natural about this bouffant. "I'm blonde by choice". Her rapid wicked unapologetic Northern England babble has something of Ben Elton's style while her bizarre, perpetual motion physicality conjures up some insane alternative Playschool host.

She gabbles hilariously and provocatively about 'shagging', body parts, misspent youth, ageing ungracefully, the gravitational damage of childbearing and the 'shagless' long-term relationship.

Eclair on age: "A personality is the last refuge of a woman on the decline". On make-up: "I love the way it makes my face look ten years younger than my neck." On lasting relationships: "The secret is lies and deceit." On children: "You're not allowed to slap 'em, so give 'em a crap haircut." On going to the country: "I feel nervous if I can't see a sock shop out the corner of me eye."

Of course, these are only her printable quotes. Eclair is a "blue" comic. With a great deal more style and wit, she has keyed into an arena that was reserved for crass male comics. You know, the ones who do sex and fart jokes of which we have seen far to many behaving as if they are doing some male liberation routine. Remember that awful yobbo Brit TV footy comic, Frank Skinner last year?

Eclair is honest, never apologises for anything except a routine she thinks isn't funny enough. She simultaneously appals and entertains, astonishes and outrages the audience. It seems most of her staunchest critics are men who cannot deal with her raw sexual honesty. "I've been described as a 'hard-faced cow," she says.

She is vulgar but achingly funny. Her whippet-thin body and raspy smoker's voice are reminiscent of a bar girl in an episode of "The Bill". She alternately props her bones in a chair or prowls about the stage, leaning over the front rows with a leering red mouth and warm grin.

If you're up for some totally trashy and clever content, see the cake woman.


Adam Hills in Life is Good, April 4, 1998

Adam Hills in Life is Good
Melbourne International Comedy Festival
Regent Room Melbourne Town Hall to April 26, 1998
Reviewed by Kate Herbert on or around April 3, 1998

"Life is Good" says Adelaide comedian, Adam Hills, "with some shit bits." This is the basis for his show "Life is Good". He spends then minutes having a gripe about things that peeve him then he moves on to joy, love, travel and fine spirited things.

The things that annoy him include The British press on Diana, the Australian press on Michael Hutchence and Bundaberg Rum. "It’s rum distilled in a car radiator."

But his big whinge is with The Innovation Catalogue that is new to me. It sells mail order junk that falls apart immediately or does nothing it proclaims in its ads. Wonder at the mechanical tie rack Aren't you exhausted after searching for a tie in the morning? Marvel at the message Recording Pen. "If you had the pen, wouldn't you write the message down?"

His piece de resistance is The Security Frog, which "ribbits" when a body moves on your front porch. Now that'd scare off burglars - and presumably frog-march 'em off the premises. (Sorry)

Hills has a charming and natural presence. He roams about the audience putting people on the spot and rapidly at ease as he asks personal questions. "Are you in love?" "Are you married?" "For how long?" His disarmingly warm manner compels people to tell him personal details.

He begins and ends the show with Advance Australia Fair with the words of cards because nobody knows them. His solution to our tedious anthem with the bizarre lyrics is revealed in his finale. He performs it as Jimmy Barnes to Working Class Man then as Olivia and Travolta to a medley of Grease numbers. It is hilarious.

His good cheer stems from singing peppy choruses of Obla Di Obla Da on the street in Edinburgh with an invariably cheerful Scottish dero.
Life must be good, he thought.

Hills' other material wanders around friends, loves and life.  His attempts to impress his new girlfriend by mock-stapling a post-it note to his head end up drawing blood. He comments on his inner-yob who has trouble coping with his newly outed gay mate. He questions the men about whether they have bought tampons for their partners.

An evening with Hills is a cheery night out with a lot of laughs and plenty of opportunity out of a pub atmosphere to appreciate his gentle humour.


Friday, 3 April 1998

Kindlng Does For Firewood AND Hoaxes & Jokeses, April 3, 1998

 La Mama - Melbourne International Comedy Festival 1998

Kindling Does for Firewood, April 1, 1-19, 1998
Hoaxes and Jokeses: A Language Sandwich by Rodney Marks April 3-19, 1998
Reviewed by Kate Herbert on or around April 2, 1998

No one could say that the Comedy Festival lacks variety: in laugh value, style, content and quality. The two shows gestured at La Mama for the festival epitomise this eclecticism.

Rodney Marks is a Sydney-based professional hoaxer similar to Melbourne's Campbell McComas. He does the conference circuit, practical-joking for corporate bucks. At one conference he sacked the whole company leaving employees weeping and jobless. At Harvard, he played a new Dean, who had no reaction to plans to decimate the rights of every minority group but all hell broke loose when he threatened to merge the Business school with another

In another hoax he was billed as a resident psychiatrist, garnering plenty of wacko material until a distressed couple revealed a grotesque murder in the family. Marks came clean with his true identity and enlisted them as allies in the hoax. Phew!

 Marks is a masterly raconteur. He sits comfortably wearing a funny tie and braces, spinning yarns about his series of failed arts management positions, his attempt to change his life with more education and three degrees in Theatre Business and Government.

In his quiet laconic way, he creates a 'language sandwich', testing the audience with word-teasers, latin references and convoluted narratives.

The inspired element setting it apart from other yarnspinners, is the totally random components which rely heavily on improvisation and the audience 'owning' the show. He places a timer on stage. To break the pattern, interrupt boredom, punctuate stories and distract us, we were given roles.

 At regular intervals, people were designated to throw a ball across the space or improvise a time call. The audience choices become part of the show. One young man stood up, tipped the clock on its face and, in an instant, we had subversive Post-Modernism.

Marks' show is mild, unpredictable and funny. The same cannot be said for Kindling does for Firewood. Actors Anita Butler and Bruce Edwards adapted this wordy script from Rodney King's 1995 Vogel award winning novel.

The text converts slabs of prose into interminable onstage narration. Smart dialogue works on occasion but the poor, one-note acting, clunky design and non-direction of the piece makes it almost unbearable. Without the layering, style or theatrical form to support them, King's rough 90's youthful characters become unsympathetic and his language almost offensive.

This is an unfortunate addition to the La Mama Comfest program. Better to simply read the book


Wednesday, 1 April 1998

The Nualas, April 1, 1998

The Nualas
Melbourne International Comedy Festival 1998
Reviewed by Kate Herbert on or around April 1, 1998

Let's face it. The Irish are really bloody funny and musical trio, The Nualas, are no exception.

These three women, all conveniently called Nuala, sing, mime, lament and prattle with us and each other. The audience almost immediately fell in love three times over with Skinny Guitar Nuala, Tall Dancing Nuala and Little Percussion Nuala (My names for them).

The Nualas look like nuns in silver lame'. They arrive on stage dancing an Irish jig to a James Bond-like soundtrack and proceed to banter in triplicate and sing original material with clever and bizarre lyrics riddled with irony and wit. They are perfectly in tune with each other, both musically and in the balance of characters and patter.

They have done their Melbourne homework that allows them to make topical references to local places and identities: Skase, Howard, Altona, Werribee. A rapid response to an audience member called Phillip was, "You have an Island don't you?

They sing songs from their 1997 "Wounded Woman Tour". They are all single, all dumped, all in Nuala therapy, all looking for love. Many have melodramatic titles such as "Tragic Circumstance" or "You Were Gone".

All are peppered with satirical quips, clever rhymes and hilarious choreography. Dancing Nuala compares men to a cup of tea. The refined, leaf-tea in a porcelain cup "turns out to be a dickhead". So she tries the scruffy chipped mug kinda guy. He's a dickhead too.

When they lose the Irish final for the Eurovision song contest, they represent Belgium instead with a multi lingual love song.  "No-one would be single if we all were multi lingual."

The lyrics combine the sweet, the silly and the grotesque.  In "You were gone", the departing lover, "sprayed the house with swearwords" and then "sellotaped the door".

My favourite, "Oddity" was a jazz-influenced melody with Beat poet lyrics and blue jazz mood lighting about Curly Kay who has a cabbage for a head. She martyred herself to feed starving children and became "the patron saint of the vegetable patch".

They take holidays in Lourdes, call Limerick the "stabbing capital of Ireland" and dismiss Sean O'Casey's famous Irish plays as "all brown trousers with turf". Their favoourite movie idol is Donald Sutherland and musical influences are "pop, rock baroque - and Alice Cooper"  She was great".

These Celtic Nana Mouskouri triplets are hilarious and enchanting.

Kate Herbert