Wednesday, 28 February 2001

Betrayal, MTC, Feb 28, 2001

 by Harold Pinter
 MTC at Fairfax Studio, Feb 28  until 12 April, 2001
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

There is a creeping fear in us all of betrayal by a lover, a partner, a friend. In Harold Pinter's 1978 play, Betrayal, a wife's affair with her husband's best friend for seven years is not the only treachery.

Emma, played with great composure by Sigrid Thornton, sets up a little secret love nest with Jerry (Richard Piper) unknown, or so we think, to her husband, Robert (Martin Jacobs).

The beauty of Pinter's structuring of this deceptively simple play, is that we know everything from the first scene. He runs the play backwards chronologically and we see the last meeting of Emma and Jerry at the point of Emma and Robert's separation.

We all know the destructive power of deception and infidelity. We recognise, even predict, the ruin in others. We are blind to our own spiral into self-destruction through love.

This is a strong production of an exceptional play directed unobtrusively and intelligently by Kate Cherry, designed stylishly by Anna Borghesi with music by Ian McDonald.

My only quibble is that it lacks some of the necessary passion and sensuality seen in other productions or in the English film starring Jeremy Irons.

Thornton is well known and highly regarded for her screen work but this is her first stage appearance and she demonstrates that she possesses the vocal and emotional range for this part.

Piper is suitably chipper and anxious as Jerry while Jacobs gives a delightfully muscular performance as the abrasive and brusque Robert.

Pinter, by running the story in reverse, allows us to view not the breakdown of the relationships but where they have come from and how they have bren.

He explores the fickleness of not only love but of memory. Even the characters' most precious memories are questioned. This play was based on Pinter's own experience of a triangle of love with Joan Bakewell.

Betrayal was a departure from Pinter's obscure, ambiguous and oblique earlier plays such as The Birthday Party, The Homecoming and The Caretaker. However, he retains the crispness of the dialogue, and the subtle representation of misunderstandings and unspent thoughts of the early works.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 21 February 2001

Miss Tanaka, Feb 21, 2001

Miss Tanaka by John Romeril 
Playbox Theatre
at Merlin Theatre, Feb 21 until March 10, 2001
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

John Romeril's new play, Miss Tanaka is charming, witty and pretty. It is, in myriad ways, a mixed-media production. Not only does it integrate puppetry, video, original composition and choreography, it has strong inter-cultural themes.

David Bell , Artistic Director of Handspan Theatre, worked with John Romeril on developing this script from a Xavier Herbert short story from 1997.

Mott, a young Englishman, played with style and charm by Jeremy Stanford, arrives in Broome in North West Australia in 1939 just as the war with Japan begins. He takes over his father's pearling company which, of course, employs many Japanese as pearl divers.

The story is simple. Mott is bemused by the rough and ready behaviour of the locals. He is met by a young Japanese-Torres Strait Islander, Kazuhiko (Bradley Byquar) whose father, Mr Tanaka (Tam Phan) is a swindling but lovable rogue who runs cock fights and Sumo wrestling.

Tanaka compels his son, Kazuhiko, to dress as a naive Japanese girl,  the Miss Tanaka of the title. His two betting friends, Hanif ( Tony Yap) and Sakamoto ( Yumi Umiumare) offer dowries of pearls for her hand in marriage. This beauty in drag also catches the eye and the heart of young Mr Mott.

As Mott, Stanford is a warm and magnetic presence on stage. He does a delightful crowd-pleasing Fred Astaire song and dance routine to Things are Looking Up.

The design by Greg Clarke is a broad white stage lit by David Walters. The design is projected onto the white screens with images, slides and shadow puppetry. The entire bar-room opium and card-game sequence is played in stylish video footage with a peppy 1930s atmosphere.

Yap and Umiumare create a clever comic double act and their dance skills are exploited effectively by choreographer, Andris Toppe . Live drummers, Junko and Toshi Sakamoto, provide live performance of Darrin Verhagen's percussive music.

Puppeteers, Heather Monk and Megan Cameron, manipulate Rob Matson's hilarious and provocative puppets with great skill and impact.

This is a sweet show that leaves one smiling. It does not challenge major issues but it looks beautiful, is wittily written and technically ambitious .

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 15 February 2001

My Brother the Fish, Feb 15, 2001

by Dan Scollay and John Bolton
Feb 15, 2001
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

We are still charmed, even as adults, by a simple, well-told story. My Brother the Fish is just that; a poignant, evocative and sweet Irish tale performed by Dan Scollay and directed by John Bolton.

Scollay is a magnetic performer who trained with Bolton in clown and physical theatre. Together they take Helen Luke's story, Salmon Fisher Boy, and transform it into a delightful, entertaining and skilful theatrical journey.

Rosie is an Irish peasant girl who works gutting fish. She was born with a twin brother who is less than clever in school but has a magic touch with fishing. He is raised by their granny, drawn to the water, fails at school but fills his trawler with fish.

Scollay, dressed quaintly in a pair of Bond's knickers and a jumper, perches on a tin can and guts two fish in a bucket. Yes, really! As he creates Rosie, her brother, granny and the morose old fisherman, we catch the real scent of fish in the air. It is both disturbing and atmospheric.

Her vocal and physical versatility enhance the characterisations. She does not so much transform into the characters as sketch them with her voice and body. Her depiction of Sister Finnegan, the mean religious maniacal nun, is masterly.

Her comic and dramatic timing is impeccable. Scollay is relaxed as well as poised like a cat for every movement, every subtle shift of emphasis.

Of course, much of the strength of the piece is in the direction and co-writing of John Bolton. His hand is evident in the show's eccentric twists.

An extraordinary and unrecognisable style of musical squeeze-box features in two songs. Tiny objects, representing an eye and a human finger, are pulled from a bucket. A miniature train makes an epic journey and a giant salmon is filled with the moon and memorabilia.

A sensitive and subtle lighting and set design by Phil Burns completes the picture.

Scollay grabs us in the first moment and holds our attention for fifty minutes. She has a sweet singing voice and manages to people the stage with characters in this engaging and joyful tale.

By Kate Herbert

Sunday, 11 February 2001

The Singing Forest, Feb 11, 2001

 by Julia Britton
at Theatreworks from February 10 (no closing date), 2001
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Auschwitz is not unknown to us. We see documentary footage of the bodies, furnaces, gas chambers, graves and sheds in which Jews, Gypsies, Poles and other enemies of the Third Reich were incarcerated and murdered.

The real footage is horrific. To attempt to replay that horror on stage in the theatre is courageous and nigh impossible.

What makes The Singing Forest fail in this attempt is the expository writing of Julia Britton and the graphic violence shown in scenes by director Robert Chuter. We become desensitised to the violence by the constant beatings, rapes and violations of prisoners in a semi-realistic manner.

The repetition, in both dialogue and monologues, of descriptions of violence similarly inures us to pain. If the writer stopped preaching and telling us how the characters feel rather than showing us, used silence instead of a torrent of words, edited ruthlessly from three hours, we might feel something.

If the director had used theatrical devices, subtlety and suggestions of violence rather than attempting to recreate real beatings, we might have felt more.

 Three central characters, a female Jewish doctor, a homosexual German youth and an Aussie soldier, speak in prolonged monologues between scenes.

There are several strong performances amongst a cast of fortyish that seems to be mostly inexperienced actors. As a German officer, Peter Heward finds a balance between compassion and brutality. 

John Morris is credible as the Aussie digger. Jenny Lovell is the only actor who makes the monologues work. As the Jewish doctor assisting Mengele in his awful experiments on children and twins, she is warm and believable.

The relationship between her and her fellow  prisoner-doctor, (Carmen Warrington) is filled with sadness and human compassion.

Playing Heinz, the German homosexual, Jonathan Kovac shows promise.  John Tarrant as the murderous Dr Mengele, plays low-key villainy which could work if he were audible.

The structure of the play is clumsy. The three stories need editing and more complex linking. The entire first half hour could be eliminated by starting at the Auschwitz station. Any information could be incorporated into dialogue.

The too numerous scene changes involve unnecessary movement of furniture which is covered, but not excused, by music. Too many short scenes are not compensated for by those that are too long such as that in which three men hoist bodies into the furnaces of the crematorium.

Kate Herbert

Saturday, 10 February 2001

Lest We Forget, Feb 10, 2001

t by Rod Quantock Trades Hall until March 3, 2001
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Rod Quantock was at the S11 demonstration at Crown Casino on September 11 , 2000. He was also a victim of the baton charge by the police that day.

In his new show, Lest We Forget, Quantock is doing his bit for the State Government inquiry into the police violence. On February 28, the Steve Bracks, will hand down the findings of Mr. Perry, Victorian Ombudsman.

Quantock's shows are never simply stand-up. In fact, initially he looks like doing a "kneel-down" show with a very short microphone.

His material is focussed on the demonstration. Usually the shows are very low-tech using chalk and blackboard. He graduates to VHS video footage of the demonstration and some odd props including a gas barbecue that was to cook up some honey and beef snags for us just like Brack's barbie for the coppers after the demo.

His rambling commentary and deceptively silly detours from the topic cannot disguise his disgust at the behaviour of the police and Bracks who he now calls "Jeff Bracks", to condemn Steve with the name of Quantock's former nemesis, Jeff Kennett.

He manages to find jokes about the young demonstrators mangling a John Farnham song, about fresh-faced policemen playing badminton with their batons and then illegally ripping off their velcro name tags before charging the demonstrators.

The show lacks the usual frenetic scribbling and detailed political and economic commentary of the previous shows about Kennett's government amongst other things.

It is funny and disturbing as always. The most distressing images apart from the beatings, are the internet ads for batons and baton beating techniques.

The material could be enhanced by further details about the World Economic Forum, globalisation and the reasons these kids were demonstrating in the first place. Many of the audience were ignorant of the specifics.

There must be plenty of gags to be had from the image of tetchy international delegates scuttling from the casino in limos and hiding in hotel rooms to avoid children with a few marbles to toss at them.

Quantock is our smart comedian and even if you disagreed with the S11 protest or thought the demonstrators were a bunch of scruffy feral drop-outs, you might find this enlightening - and maybe score a snag into the bargain.

Keep an ear out for the inquiry findings on Feb 28.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 8 February 2001

It's a Dad Thing! Feb 8, 2001

 at Athenaeum Theatre. From Feb 8, 2001
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

This is the third incarnation of It's a Dad Thing! and the best by a long shot. Five men tell tales of the highs and lows of being a dad. They range from the hilarious to the poignant and schmaltzy.

Identification theatre hauls in a huge crowd who never go to the theatre. The idea is that out-of-work-artists find a topic with which a large percentage of the community identify - and then they milk it for laughs.

Wogs out of Work did it for the ethnic community. Mum's the Word did it for mums. Now It's a Dad Thing is doing it to modern fatherhood.

The company comprises five comic actors: Geoff Paine and Matthew Green were part of the original group who co-wrote and performed the show in 1999-2000. Joining them on stage and adding new material are Michael Veitch, Brian Nankervis  and James Sherry.

The laughs are frequent as are the groans of recognition. We see the sleep-deprived dad (Paine) painstakingly patting his baby to sleep then stepping on a creaking floorboard. We witness the fathers' class with a midwife like a sergeant-major who scares them into submission.

Veitch performs  a very witty " whingeing father" political speech and Green plays the father waiting patiently for his wife to want to have sex again. There is even dancing and singing.

There are real stories of the newborn baby is distress (Nankervis) and of the house husband who feels inadequate. (Sherry) and of fathers making disastrous mistakes with their babes. The gasps from the audience were audible as Veitch describes his bubs tumbling off the verandah.

One of the most satisfying sketches, both comically and theatrically, is Paine's farewell to his 1963 EH Holden. The other actors create the car as a cool talking, smooth guy in sunglasses. Who could sell it for a family car after all the fine times it gave him?

Kaarin Fairfax's direction is competent although there are still some bumpy patches. Some scenes are uncomfortable. The fathers' building of a playground acts as a link but works only in part.

The shifts into more serious monologues are not always successful. The material needs some culling still and some of the groups scenes feel awkward.

This is a romp for two hours. It will cheer you up and the theatre is air conditioned for a hot night.

By Kate Herbert