Thursday, 31 January 2002

Sweet Bird of Youth, MTC, Jan 31, 2002

By Tennessee Williams  
Melbourne Theatre Company  at Playhouse until February
Reviewer: Kate Herbert Jan 31, 2002

In Tennessee Williams 1959 play Sweet Bird of Youth, names are like character descriptions.Chance  is a gigolo, The Princess is a faded movie star, Boss  is an autocratic racist and the Southern belle is Heavenly. 

This production boasts fine acting from Guy Pierce, Wendy Hughes and John Stanton  and tasteful and unobtrusive direction by Kate Cherry.

The play is not Williams' best. It does not rouse in us the depth of passions of Streetcar Named Desire (1947) or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. (1955). It does feature Williams sniping, witty, camp Southern dialogue and his  familiar theme: decline.

Youth and beauty fade from Chance (Pierce) and del Lago. (Hughes) Fertility is wrenched from the childlike Heavenly (Phillips). In this fetid, steamy Southern town, bigotry and racism thrive despite anti-segregation laws.

Chance travels to St Cloud, his home-town, with del Lago. They reveal their lives of quiet desperation like a slow strip tease. In his vanity, Chance expects to be admired for his travel companion, her Cadillac and his lies about a movie career. Instead, he is greeted with loathing, violence and a legacy of disease from his last visit.

Pierce plays the young Adonis with a fine edge of impending doom. His is a captivating, eccentric beauty perfect for this immature, romantic, conceited man facing his demons.

Hughes is at her best here as the gravel-voiced, aging lush who has lost her looks, her pride and, she believes, her career.

The two cling to each other in their egocentric worlds, ignorant of the pain and changing fortunes of the other. They are alienated, afraid and determined to hold onto their deteriorating beauty.

As Boss Finlay, Stanton is commanding and convincing. The character is compellingly cruel, gruff and domineering. Belinda McClory  as Miss Lucy is cheeky. Matthew Dytynski  as Tom Junior is suitably thuggish. Phillips is luminously shattered as Heavenly and Peter Houghton  adds detail to the tiny role of Bud.

Paul Grabowsky's  sultry jazz evocatively underscores the mood as does the asymmetrical grandeur of Tony Tripp's  set. Rory Dempster's lighting is simple and occasionally dramatic.

Scene changes are laborious and the pace of the play is a little sluggish initially but this is a good production.

 By Kate Herbert

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 30 January 2002

CuSp Curatorial Space, Jan 30, 2002


CuSp Curatorial Space
Shop 10, Campbells Arcade, Degraves Passage Underpass  Flinders Street Station
Writer: Kate Herbert

If you think of artists' exhibition spaces as large galleries with loads of wall and floor space for enormous artworks, think again. CuSp,  a curatorial space, is a mere 1.5 by 2.5 metres.

It perches in the window of an artists' independent book and zine shop called Sticky (part of Platform Artists' Group), in the Degraves Underpass at Flinders Street Station.

CuSp is the brainchild of Alex Dalglish, an emerging Melbourne-based curator who is currently studying a Masters of Art Theory degree.

Her thesis, she says, focuses on "contemporary artists who make small models of buildings, like architectural models or doll's houses. Some of these models have sound tracks or a miniature video to provide a narrative."

A miniature curatorial space makes perfect sense in this context. She began curating the space in March 2001. Her proposal was accepted by Andrew Seward and Richard Holt  , the coordinators of Platform at Spencer Street and Platform 2 at Flinders Street.

" I had done a a curatorship course. Rather than solely relying on people to accept or reject my proposals, I wanted to have some control over my practice. I also wanted student curators to have somewhere to start on a small scale without too much pressure."

According to Dalglish, there is no shortage of student artists to take advantage of the space. Student curators, the people who are learning to conceptualise, design, place and select exhibitions, are less forthcoming.

"I do most of the curating. Artists love the space. Curators don't find it quite so inspiring. There is only one wall and one window," she says.

From Wednesday January 30, CuSp presents Diary of Persistence in the Foreground, a series of high-tech drawings printed on tracing paper and hanging from the ceiling.

They are associated with the Platform 2 exhibition in Degraves Underpass, Persistence in the Foreground by American designer, Christopher Kaltenbach  

CuSp will exhibit pinhole photographs and cameras by Richard Holt from Wednesday February 13. Dalglish approached him and suggested an interactive element for the viewer to take photos with the cardboard, home made cameras.

Previous shows have included Andrew Seward's eccentric collection of envelope linings. Ever noticed that the inside of envelopes have tiny decorative designs?

Recently, Kate Benda  from Adelaide worked with Dalglish to create a site-specific, minimalist sculpture. She framed the tiny CuSp space with skeletal, red balsa wood walls.

In future, Dalglish hopes that "more artists make site specific work that takes into account not only the size and shape of the space but also its idiosyncratic position in the Degraves Underpass."

Although Platform has funding from The City of Melbourne, CuSp has no specific funding apart from the space provided by Platform.

"Sponsors are always welcome," grins Dalglish.

CuSp Curatorial Space, Shop 10, Campbells Arcade, Degraves Passage Underpass  Flinders Street Station, Melbourne 

Until Wednesday Feb 13, Diary of Persistence in the Foreground,. From Wednesday Feb 13, Pinhole cameras.

By Kate Herbert

Sydney Festival 2002, Jan 30, 2002

Sydney Festival 2002

Writer: Kate Herbert

Jan 30, 2002

It was a wild old weekend visiting the Sydney Festival to see the French Theatre du Soleil and Barcelona's La Fura Dels Baus.  Neither are coming to Melbourne. Nobody asked them.

La Fura Dels Baus is dubbed experimental but is one of many companies internationally making theatre of this kind. They visited Adelaide Festival in 1998 with a show called MTM.

Their latest, OBS Macbeth, is based on the story of Shakespeare's Macbeth but, strangely, uses none of his poetic language.

Their highly developed form of visual and visceral spectacle incorporates video technology, live electronic music, huge machines, pyrotechnics, non-theatre spaces and an audience that is never allowed to sit or stand still.

Nor are they safe from marauding machines, roving video cameras, showers of water, tubs of blood or getting trampled by panicking crowd members attempting to escape damage.

OBS does just as it intends. It recreates in an innovative form, the violence of the murderous would-be king and his manipulative wife.

So, allow me to be controversial about a controversial company.

Audience members who love the work say they like the edge of fear in the space, that theatre is not usually physically dangerous. The company might say it presents a complacent middle-class with an image of social violence to shock them out of their fuzzy, self-satisfied fog. 

What I see, is a theatre company appropriating social violence for the entertainment of the young, middle class, theatre-going audience.

They are marketing the fear. It is used as titillation for an audience that has no first hand experience of it.

Lady Macbeth   is a strip artist, a tabletop dancer, a lewd, provocative tart whose only power is her gorgeous body. It also, just like MTM, violates women. She is almost penetrated with a sword by her soldierly husband on return from battle.

In profound contrast is Flood Drummers, created with her company by the heroic and much mythologised theatre director from Paris, Ariane Mnouchkine.  

Mnouchkine's company, formed in the 60's, has sufficient funding to allow her to take five to twelve months to develop a show. This Sydney season, she tells me, is the last of Flood Drummers in the world.

This show is kinder to audiences. We are seated, albeit in a non-theatre space. The story is an political parable written by Helene Cixous.  What makes this piece so extraordinary is the form and mode of presentation.

It derives from Asian styles, particularly the Japanese Bun Raku puppets and Noh Theatre.  But the actors are the puppets. Each has manipulators to lift, propel and animate him.

 Prior to the show, we watch the actors dress and put on delicate masks and costumes in their public and very decorative dressing rooms.

On stage, an exceptional musician, who has worked with Mnouchkine since the 70s, accompanies the action.

There is less passion and assault in the Flood Drummers than OBS. There is more dialogue, less flesh, blood and fear in the audience. And there is no nudity. Nothing shocks. It merely transforms the actors and transports us.

The only other show in Sydney that involves a naked man is the Elocution of Benjamin Franklin  featuring a new, more svelte John Wood . That show, we will see in September in Melbourne, according to Mr. Wood.

Will he be writhing naked like a strip artiste? Or bathing in a tub of blood or chucking bladders of blood at us?

Sydney Festival closed officially on Australia Day weekend. Some visual arts and cinema events continue.

By Kate Herbert

Friday, 25 January 2002

My Life as a Dyke To -The Shequel, Jan 25, 2002

My Life as a Dyke Too - The Shequel  

By Nik Willmott  at La Mama  until February 16. 2002

Reviewer: Kate Herbert, Jan 25, 2002

Don't judge this show by its title. It is not an earnest or over-the-top politically correct show appealing only for lesbians. My Life As A Dyke Too - the Shequel, is a genuinely funny series of sketches and characters. 

This show deserves a wider audience than just the ardent all-lesbian followers of the prequel, My Life as a Dyke.  sell-out.

Yes, the jokes are about lesbians. Don't feel they will not appeal to you if you play for the other team.

They are critical as well as sympathetic, and never preachy or simplistic. The sketches are intelligent, ironic, sometimes self-deprecating and often beautifully observed.

The show is performed by Nik Willmott and Rachel Forgasz  and is written by Willmott. There is a clever comic mind at work in this dialogue and two lovely character actors on stage.

One of my favourites is a scene with two friends discussing the hidden costs of having a new lover: dinners, pressies, phone bill, even therapy after the awful ending. This is relevant to all genders and types of relationships.

My other fave was Forgasz's lecture in Lesbianism 201. She plays a very familiar style of university academic who patronises, snarls, shouts and parades herself sexually, seducing students as she lectures them about the pitfalls and patterns of the first six months of the lesbian relationship. 

If you need a short course in understanding lesbians and their disastrous, romantic and often hasty affairs, this is the one.

A recurring sketch involves a rather self-contained, private lesbian driving to a conference with her dizzy, heterosexual co-worker. The latter is determined to share secrets about boyfriends, clothes and make-up. It is hilarious and excruciating.

The writing is excellent in most sketches. What makes this show work is the clearly defined characters and smart acting of Forgasz and Willmott.

One charming scene is between two elderly women who divorced their husbands to live together twenty-seven years ago but insist they are not lesbians. Willmott and Forgasz capture the imagination with a sweet Miss Marple type with a burly Margaret Rutherford type.

Get over your concerns about this not being a show for you. It is a hoot.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 23 January 2002

Shush by Dolly Adamson, Jan 23, 2002

By Dolly Adamson

La Mama, Carlton Courthouse until February 9, 2002
Midsumma Festival

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Jan 23, 2002

Coming out as a lesbian to the family is difficult enough. Add to this being an incest victim of one's grandfather and you have a familial molotov cocktail. Such is the content of Shush, written by Dolly Adamson. The play is part of the Midsumma  Gay and Lesbian Festival program.

The topic is not new in theatre and is a highly emotive and socially relevant area. The play has scenes that effectively reflect the lifestyle of the gay club scene, the shared house and awkward family relationships.

The lesbian relationship between Alex (Delene Butland) and Holly (Jaqcui Tamlyn) highlights their raging fights, drug-taking.

This is a patchy production with a script that needs some serious editing. The narrative follows a plausible path but the dialogue is repetitive and the story predictable. Characters are stereotypes and their relationships shallow.

The play is a drama. However, there is a peculiar and inappropriate addition of the drag queen, Barb Wire, (Barry Soloman) who introduces the play and enters the final club scene.

Other quirky but unnecessary characters include Trevor, (Tamlyn) a dysfunctional stalker who writes hilariously bad love poetry and Sylvia, another drag queen (Robert Kelty) who runs the club.

All three of three of these would make a fine cabaret comedy show but interfere with the style and narrative in Shush.

There are some credible and moving moments from John Flaus playing the grandfather. He is warm, loving and finally enraged at his granddaughter's clearly accurate accusations.

Butland warms to the role after some initial awkwardness and Tamlyn is strong as her roughhouse girlfriend, Holly.

The character of Judy, Alex's mother, (Libby Stone) is written as a one-note, whining critical matriarch that makes it difficult for Stone to make much of the role.

Tamara Kuldin as Alex's sister, Michelle, whimpers and leaps about like a child which makes it difficult to believe she is about to marry.

Director Susan Pilbeam has found some truth in this piece but it lacks polish and needs a huge cut on the script.

By Kate Herbert

Friday, 18 January 2002

I Should Be So Lucky, by David Knox, Jan 18, 2002

I Should Be So Lucky by David Knox 
Chapel off Chapel  until February 3, 2002

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Jan 18, 2002

Blend a heap of Kylie  songs with a gay relationships self-help book and you get this show.David Knox's sell-out new musical, I Should Be So Lucky, is as camp as the genre gets.

Scott, (Damien Aylward) a young gay guy, searches for love - or at least a lover that stays more than 24 hours. Scott falls for Danny,  (Frank Raco) the evidently heterosexual bouncer. The problem is, so do his fag-hag girlfriend, Charlene  (Wendy Mooney) and his potentially long-term lover, Jason.  (Paul Ross) Oh, what a tangled web.

This peppy musical confection is entertaining - especially if you're young, gay, male and not expecting intellectual stimulation. Serious issues arise but are dismissed summarily. Scott is a victim of a doping and rape. He remembers little. This is chillingly reminiscent of a current trend for this kind of abuse of gay men.

The words Kylie and gay boys are often found in the same sentence so the Midsumma Festival crowd loved the songs and the gay lifestyle gags.

Knox creates several likeable and recognisable characters. However, his dialogue needs an edit. It is overwritten, expository, often preachy or simply too obvious.

The plot is thin. Dramatic action is avoided for the first half, contrived in the second and there is absolutely no sub-text.

But, hey! It's a pop musical so musician, Jonathan Densem keeps the songs coming thick and fast. The actors have a hoot belting out songs and dancing their bottoms off with video clip choreography by Kelly Aykers.

Their voices are competent although there are a few missed notes here and there and the microphones are unnecessary in such a small space.

The strongest and most believable performance is Paul Ross as the composed, sensible and loving Jason.

Knox's use of Kylie's lyrics as dialogue is clever. The two couples bouncing lustily under sheets singing, I Like It Like That, is a hoot.

The most satisfying musical and dramatic scene was the blending of two songs (Spinning Around and Finer Feelings),  into a four part harmony, a capella ending.

More of that quality would kick this project into the next level. But this is entertaining Midsumma fare.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 10 January 2002

Women in Love by Julia Britton, Jan 10, 2002

Women in Love by Julia Britton

Adapted from D.H. Lawrence
By Performing Art Projects & Australian Shakespeare Company  

at Rippon Lea  from January 10 through summer, 2002

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

D H Lawrence captivates the mind with his impassioned and controversial novel, Women in Love. It is a treatise on relationships, love, passion, friendship and the differing emotional agendas of the genders.

Julia Britton, in her theatrical adaptation, retains the battle of ideas within dramatised scenes. The script could benefit from a greater distinction between novel and script.

A major difference between theatre and prose is action.  Dialogue in theatre moves the action along whereas much of Lawrence's wonderful dialogue is static. We have little sympathy for the characters. The play is successful despite this.

The story is set in a village in Nottinghamshire. Two sisters, Ursula (Belle Armstrong  and Gudrun, (Carolyn Bock) both teachers, struggle with notions of femaleness, marriage, children and love.

Ursula falls in love with the ailing and cerebral Rupert Birkin, (Antony Neate) who is modelled on Lawrence himself. Gudrun, the cynical and sexual sculptress, has a fraught affair with the blokey mine owner, Gerald Crich. (Shawn Unsworth)

Lawrence is maddening. He raises hackles with his demented arguments about his idea of a perfect world. He spent his life searching for a Utopia, even in Australia where he wrote Kangaroo. He would have made a fine hippy.

The performances of the four leads are strong. Bock, as the brooding, waspish Gudrun, is magnetic. Armstrong plays Ursula with a spark of inner light. Opposite her as Birkin, Neate manages Lawrence's speeches with alacrity although he is a little to hale and hearty for the tubercular Birkin.

Unsworth captures Gerald's repressed passion and sadness. However, director, Rob Chuter's casting is odd as Gerald is clearly written as a bulky, Nordic blonde. As the aristocrat, Hermione Roddice, Penelope Bartlau is appropriately chilly and desperate.

The spectacular gardens provide exceptional locations for the scenes: the lake, the facade of the house, the candlelit ballroom.

Britton uses the character of Lawrence (Anthony Morton) as the narrator and commentator. He fills in parts of the novel not included in scenes. Some of his narrative interludes could be incorporated into dialogue. The narrator is also the vehicle for moving us from one glorious location to another in the Rippon Lea gardens.

By Kate Herbert

Saturday, 5 January 2002

Twelfth Night, ASC, Jan 5, 2002

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

The Australian Shakespeare Company

Royal Botanic Gardens Gate E 
Running through summer, 2002

Reviewer: Kate Herbert, Jan 5, 2002

Staging a play in the Botanical Gardens is almost fail safe. We arrive with blanket, picnic and a bottle of wine. The ducks quack at sunset. The bats emerge after dark. Only a stray police helicopter shatters the calm.

Director, Glenn Elston locates Twelfth Night,  this year's Shakespeare, in a slightly less idyllic setting against the wall of the glasshouse. The advantage is that the voices are more audible because the space is confined.

Twelfth Night is a comedy-romance with a dark edge but Elston's production plays it for laughs and love. Any potential grimness is underplayed. The show's great strengths are the visual gags and slapstick routines from Sir Toby Belch, (Brendan O'Connor) Sir Andrew Aguecheek  (Bruce Woolley) and Fabian.  (James Shaw)

The three observe their practical je on Malvolio, (Michael Bishop) the pompous and puritanical servant of Lady Olivia, (Helen Hopkins) from secret viewing posts. They bob up and down like sideshow clowns in the best form of knockabout humour.

The play is a grab bag of mistaken identity, cross-dressing, separated identical twins, lovelorn or grieving masters and mistresses and bawdy servants.

Twelfth Night is a raunchy Shakespeare play that will appeal to those who do not like the heavy, wordy tragedies by the Bard.

The actors and director toss into the mix of love and naughtiness, a seasoning of Australianisms, contemporary musical references and jokes.

Woolley is a great find. His Sir Andrew is relaxed, suitably goofy and hilarious. He is a fine foil for the outrageousness of O'Connor's grotesque Sir Toby. The bawdiness is emphasised by plenty of burping, farting and peeing jokes.

Kevin Hopkins  as Feste the Jester  acts as Master of Ceremonies, addressing the audience and leading actors and audience in songs. Kate Campbell has the requisite bounce and cheekiness for the servant, Maria.  Helen Hopkins is regal as Lady Olivia and, as her suitor Orsino, Phil Cameron-Smith  is an attractive and stately presence.

The role of Viola is a difficult one, being that of a girl dressed as a boy falling in love with a man. Marisa Warrington is charming in the role and gives it her best shot but lacks the necessary vocal power and control.

If you want a pleasant night in the gardens with an entertaining show to boot, Twelfth Night is the one.

By Kate Herbert