Friday, 19 April 2002

Unidentified Human Remains, Red Stitch, April 19, 2002


Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love
by Brad Fraser 
Red Stitch Theatre 80 Inkerman St., St. Kilda
April 19 to May , 2002
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

It is some years since we saw a production of Canadian playwright, Brad Fraser's play, Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love.

Although it dates a little, it is a witty, atmospheric and frightening play a serial killer on the loose. Seven characters talk to us both in isolation and in scenes together.

Fraser neatly inter-cuts fragments of dialogue from each individual with pithy scenes from the urban middle class environment of Edmonton in Canada.

Performances are uneven in this newly formed company, Red Stitch. However, David Whitelyis particularly good as the acerbic, cynical and very camp gay guy, David.I suspect his is the voice of the writer himself.

Brett Cousins is excellent and charming as Kane, the gauche wealthy youth who has a crush on David. He is a talent to watch.

As Candy, David's housemate, verity Charltonhas a feverish intensity appropriate for such a driven anorexic.

Vincent Milleris miscast in the vital role of Bernie, David's married, violent and unpredictable friend. He lacks the necessary power for the character.

Wayne Chapple's direction is neat and stylish, accommodating the long narrow space effectively. Actors are seated in chairs spread along the back wall. Nick Merrylees'lighting design highlights each in their various monologues.

 Some of the pop culture references are out of date now but this could be fixed easily. Fraser writes with intelligence and a sense of the dramatic tension. He uses the serial killer almost as it might be used in a movie: to heighten off-stage fear, sexual tension and suspense.

Everybody lies, says the play. Everybody is also out to get what they want, often at the expense of others.

The complex and fraught lives of these 20-somethings include Jerri, (Olivia Connolly  a lesbian, obsessed with Candy and Robert who is Candy's dopey lover (Daniel Frederiksen.

The hooker, Benita,(Kate Cole) is the least successful character whose psychic abilities solve the serial killer crime rather too easily.

Fraser writes compelling theatre and this production  captures some of his power.
By Kate Herbert




Thursday, 18 April 2002

Paradise, Tes Lyssiotis, April 18, 2002


Paradise
 By Tes Lyssiotis  at La Mama  April 18 to until 5 May, 2002
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The lives of ordinary people are not always represented in theatre unless in community projects. Tes Lyssiotis, in her new play, Paradise, puts a magnifying glass on a family living on a remote farm in Australia.

Green Room award winning director, Laurence Strangio, creates an atmospheric production that highlights effectively the strangeness of the harsh, arid land of drought-ridden Australia and the despair and confusion of the displaced immigrant.

Lyssiotis's script deals with Irini,a Greek migrant who married an Australian farmer, Robert Harris to live in a region that is ironically called Paradise. Her relationship to both her daughter, Zoe, her husband and to her dusty adopted land is fraught.

The play is not a linear narrative. We see, simultaneously, the older Irini Carmelina Di Guglielmo) with her older daughter (Katerina Kotsonis) overlapping in scenes with the younger Irini (Maria Theodorakis ) and Zoe. (Loukia Vassiliades)

The relationship between mother and daughter is the focus of the story. We are confronted with a series of questions.
Why are they estranged? Why have they come to Harris's grave together? Why did they both leave Paradise? How did father and Irini's son die? Why are Irini's letters from Greece so precious?

The young Irini never attached to the farm and was often irresponsible. She was obsessed with glamour and Hollywood movies. "Marry the right man at the right time", she says to Zoe. "A man with soft hands."

 In the play, the past and present are intercut while the older and younger characters echo each other's movements and dialogue. Strangio finds ways to stage these shifts and resonances with great style.

The play itself has an awkward rhythm intially and is perhaps a little cryptic in parts. However, it is an effective exposition of Irini and Zoe's lives and relationship.

Meg White's set design is deceptively simple. It incorporates the rust red of the desert in the floor with bolts of beige fabric used to delineate the space and upon which to project slides. An evocative sound design( Roger Alsop) and subtle lighting ( Bronwyn Pringle) complete the production.

By Kate Herbert



Tuesday, 16 April 2002

Still Angela by Jenny Kemp, Playbox, April 16, 2002


Still Angela  by Jenny Kemp  
 Playbox at Merlyn Theatre, April 16 to 27, 2002
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

It may not be possible to explain a Jenny Kemp theatre experience in print but here goes. 

Still Angela is written and directed with provocative flair by Kemp and has the trademarks of her previous work, Black Sequin Dress.  It is steeped in femaleness. Three women ( Margaret Mills,Natasha Herbert,Lucy Taylor  play the one character, Angela, at different ages in her life journey - or is it merely in different states of being or awareness?

It resonates with dreams and memories, echoes with snatches of music (Elizabeth Drake  and tickles us with Kemp's collision of the banal and the sublime.

Still Angela relies heavily and effectively on the physical. Five actors move through space like dancers while dancers (Ros Warby , Felicity MacDonald represent Angela's remembered mother and six year old Angela.

Complex and geometrical lighting (David Murray  sculpts the space and creates corridors, rooms, cages and even a chess board. It illuminates a mesmerising landscape of desert and dried trees.

Still Angela is not a linear narrative. If you want a step by step story this is not for you. All three women, often simultaneously, speak as Angela.

One version (Taylor) is young, overworked and confused by her relationship with Jack. (Simon Wilton  Then another Angela (Herbert) speaks who is more critical or even more despairing.

Finally she is an older Angela (Mills) speaking in the third person, acting as commentator on Angela's world. She appears travelling in a train over the Simpson Desert, standing in an imagined or remembered desert landscape or talking to her old lover (Mark Minchinton .

"There are two landscapes," Angela says. "One right on top of the other." We live, like Angela, between two worlds: that of our imagination and that of our concrete, business-like and harried world.

Quirky choreography by Helen Herbertson  creates another layer to the work. The set design by Jacqueline Everitt  is evocative and magical with Murray's lighting. A film of suburbs and desert by Ben Speth  completes the complex visual landscape to reflect the inner self.

The piece is witty and compelling. The balance of humour, lyricism and metaphor is exciting. 

By Kate Herbert

Sunday, 7 April 2002

Say Nothing by Ridiculusmus, April, 2002


Melbourne Comedy Festival
Lower Melbourne Town Hall until April 21, 2002
Bookings: 1300 66 0013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Ridiculusmus is an extraordinary and skilful piece of absurd theatrical comedy.

Two British actors, David Woods and Jon Hough stand face to face atop a suitcase filled with grass. From this restricted space they create, through characters, a miniature version of the maddening world of Ireland.

Kevin (Woods OK) is an Englishman from Humberside who prides himself on his Irish ancestry. He has a Ph.D. in Peace and Conflict Studies and arrives on the Irish border between Derry in the North and Donegal OK in the South to facilitate forums for peace groups. It is an hilariously futile exercise.

We never see him achieve anything apart from sabotaging his own conflict resolution forum, ironically by shouting at a co-worker.

He stands nose to nose with his Southern landlady, Sally Brady. She swindles him out of thirty quid sterling a week for a room already occupied. Hough plays Sally with a softly irritating and intrusive manner that would drive any alcoholic to drink. Kevin has no hope.
His other nemesis is Frank, a northerner, also played by Hough. He plays Frank with such a wonderful rapid-fire brogue that he is incomprehensible to both Kevin and us.

Frank harasses Kevin to attend meetings and drink with him but tells him nothing.

Say nothing is the title of this British Council funded show and that is exactly what the Irish do. They shut right up. Kevin is driven to distraction by the time he leaves months later.

 He is dragged into the conspiracy of silence. His need to contribute and redress the indignities done to the Irish by the English is ruined by frustrating resistance of the Irish.

What is so fascinating about this piece is its eccentric theatricality. Woods and Hough use impeccable timing and compelling and surprising transformations of characters.

 They interpolate snatches of violent racist rantings amidst the pallid conversations with Sally and Frank, the passive-aggressive characters. The dialogue is reincorporated and repeated as scenes are replayed.

This is a treat in a Comedy Festival always dominated by stand-up comedians.

By Kate Herbert   

Thursday, 4 April 2002

The Fall of the Roman Umpire, April 4, 2002

By Dennis Coard

 La Mama April 4 to 14, 2002

Reviewer: Kate Herbert



People's personal histories are endlessly fascinating. Dennis Coard has written his life into a charming and cheeky one hour, one-man show.

Coard's play, The Fall of the Roman Umpire, is a self-narrated journey from his emigration from Ireland to Australia with his family as a child.

The theatre space is demystified at the beginning. He arrives, tumbling down the stairs at La Mama, to turn the stage lights on himself, apologising for being a one-man show.

He plays himself as a pubescent Irish child, pants rolled up to his knees. "Sorry about the legs," he quips. "They run in the family."

. Coard is a consummate comic performer. His characters are delightful and believable and his Irish accent is, of course, flawless.

The family comprises his Da, Joe, his Ma, Thelma, Grandpa and three brothers

Joe is an unreliable, naughty Irishman who treats his children as a captive audience for his jokes and antics. He taught them slapstick at an early age, which explains Coard's own comic skill.

Coard portrays his engaging father pretending to be a fictitious aunty who entertains the boys with hilariously silly magic tricks. 

While father believed in light entertainment to control the boys, mother was less forgiving and more authoritarian.

The transitions between mother, father aunty and grandfather are smooth, making the characters all the more compelling.

The latter part of the show is about the family's time in Adelaide. One very slick and funny scene is performed in mime.

It is a whip through twenty years of Coard's life during which he worked for Telecom, drank too much, had a couple of children and married and divorced twice.

His decision to audition for acting school in Melbourne at the age of 35 was a success. He shows us his audition pieces: an edited Macbeth speech and a poignant monologue by an old digger.

Coard's audition served him well. After his studies at the Victorian College of the Arts, he became a regular on Home and Away. There is life after Telecom - and Ireland.

By Kate Herbert