Saturday, 31 December 2005

Saturday Night Fever, Melbourne, Dec 31, 2005

Saturday Night Fever 
Adapted for stage by Nan Knighton
 Produced by  Robert Stigwood, Adam Spiegel Productions, ICA and David Atkins (OK)
Where and When: State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne from 31 December 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Dec 31, 2004

It's official - the Bee Gees melodic, funky tunes still have audiences donning their Boogie Shoes in 2005.

The 1977 movie of Saturday Night Fever was a rocking success for both Bee Gees and producer, Robert Stigwood who is a producer of this stage adaptation.

The show rocks. Adam-Jon Fiorentino plays Italian stallion, Tony Mareno, with a huge grin and plenty of hip grinding.   His character looks uncannily like Travolta from the white suit and the finger-pointing pose right down to the strut.

The dancing features in this production directed and choreographed by Arlene Phillips. Fiorentino is a powerful, passionate and skilful dancer. His moves are faultless and he is a charismatic leader of a very polished dance corps.

He sings as Tony too but, as a singer, he makes a fantastic dancer. His voice is competent but his upper register is shaky.

There are a couple of raunchy voices. As Annette, the teenager who will sell her body for Tony, Monique Montez sings a bold version of If I Can't Have You.

Playing Tony's hapless friend, Bobby C., Darren Tyler belts out Tragedy with rocking style.

Renae Berry (OK) warms up as Stephanie, Tony's upwardly mobile Brooklyn broad hitting her straps in her solo song, What Kind of Fool and in a rousing duet, Nights on Broadway, with Montez.

Tony's clan of Brooklyn boys (Sean Mulligan, Christopher Parson, Nigel Turner-Carroll and Tyler) are a seething mob of testosterone-soaked machismo. They make Boogie Shoes and Jive Talkin' live again.

Dale Pengilly plays D.J. Monty with hilariously predatory disco sleaziness and plenty of buttock wiggling.  

Tony and Stephanie's More than A Woman duet is charming but the dancing gets a gold star in the Disco Dance competition at Monty's Odyssey 2001 disco.

Fiorentino and Berry's duet is romantic and pretty but the pulsing Hispanic duo takes the disco cake.

The narrative is thin and much of the movie's drama is removed from this adaptation. Bobby C's despair about his pregnant girlfriend climaxes in Tragedy but the painful issues of Tony's family and brother, Frank, (Mitchell Butel) the lapsed priest, are glossed over unsatisfactorily.

The chorus numbers, Stayin' Alive, You Should Be Dancin' and Jive Talkin' are topped by the spectacular dance finale in which the entire audience gets up to jive in their seats.

Saturday Night Fever is a grand way to dance in the New Year.

By Kate Herbert

Friday, 30 December 2005

Twelfth Night, Botanical Gardens, Dec 30, 2005

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
The Australian Shakespeare Company
 Botanical Gardens, Melbourne, Dec 30, 2005 to Feb 24, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Glenn Elston’s outdoor production of Shakespeare’s comic-romance, Twelfth Night, returns to the Botanical Gardens this year with some new cast and a different location.

Yet again, the Gardens provide a beautiful backdrop for the play that is set on the twelfth night after Christmas, the eve of Epiphany, January 5.

Twelfth Night is a raunchy Shakespeare play for those who avoid the wordier tragedies. Shakespeare’s script has a dark and sometimes vengeful edge to it that Elston omits from this entertaining summer production.

In the style of Shakespeare’s other comedies, the play incorporates mistaken identity, cross-dressing, separated identical twins, a lovelorn master, a grieving mistress and plenty of bawdy, naughty servants.

A peppering of modern colloquialisms, (OK) musical references and jokes makes it accessible to all.

Count Orsino (Hugh Sexton) pines and persists with his unrequited love for the unresponsive Lady Olivia (Shireen Morris) who grieves for her dead brother.

The twins, Viola (Gemma Bishop) and Sebastian (Tony Rive), are shipwrecked on the shores of Orsino’s court, both believing the other drowned.

 For some reason never specified, Viola dresses as Cesario, a boy, and takes a position as servant to Orsino. She becomes his confidante and conveyor of his love missives to Olivia who mistakenly falls in love with the boy-girl.

The dense poetic language is made comprehensible and fun for an audience unused to Shakespeare.

There is much marvellous clowning and bawdiness on the part of Brendan O’Connor as Sir Toby Belch, the drunken lord, with Adrian Dart as the foppish wimp, Sir Andrew Aguecheek.

This duo is a highlight of the production. Their goofy slapstick antics are hilarious when they secrete themselves to observe the effect of their practical joke upon Olivia’s pompous servant, Malvolio. (Ross Williams)

Williams, as Malvolio is suitably mordant and self-important, hilarious in his yellow stockings and sympathetic when incarcerated by the fools.

Morris has an exotic and regal quality as Olivia and Peter Hosking as Feste the grim jester, makes a strong MC for the show.

Gemma Bishop is competent as Viola, playing a girl dressed as a boy falling in love with a man. Terri Braban, as her servant Maria, is lively.

Phil Cameron-Smith’s great skill with language and powerful, understated stage presence brings great dignity to the small role of Antonio.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 29 December 2005

The Wind in the Willows, 20th Anniversary, Dec 29, 2005

 The Wind in the Willows 
adapted from Kenneth Grahame
The Australian Shakespeare Company 
 Botanical Gardens, Gate F, Dec 29 to Jan 28, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Dec 29, 2005

The Wind in the Willows in the Botanical Gardens celebrates its 20th anniversary this season. It is still a hoot for kids and adults.

The script is adapted from Kenneth Grahame’s very English children’s story, but this version is riddled with local references and Australianisms for all ages.

We receive sticky labels entitling each of us “Rabbit” then our host, The Head Chief Rabbit (Roscoe Mathers), entertains us with gags and songs.

The Botanical Gardens play a major role. The opening scene is played before the real lake, which plays the role of the fictional River. The gardens behind us play the frightening Wild Woods.

Chief Rabbit is joined by his arch-enemy, the snivelling, twitching Weasel, (Robert Jackson) whose aim is to overrun Toad Hall with his weasel family.

Rabbit and Weasel taunt each other, tease the adults, titillate the children and teach us a song that involves waggling our ears, wiggling our noses and singing “whispering willows.”

Before we meet the infamous Toad of Toad Hall, (Andrew Dunne) we are introduced to Ratty (Ezra Bix), the amiable, picnicking water rat. He invites Mole (Charlotte Strantzen), the meek little homemaker, to join us on an adventure.

By this time the children are totally involved in the fantasy of the River animals and await the arrival of Mr. Toad.

But there are more madcap characters to meet. Badger (Alan King) is like an old, reliable army general who cannot abide noise and fuss and can lead a battle with only rabbits and assorted animals for soldiers.

Then comes Otter (James Stafford), a perky, slightly dim water creature who is looking for his errant son, Portly (Otis & Arky Elston).

When Mr. Toad appears he is no disappointment. Dunne plays Toad with a pompous presence and a marvellous singing voice.

Ratty no longer arrives in a rowing boat and Otter does not appear out of the lake in a wetsuit but the show is still hilarious, charming and has some fun participation for the kids – and adults.

The battle for Toad Hall is a riot with weasels being pummelled and tossed over the walls and the children love the songs and adventures.

By Kate Herbert

Sunday, 18 December 2005

Musical Theatre Round Up, Melbourne, 2005

Musical Round Up 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
 Published in Herald-Sun, Melbourne

If you are all presuming my top pick of the musicals this year was The Lion King, presume again. No one show takes the prize this year; try as I would to find one with all the ingredients of a great musical.

The major shows were adaptations of movies. Does nobody have an original idea any more?

Saturday Night Fever started the year with a bang and featured the pick of The Bee Gees songs. The chorus numbers, Stayin' Alive, You Should Be Dancin' and Jive Talkin' were only topped by the spectacular dance finale that compelled the entire audience to jive in their seats.

However, the narrative was thin and much of the drama in the original movie was removed from this adaptation.

The opening of The Lion King was a 20-minute feast of dance, song and puppetry. This production looked gorgeous. The direction, body puppetry and choreography were innovative and the African musical pieces and singers were the highlight for me. My reservations were with most of the Elton John music and the thinness of the script that was borrowed from the animated feature.

Another show using fabulous pop songs was Mamma Mia, in its return season.
The show was stolen by the sassy trio of Sophie Paladino, Jenny Vuletic and Emma Powell wearing shiny 60s suits and singing Super Trouper. Yet again, the finale was a huge success.

The Production Company wins accolades for its concert productions of Oklahoma and Sunset Boulevarde, Where are our new Rodgers and Hammerstein?

Long live the musical – in whatever form!

Kate Herbert

Tuesday, 13 December 2005

To Miss With Love, Store Room, Dec 13, 2005

To Miss With Love  
Written and performed by Christina Adams
Store Room, Fitzroy Nth, until Dec 18, 2005

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

If you are, or have ever been, a high school teacher, Christina Adams’s docu-comedy, To Miss With Love, will be all too familiar. It is a laugh-out-loud identification theatre for teachers – or anyone who was ever attended a high school.

Adams manages to effectively combine direct address to the audience with reconstructions of classroom and staff room incidents.

The audience is sometimes addressed as recalcitrant students or members of staff, at others as if in a lecture on the first year out teacher.

The writing, by Adams, is witty, unaffected and well observed. She uses slide projections to display fabricated statistics about the first year teacher: “82% of first year teachers enter a classroom believing they are prepared and confident.”

In the classroom scenes, she shifts effortlessly between herself, the teacher, and some archetypes of Australian students. Mario is Italian, seductive, uninterested in learning but obsessed with Holden cars.

The Year Sevens are enthusiastic and motivated while the Year Tens are lethargic, moody and hormone charged.

Her characterisations of recognisable students are hilarious. We see them manipulating the teacher, avoiding work, taunting each other and staff, using their mobile phones for ridiculous reasons and trying to somehow make school the life they want.

Adams’ depictions of older teachers are scathing. She is particularly harsh on those who criticise the new teacher and judge her on the behaviour of her boisterous class.

The anxious principal who is nervous speaking to groups, is a delightful, impotent, sniffing character.

Her portrayal of the school camp is frighteningly accurate and reveals an embarrassing moment for her in front of the students.

The voice-overs of school principal and students are often funny and allow other characters into the space without Adams being required to inhabit them.

Although there are other, more theatrical ways to present this material, Adams, with director Monica Dullard, finds an engaging, direct style that allows us into the school environment and the teacher’s psyche.

Adams obviously loves her mad, bad and silly Year Tens But students can be cruel to teachers. To Miss With Love is a very fine teacher’s revenge.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 8 December 2005

Ron Present … Gilding the Turd, Dec 8, 2005

Ron Present … Gilding the Turd
by Roderick Poole
La Mama, Carlton,  December 8 to 18, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Roderick Poole is theatrically inventive; he co-founded Primary Source, a group that rolled a huge wheel down Swanston Street in a Melbourne Festival years ago. He founded Strange Fruit, an outdoor theatre company that performs aerial choreography on top of four-metre poles.

In contrast to the expansive, physical, outdoor group productions, Poole performs alone in the tiny space of La Mama with his feet jammed into a wooden box. Yes, his movement is restricted to swaying to and fro because his feet are literally trapped in round holes in the top of the box. It is strangely reminiscent, in a minimalist way, of the figures atop the huge, waving poles of Strange Fruit.

Poole is Ron, an old Aussie bloke who is obviously fond of a drink – hence the swaying. He is also pretty attached to his smokes and lights one from the other or leaves them hanging precariously from his lip, ash dripping to the ground.

Ron is an old codger, a battler, a boozer, a dreamer, a fighter. He mutters potted philosophy and tales of his past as he smokes his darling ciggies. The only thing he loves as  much as smoking is footy and a fight – and probably a beer.

We sit tucked around the foot of his box as he prattles to us like old friends. He runs a few dreams he had past a young man in the audience, asking for interpretation. He gets none.

He asks if any of us ever thought of topping ourselves and suggests it is too hard on the loved ones.

He mentions Irene, his wife, who “wore her patience like a fur,” and, later, he describes simply her death.

All the puff is gone out of Ron. He re-enacts his last prize fight punch for punch. He biffs and smacks with right crosses and upper cuts to the ribs until he is knocked out.

The humour is grim. He reminisces about fighting at the Somme and tells us he was a surgeon there. He cut off a soldier’s gangrenous arm, only to discover he cut off the wrong limb.

Ron may be an old geezer with an addled brain, but he raises some issues and offers us the opportunity to “look inside a bloke’s head.” It is worth the look.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 7 December 2005

As You Like It, Green Cyc, Dec 7, 2005

As You Like It  by William Shakespeare 
Green Cyc

 Como House, South Yarra,  December 7 to 18, 2005

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on December 7

There are always obvious assets in outdoor theatre – and significant disadvantages. Green Cyc’s production of Shakespeare’s romance, As You Like It, has both.

Outdoor theatre uses beautiful surroundings – in this case, Como Park – as its stage design. It allows audience to picnic on the grass, move from location to location and experience a mild summer’s evening.

A production can also suffer from the vagaries of the weather, problems with outdoor acoustics and the pressure on actors who must perform on rough terrain with no backstage.

Fortunately, for the opening of As You Like It, the evening is mild and fine. Como House perches regally on the slope above us. The audience settles on rugs and chairs around a fountain. As we wait for the start of the play, actors prance and play, interacting with the audience.

There are significant problems with this production by Green Cyc, a company founded three years ago by graduates of the Ballarat Academy of Performing

The production, adapted and directed by Nathan Godkin, has no clear conceptual or stylistic foundation. Shakespeare’s form, language and narrative and muddied.

In attempting to make the play “accessible” to modern audiences, Godkin inserts unnecessary doggerel to explain the story.

Each actor does his or her own thing. Characterisations are so broad that characters are two-dimensional and cartoon-like. Any magical sense of the Forest of Arden, of sensuality and romantic love is lost in the vain attempt to entertain.

As You Like It is a romantic comedy that incorporates a magical forest, four pairs of lovers, two villains, one clown and a happy ending for all. It is a whimsical, playful play but needs some sense of its darkness.

The heart of the story is the romance between Orlando (Gareth Davies) and the clever, feisty Rosalind, (Sally Plant) daughter of the banished Duke Senior.

The acting is extremely uneven but there are glimmers of potential in some of the actors such as Davies, Plant, Natalie Michaels as Celia, Nick Dubberley as Duke Senior.

Te music is too loud, the voices are too soft and the sense of budding sexuality is missing.

If you are not a Shakespeare aficionado and enjoy light entertainment in the park, this may be the show for you.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 1 December 2005

Oh Come All Ye Stressful ’05, Glynn Nicholas Group, Dec 1, 2005

Oh Come All Ye Stressful ’05 
By Glynn Nicholas Group
The Palms, Crown Casino, Melbourne, Dec 1 to 4, 9 & 10, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Dec 1, 2005

Glynn Nicholas produces and hosts Oh Come All Ye Stressful, a musical and comedy Christmas show at Crown.

Nicholas, in his inimitable laconic style, comperes the evening. He incorporates barbed comments for latecomers, occasional gentle audience participation and, of course, his impeccable mime skills.

The show begins slowly but gains momentum by the end of the first half. The second half could do with some cutting.

Oh Come All Ye Stressful is a variety show and Nicholas is joined on stage by other performers: the Voluptunes, The Kransky Sisters and Imogen Kelly.

Musical Director and pianist, Mark Jones, and his capable four-piece band, accompany each act. Jones’ patter does not meet the comic skill of Nicholas but his music is exceptional.

The focus of Nicholas’s verbal comedy is the stress of Christmas. The opening title song, includes the lyrics, Oh Come All Ye Stressful, Woeful and redundant.” Nicholas continues with witty references to desperate shoppers, children’s Chrissie dreams, crowds, exhaustion and over-eating.

His stroppy French waiter takes classical French mime and warps it into his own style. He brings a good-humoured young woman on stage to serve her his mime dinner in his mime restaurant and makes mileage out of mime objects, vocal sound effects and some funny business with a used handkerchief.

He reprises his hilarious, super-sized Melbourne copper, Sergeant Smith, who warns us of terrorists tampering with the Christmas turkey and crackers.

The Kransky Sisters are a huge hit with the audience. These three women are a comic cabaret trio who look like members of the Country Women’s Association in the 1950s and sing rock songs with arrangements in the style of the Salvation Army.

Psycho Killer and We Will Rock You were a knock-out and the Michael Jackson medley had people doubled over laughing.  Their deadpan delivery, weird characterisation and clever musicianship is a delight,  

The Voluptunes are the polar opposite of The Kranskys. These three singer-dancers are the sexy-pretty part of the show. They sing Santa Claus is Coming to Town and other Christmas classics. They should probably leave the comic business alone though and stick with the song and dance.

Aerialist, Imogen Kelly, performs a breath-taking act on the Tissu as well as a very strange Ziegfeld Follies style fan dance and a cheeky routine with lollypop.

Oh Come All Ye Stressful is entertaining Christmas fare. Try to sit in the front section for a better view.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 30 November 2005

Amendment to Terror, Kevin Summers, Nov 30, 2005

Amendment to Terror by Kevin Summers
 La Mama, Courthouse Theatre, Carlton, Nov 30 until Dec 17, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 30, 2005

Kevin Summers’ play, Amendment to Terror, is a chilling prediction of some possible repercussions of Australia’s proposed new terrorism laws – really chilling.

Amelia (Fabienne Parr) and Nelson (Nigel Johnston) are two callow journalists on a mythical national gossip rag. T their unscrupulous editor, Dan, (Matthew Molony) enlists them to pursue a story about a Green politician. Dan encourages the two to sensationalise the pollie’s indiscreet romantic dalliances and they spin the story out for weeks.

Enter two media consultants (Felicity Soper, Christopher Elliott) for the paper. They question the young journos, attempting to find more dirt on the politician.

The shock comes when the two journalists find themselves incarcerated in interview rooms, divested of normal legal rights and being interrogated by none other than the media consultants who reveal themselves to be ASIO agents.

Suddenly, the young and inexperienced become targets of an investigation into international terrorism.

Summers’ plot is completely credible. The naivete of Nelson, the quiet ambition of Amelia and the aggressive journalistic opportunism of Dan are all believable in the context of a trashy scandal sheet.

The disturbing characters are the intelligence officers. All rights evaporate in the face of the potential threat to national security.

The problem with this production is not the script. It is the rather unimaginative direction (Bec Russell) and the uneven acting of the cast.

A highlight is Parr as Amelia. She inhabits her character fully and without any overacting. Molony finds some comic thuggery in Dan.

The remaining cast seem uncomfortable in their roles and this is no fault of the often clever dialogue. Soper is almost inaudible much of the time, Johnston is not connected to the character or dialogue and Elliott seems awkward in his role.

Summers’ writing is often witty and well observed. The script could start after the first two scenes but it gathers momentum when the interrogations begin.

It is disappointing to be left in the dark about the outcomes of the investigation for the off stage character, Harry Bird, the Green politician. But then, perhaps this is logical in a secret investigation. No one knows anything for sure.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 24 November 2005

Prodigal Daughter by Asa Gim Palomera, Nov 24,2005

Prodigal Daughter  
By Asa Gim Palomera 
Women of Asia Company
 Trades Hall, Carlton
Thurs to Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm, Nov 24 to Dec 4, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The central narrative idea of Prodigal Daughter, by Asa Gim Palomera, could be compelling if handled differently. Palomera’s script and direction of this play are both uneven as is the acting.

After over thirty years living in America, the middle-aged Mina (Mandi Sebasio-Ong) returns to her home in South Korea and to her aged mother (Felicity Steel) and younger sister, Teresa (Kaori Hamamoto).

What is interesting in the story is the sublimated anger, the secrets and lies, deceptions and unspoken prejudices between the mother and two sisters. Mina cannot understand why her family is so disdainful of her. Nor does she understand why she was sent to America as a child and abandoned there.

Slowly, the truth of her past and her mother’s guilt and condemnation are revealed. Mina has no recollection of the abuse she suffered as a six year-old at the hands of the military man (David Dawkins).

The strongest performance is from Steel as the mother. Although she contends with the peculiarities of playing a Japanese woman living in Korean and practising Catholicism, Steel is able to credibly inhabit the character, and portray her racial identity and fraught emotional state.

Sebasio-Ong captures some of the complexity of Mina’s predicament but seems unable to penetrate the character at times.

The actors often seem uncomfortable with the dialogue that is frequently overwritten.

There are too many ancillary characters that do not serve the story. The encounters with the General are cryptic and awkward and the scene by the grave of Mina’s father seems tokenistic and cluttered.

Frequent, lengthy and unnecessary scene changes slow the production and become more important than the telling of the story.

There is potential in the design (Daryl Cordell). Three white screens, backlit, allow offstage action to be viewed in silhouette. The bathhouse scene used this convention effectively although the scene did not contribute much to Mina’s story.

The strongest scenes were those that dealt with the emotional life of the characters at the end of the play. We are moved when the mother reveals the truth of Mina’s childhood and when Mina finally recalls her ordeal and confronts her abuser.

There are flaws in the writing, direction and acting in this production. However, the story is not without merit.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 23 November 2005

Short & Sweet: 10 Minute Play Festival, 2005, Nov 23, 2005

Short & Sweet: 10 Minute Play Festival
 Black Box, Arts Centre
Wed to Fri 8pm, Sat 3pm & 8pm  December 10, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

There is prize money to be made from writing a 10-minute play. The Short & Sweet runs over three weeks with 10 plays featured each week in the main season and another 30 in the Wild Card section on Saturdays.

The ten plays in the Week One program were a mixed bag of lollies. Writing, acting and direction was uneven but there were one or two highlights.

The abstract piece, A Black Cat Kind of Day, (Meg Courtney) has a strong performance from Kelly Trounson as a dead girl who has a fatal asthma attack on the doorstep of a man who slept through her pounding on his door.

The Great Curran is swift and funny political sketch by Neil Cole, an ex-Labour Pollie. Curran uses his colourful personality and language to convince the Arbitration Commissioner (Greg Parker) that a meat worker should not be sacked for swearing at his boss.

Emilie Collyer’s Boxed is the most successful dramatic piece. While an old man listens to the footy, his dead wife’s aged voice is heard but a skilful dancer. (Mia Hollingworth) depicts her youthful self.

Too Dark A Pink (Julian Hobba) is a weak script based on a good comic premise. Dean tells his conservative parents that he is a Socialist and his mother is so horrified, she would prefer he was homosexual.

Cross Purposes (Danielle Elisha) explores Martin Bryant before the Port Arthur massacre. His unfolding obsession with a woman from his childhood is interesting but the writing and collision of the characters’ worlds is clumsy.

The Natashas (Tee O’Neill) is a rather peculiar piece that was part of the Theatre@Risk Wall Project. In a fictional country, a woman discovers that her fiancé is a violent abuser.

Xylophone (Simone Howell) sees plump 70s teenager, Clare obsessing over the anorexic Karen Carpenter during the forty-hour famine.

Mister Subordinate (Samantha Hill) has awkward acting but the idea of a wife being a husband’s boss and firing him raises issues.

Winter Solstice (Susie Alison) does not quite penetrate our factory workers’ plight but tries to reveal something of our Industrial relations laws.

Yoga junkies take a beating in Our Last Time Together, (Fiona Clarke) a parody of yoga class participants.

So start musing on your play idea now. The festival runs at the Arts Centre for three years.

By Kate Herbert

Friday, 18 November 2005

Love by Patricia Cornelius, Malthouse, Nov 18, 2005

Love by Patricia Cornelius 
by Malthouse Theatre
Where and When: Tower Theatre, Malthouse 
 Nov 18 to December 4, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on  Nov 18

Three totally socially dysfunctional characters live like rats in a wheel in Patricia Cornelius’ play, Love.

Tanya (Lisa Sontag), while she is in prison, falls in love at first sight with Annie (Peta Brady). They become inseparable and feed each other’s neuroses, addictions and basic desperate need to love and be loved.

When Tanya ends up back in the clink, Annie, despite her protestations of undying love for Tanya, succumbs to the questionable charms of Lorenzo, AKA Lenny (Simon Maiden), a smarmy, smiling junkie.

Finally, all three end up sharing a single, sordid room, living in a bent love triangle built around Annie’s need to be loved.

The problem is that Annie is the only breadwinner; her prostitution brings in cash for their heroin habits. Tanya looks after the business side, Lenny keeps Annie happy with sex and laughs and Annie sells her childlike 19 year-old body to the nearest bidder. Each takes advantage of the others.

Cornelius depicts the peculiar netherworld of he petty criminal, junkie, uneducated, workless, abused and incapable. Annie expresses her craving for something else, another place, something new, different but she can no sooner name it or achieve it than kick the heroin.

The language is strong, the characters sympathetic but almost irredeemable, their world ludicrous and sad.

All three actors work hard to inhabit their characters but it is Brady, as Annie, who is the most consistently credible. Her frenetic needy behaviour is absolutely believable.

At odd moments, the language and dialogue slips out of the searingly raw and realistic into oddly inappropriate more educated lingo.

The short, sharp scenes work for the early parts of the play but the pave begins to hiccup and the frequent scene changes become annoying. The dialogue is most often clipped short sentences. It is played fast, with plenty of energy but begins to feel repetitive in the latter half.

 Love lacks a clear dynamic arc and loses momentum by the last scene.

By Kate Herbert

Monday, 14 November 2005

End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter, MTC, Nov 14, 2005

End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter 
by Ensemble Theatre and Melbourne Theatre Company
Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre,  Nov 14 to December 17, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 14, 2005

People would walk over glass to see Judy Garland perform at her peak. The same applies to Australia’s Caroline O’Connor – and her peak is right now.

A consummate singer, dancer and actor, O’Connor plays the faded, 46 year-old Garland at the embarrassing end of her career.

Peter Quilter’s bio-drama, End of the Rainbow, is a warts-and-all view of Garland‘s final, excruciating cabaret season in 1968 at The Talk of the Town in London.

Garland, suffering from a lifetime of uppers, downers and booze, bankrupt and thrice divorced, is trying to redeem her reputation, salvage her voice and overcome her addictions. She has a new beau, Mickey Deans (Myles Pollard) a younger ex-bartender, who imagines he can secure his fortune and resurrect Judy’s career when better men failed.

Garland’s gay icon status seems central to Quilter’s play. Judy’s pianist, Anthony, (Paul Goddard) is a stitched-up gay, English man whose devotion to the belligerent, drunken Judy is almost incomprehensible.

On-Stage, he attempts to cover her errors and off-stage to protect her from herself, the pills and Mickey. He is unsuccessful in both roles. Judy is her own worst enemy.

O’Connor is magnetic, cunningly treading the line between failed star and genius, vituperative drunk and sparkling comedienne, seasoned performer and terrified debutante.

Quilter focuses on Garland’s inability to function on stage without her pills and drink. Her blind panic before a show resulted from both her addiction and her fans’ expectations of a perfect performance every time.

Despite our perverse fascination with the collapse of a huge star, we crave Judy in her heyday. We wait patiently for the moments when O’Connor breaks into song, when she allows Garland to light up the stage. Perhaps this is why so many who loved her forgave Garland so many transgressions.

O’Connor is a musical phenomenon with a quirky, impish face and body. She eerily inhabits Garland’s persona, creating an echo in time as we peer into Garland’s tattered hotel room, dressing room and her shattered, booze-drenched psyche.

Wayne Harrison directs the show with a focus on O’Connor. Brian Thomson’s design is simple but evocative. The huge letters of Judy’s name stand up like a billboard behind the action. However, the final letter, the “Y”, has tumbled to the floor – just like Judy.

Saturday, 5 November 2005

The Woman Before by Roland Schimmelpfennig, Theatre@Risk, Nov 5, 2005

 The Woman Before by Roland Schimmelpfennig 
by Theatre@Risk
Where and When: fortyfivedownstairs, Nov 5 to 20, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The Woman Before, a play by German playwright, Roland Schimmelpfennig, is jam-packed with stylistic and mythical references.

It incorporates elements of the Ancient Greek Medea, a woman scorned, the references to Pandora's Box filled with vice and pestilence and to the femme fatale of the Film Noir.

In spite of all these anachronistic references, the play has a contemporary style and focuses on modern relationships.

Frank (James Wardlaw) is a bumbling, middle-aged man married to the loyal Claudia (Carolyn Bock) for nineteen years. They have an adolescent son, Andi, (Paul Ashcroft) who has a girlfriend, Tina. (Katherine Anderson)

Frank and Claudia's entire life is packed into cardboard boxes ready for shipping to an unspecified destination overseas. When an unknown woman knocks at their door, Frank confronts his past. The scene is set for challenging their years together, their love and their plans for the future.

Romy, the unrecognised woman, (Heather Bolton) arrives unannounced and declares that Frank was her lover 24 years earlier, when both were teenagers. She professes her undying love, reveals her long search for Frank and, most disturbingly, demands he fulfil his promise to love her forever.

From the moment of Romy's arrival, the fabric of the family begins to disintegrate.

Schimmelpfennig employs a structure that manipulates chronology and a cool, even objective style that reduces the emotional intensity.

Snatches of dialogue are played in slow motion with an alienated style then they are seen again in full emotional flight moments later. Dramatic, even tragic scenes are interrupted to show their prelude hours earlier.

The impact is to heighten our objective response to the characters and remove what, in naturalism, would be the inevitable view of Romy as evil or malicious and our automatic sympathy with Frank or Claudia.

Chris Bendall directs with a clear sense of style and character. The almost claustrophobic stage is designed by Peter Corrigan with four doors to represent locations within the apartment. Live cello (Phil McLeod) and evocative lighting (Nick Merrilees) complete the tense atmosphere.

The cast is accomplished. Bolton, as Romy, is almost terrifyingly cool in her relentless obsession. She plays with no edge of mania, which makes the story more credible.

Wardlaw captures the overwhelming confusion and cowardice of Frank and Bock effectively shows Claudia's slide from security to desperation.

Schimmelpfennig has an inventive style and structure that make a simple mystery compelling.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 26 October 2005

Test Pattern by Angus Cerini , Oct 26, 2005

Test Pattern  by Angus Cerini 
by Platform Youth Theatre
Uniting Church Hall Northcote, Oct 26 to Nov  5, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Test Pattern is an abstract performance developed by the young artists of Platform Youth Theatre with writer, Angus Cerini and director, Nadja Kostich.

The script is non-linear and sometimes almost impenetrable but its convergence with the visual and physical layers of the performance is often compelling.

One significant element of the show is the set design by Marg Horwell. It is deceptively simple yet fascinating in the complex impact it has upon the huge, empty space of the church hall.

Rows of silken white fringe are suspended from ceiling to floor. We view the entire performance through these sheer, floating screens. Projected images (Michael Carmody) and snatches of dialogue shimmer and are refracted by the fringes and bounce off the rear wall.

Actors move through the fringing, along its corridors or run their fingers like children through them, disturbing their stillness.

All the performers are dressed in white slips, giving them all a fragile look.

The content is composed by Cerini from stories, real or imagines, from the young members of the company. Many are about death, trauma or illness. Some deal with more positive ideas about love, family or friends. As one actor says, It's really morbid".

Each of the cast, at one point lat ein the show, introduces him or herself with a brief personal story or reference to the process of developing the performance.

Kostich directs the group in a lyrical, movement-based form. Nothing is literal. Characters come and go. Dialogue is fractured and images drift in and out.

Richard Vabre's evocative lighting and the pulsing heartbeat sound design by Jethro Woodward create a further layer of complexity in this fresh, even raw, production.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday, 25 October 2005

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann by Neil Cole, Oct 25, 2005

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann  by Neil Cole 
produced by La Mama
Courthouse Theatre, Oct 25 until Nov 5, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 25, 2005

Much is documented of the Nazi extermination of the Jews in World War Two. Neil Cole's play, The Trial of Adolf Eichmann, deals specifically with the role of Adolf Eichmann, a Lieutenant-Colonel in the SS.

Eichmann was tried, in 1961, as a war criminal, found guilty and sentenced to death, for his participation in what was euphemistically known by the Nazis as 'The Final Solution of the Jewish Question'. 

Eichmann (Kevin Harrington) followed other Nazis by professing his innocence by virtue of the fact that he was just following orders. The evidence suggested that he was, in fact, the architect of the plan for extermination as well as the officer in charge of transporting Jews to the death camps.

The great strength of the production, directed by Alice Bishop, is the skill of its cast. Cole's script suffers from too much exposition but the cast manage the informational dialogue and weighty speeches well.

The play does not provide any new information about Eichmann and the dramatisation of parts of his life could more effectively illuminate his character, history or motivations.

Cole's play intercuts the courtroom trial with Eichmann's relationship with General Heydrich (OK) (Mike Bishop) and with the wartime experiences of Kitia Altman (Marcella Russo) and Arnold Erlanger, (Lee Mason) both European Jews now resident in Melbourne.

In fact, the play really becomes Kitia's story rather than Eichmann's.

Harrington portrays Eichmann as a stuffy, rigid, efficient bureaucrat. He is a petty little public servant who graduated from managing distribution of utilities to managing transportation of Jews to their deaths.

Russo almost steals the show with her sympathetic portrayal of Kitia, the Jewish survivor. Her description of the dead and dying on Kitia's arrival at Auschwitz is profoundly moving.

Bishop plays Heydrich as a cultured and arrogant Nazi while Don Bridges, plays Rossman, the German uniform manufacturer, with great sensitivity.

Jim Daly's first speech as the Jewish prosecutor, Hausner, was poignant and Mason's young Arnold provides a second, perhaps extraneous, example of a Jewish life turned upside down.

Newcomer, teenager, Lucy Honigman is credible in both her roles.

Perhaps this very didactic play could benefit form a more imaginative style of production to work against the very wordy script.

By Kate Herbert