Tuesday, 30 May 2006

Stomp, Her Majesty's, May 30, 2006

by Luke Cresswell & Steve McNicholas
Her Majesty’s Theatre, May 30 until June 4, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Stomp is a thumpin’, pulsing animal that just keeps on kicking.

This explosive theatrical percussion confection was born to Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas in England in 1981 and thundered onto Australian stages in 1992. It is still running on stages in New York and London and touring the world.

Stomp is box office gold because it is like the comic book of theatre and music. It thumps, thwacks and kapows for 90 minutes, smacking the audience in the belly with driving percussive rhythms and visceral energy.

The eight scruffy, urban guerrilla performers are drummers and dancers, but mostly they are personalities. The six men and two women create percussive mayhem on myriad domestic and found objects. They bang, slap, clap and tap on things that normally sit silently in our laundries, back yards and laneways.

Stomp is not just a show about drumming. The performers are clowns and dancers. They create relationships with each other and with us. We learn to know and love each quirky one of them: Blondie, Mohawk, Bruiser, Tattoo Boy, Pee Wee and the rest.

They open with an old Stomp standard, swishing and banging routine with brooms then shift to the clatter of matchboxes and a massive group body percussion with slapping, stomping and clapping.

They do a soft shoe on sand then make music out of the clean up with dustpans and brooms. Rubber pipes create other–worldly soundscapes and tin pails, ladles and even kitchen sinks (filled with soapy water) become instruments.

There are dowelling poles, paint scrapers, plastic bags and newspapers, clicking cigarette lighters, the thump of basketballs and the thud of tea chests.

Metal found objects decorate a huge, upstage scaffold and drummers dangle precariously from harnesses as they beat rhythm from this vertical drum kit.

The finale with thumping rubbish bins, clanging lids and 44-gallon drums is dynamic and thunderous. The crowd went wild.

Early in the show one performer trains the audience, like Pavlov’s dogs, to echo his clapping. The pay-off for theis daggy audience participation comes in the encore when the call and response of the audience and performers is insanely complicated and wildly appreciated.

The noise is often deafening, the pace hectic, the audience feverish, the performers both hilarious and bizarre. Stomp is a big banger; it’s the whole fireworks display.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 24 May 2006

The Clean House, MTC, May 24, 2006

The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl 
Melbourne Theatre Company
Fairfax Studio, May 24 until July 8, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on May 24, 2006

The Clean House by American playwright, Sarah Ruhl, is a cheerful comedy tinged with melancholy. It has a very American, almost a soap opera, style.

The central characters are Lane (Wendy Hughes) and her husband, Charles, (Pip Miller) two upmarket surgeons. Lane has a depressed Brazilian maid, Matilde (Daniela Farinacci) and a compulsive obsessive sister, Virginia (Deidre Rubenstein).

Charles’ South American patient, Ana, (Julia Blake) is dying with cancer as well as having an affair with Charles. Sounds like Days of Our Lives, doesn’t it?

The performances are polished and Kate Cherry’s direction is stylish. This is definitely a quirky comedy but it has little substance. Comparisons with Marquez’s Magic Realism are exaggerated. The collisions of past and present, imagination and reality are common in theatrical conventions.

Lane employs Matilde to clean her house. Cleaning depresses Matilde, a young woman born to parents who were “the funniest couple in Brazil.” Matilde’s goal is to create the funniest joke in the world and to become a comedienne. The irony is that she tells all her jokes in Portugese and they are untranslatable.

The comedy in The Clean House revolves around dirt and the chaos of ordinary relationships. Grief and love, obsession and habit are the foundations on which Ruhl constructs her humour.

Despite the wealth of talent on the stage, the script is amusing but ultimately unsatisfying, leaving one with a sense of having seen a piece of fluff.

Christina Smith’s all white, contemporary set design allows Cherry to explore scenes imaginatively, placing them behind scrims, blinds, on upper levels and in deep background. Lighting by Jon Buswell, provides atmosphere and depth to the design.

Farinacci manages the Brazilian accent well and rise to the challenge of making foreign language jokes seem funny. A gravel-voiced Hughes plays the abrasive Lane with an edge of anxiety and panic and gives the character a journey to compassion and peace by the finale.

Rubenstein, as Virginia, provides much of the comedy with her motherly fussing and obsessive cleaning of Lane’s house.  Miller finds some layers and comedy in the rather underwritten character of Charles and Blake is charming and alluring as the beautiful South American patient who literally charms the pants off Charles.

The second act certainly raises the emotional stakes in this light comedy and perhaps it gently prompts audiences to consider their personal lives. It is certainly not a thesis on relationships.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday, 23 May 2006

Headlock, Kage Theatre, May 23, 3006

by Kage Theatre with Malthouse Theatre
Where and When: Merlin Theatre, Malthouse,  until June 3, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on  May 23, 2006

Headlock, by Kage Physical Theatre and directed by Kate Denborough, is a muscular representation of the relationship between young men and their male peers.

The play uses limited dialogue and relies on the visceral physical connections between three youths, brother called Shane (Byron Perry), Dean (Gerard Van Dyck) and Matthew  (Luke Hockley).

The lads may be past school age but their antics are those of boys with no responsibilities, little fear and intense loyalties to each other.

Our first visions of them are as they wrestle playfully. The main stage is a wrestling arena that is both an effective environment for their mock fighting and a metaphor for their world of young masculinity.

Shane, separated from his two brothers, Dean and Matthew, finds himself in the dangerous and alien adult world of prison. He is out of his depth. The playful pranks of his brothers could nto prepare him for tthe violence and abuse he will face in the prison.

None of this is seen overtly. The threat of violence is implied or represented imagistically by shadowy men grabbing at him, a huge digital clock ticking away the deathly prison hours, Shane’s timidity and lonely tears. His final, violent moments are a metaphorical wrestling match. His apparently lifeless body is nursed and cradled by his two brothers.

Shane's short time in prison is peppered with his recollections of his life-affirming times with Dean and Matthew, in the mosh pit at a rock concert, tagging walls over train lines, stealing cars or sneaking a joint in the forest.

Shane was carefree until the consequences of his boyish actions sent him on a journey that ends in violence.

The physical work derives from contact improvisation. The men lift, support and dance as they wrestle. The occasional dialogue is incidental; their physicality tells the story. The Auslan (sign language) used by Matthew is often more expressive than the spoken dialogue.

The design (Ben Cobham, Andrew Livingstone) extends beyond the wrestling ring to mysterious, darkened upstage corners. The lighting design is dramatic and evocative.

Denborough keeps the action constant. Some sections move slowly but the momentum drives us to the inevitable violent conclusion. The ending is unclear and too sudden but the piece has impact.

Headlock balances warmth and intimacy of young men with the danger associated with the unpleasant side of masculinity. Childhood does not always prepare boys for the world of men.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 18 May 2006

Eurobeat: Almost Eurovision, May 18, 2006

Eurobeat: Almost Eurovision 
by Craig Christie and Andrew Patterson by Glynn Nicholas Group
Where and When: The Palms, Crown Casino, from May 18, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on May 18, 2006

If you have never seen the Eurovision Song Contest, its parody, Eurobeat, directed by Glynn Nicholas, will still tickle your pop song nerve.

Eurovision is as notable for its screaming failures as for its few successes. For 51 years, Eurovision spawned trashy Euro-Pop songs, the most famous being ABBA’s Waterloo.

The real Eurovision is a sparkling calendar item for the cool set that celebrates Eurovision parties annually.

It is difficult to parody an event that is already so over-the-top absurd but Eurobeat does it with panache – and lots of lycra.

Most of the twelve Eurobeat songs are better than the contenders in the real contest. Twelve countries are represented on stage while flag wavers support them in the audience.

A highlight of this “spangly show” is Julia Zemiro as Bronya, one of two cheesy Bosnian hosts. Zemiro, swathed in a ridiculously pink, sequined gown, grins and poses as Bronya, Bosnia’s top pop and television starlet. Zemiro’s wit, energy, throaty accent and faux glamour maintain the hype for the entire evening.

Jason Geary, playing her dim-witted, smirking co-host, Sergei, is a perfect foil for Bronya with his quirky English language malapropisms and sexual innuendo.

The script (Craig Christie, Andrew Patterson), originally written for a pub show in 2004, crackles with satirical Eurovision references and glib jokes about Bosnia’s lack of sophistication.

But it is the songs that make our little Eurovision fans’ hearts tremble with delight.

They encapsulate core Eurovision principles: meaningless pop lyrics, power ballads, lycra, lame’ and sequins, key changes, superfluous choreography, kaleidoscopic lighting, trashy stage design, excruciating lyrics, camp dancing boys, big hair, folkloric touches, lots of teeth and, oh joy of joys, the alarming costume reveal.

Winner on opening night, Greece, had it all. Singing “Oh Aphrodite,” Zoe Ventoura’s Nana Mouskouri clone transforms into the sex goddess herself when her brown caftan is torn off to reveal a skimpy, white vestal virgin outfit.

Russia’s KGBoyz, a white lycra boy band, sang Ice Queen, with bump and grind and plenty of pouting.

The UK duo was wildly clumsy and Estonia’s sexually explicit, boot-scooting gay cowboys tickled the audience. Hungary’s folkloric Magyar song was a hit. Iceland parodied Bjork while Lichtenstein’s post-modern Plastic Bertrands didn’t even sing.

Ireland got lost in a fog of dry ice, France blended food with classical mime and Germany sang about beer. Sweden’s answer to ABBA just sang ”The Same Old Song.”

Get the tele warmed to watch the real Eurovision on May21 - then go see Eurobeat. It is a hoot.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 17 May 2006

Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, May 17, 2006

Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks 
by Richard Alfieri by Ensemble Theatre
Comedy Theatre, Melbourne, May 17 to  June 10, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Richard Alfieri’s Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks is an effective vehicle for two Australian musical theatre stars: Nancye Hayes and Todd McKenney.

Not only does it allow them to dance in every scene but it endows them with feisty and funny dialogue and a deliciously dysfunctional relationship.

It is all a bit naughty too. Occasionally the two characters swear impulsively eliciting audible gasps and roars from the audience, they insult each other and cast aspersions on all and sundry. The conservative theatre-going audience feels it is witnessing something a little risqué with all the casual profanity, references to sex and homosexuality and jibes about religion.

The play is set in Lily Harrison’s (Hayes) very realistic retirement villa in Florida, the land of ageing gracelessly. Lily is 72, although she pretends to be 68. “If you say your age, your face hears,” she quips. She is the unwilling widow of a rigid Baptist minister who she still pretends is alive to protect her social image.

When Lily books six dance lessons, Michael Minetti (MCKenney) arrives with a portable CD player and a rude, crude manner, an explosive and often hilarious relationship is born. Michael is a middle-aged, gay dance instructor who abandoned his chorus boy lifestyle and unfortunate romantic past to nurse his dying mother.

The pair rubs each other the wrong way and develops a pattern of lying, arguing and forming a truce. They love the fighting and, eventually, each other. Secrets and vulnerabilities are revealed. T

Hayes plays Lily, the bored, proper retiree, with style and impeccable comic timing, relishing the slightly bawdy dialogue.

Mc Kenney revels in his devilish humour of Michael, “the passive-aggressive queen with a bad attitude”, and plays him with without overdoing the campness.

This is not music theatre but a play with seven scenes each built around a weekly dance lesson. Director, Sandra Bates, keeps the scenes moving swiftly and the dialogue crackling.

Although the constant bickering is tiring initially, there is sufficient warmth and humour to rise above the conflict.

The dancing is a highlight with choreography by John O’Connell. The pair does Swing, Tango, Waltz, Foxtrot, Cha Cha and Disco, However it is the ups and downs of the unlikely and poignant relationship of two social misfits that make the play unusual and provides the marvellous duo of Hayes and McKenney with a hot show.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday, 9 May 2006

Mrs. Petrov’s Shoe by Noelle Janaczewska, May 9, 2006

Mrs. Petrov’s Shoe by Noelle Janaczewska 
 fortyfivedownstairs,l May 9 to 21, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Noelle Janaczewska based her play, Mrs. Petrov’s Shoe, on the literary scandal surrounding Helen Darville/Demidenko. Darville won the Vogel (1993) and then the Miles Franklin (1995) awards for her novel, The Hand That Signed the Paper, supposedly based on her life in a Ukrainian family.

The book was exposed to be based on a totally fabricated past and Darville was denounced as a fraud.

Janaczewska’s play begins with Anna, (Lucy Beaumont) a Polish-Australian wearing Polish national dress delivering her acceptance speech for a literary prize.

What follows are scenes from her novel and, purportedly, her childhood. Ania is a child with an elaborate fantasy life. She imagines that the unusual behaviours of her harmless parents (Mike Bishop, Carole Patullo) are signs that they are Russian spies. Her mother’s benevolence to a Pole in hiding is suspicious and her father’s frequent disappearances to be treated for depression she assumes to be secret missions.

The repetition of Anna’s acceptance speech slows the play and some childhood scenes lack dramatic tension but there is intrigue created by the parents’ secretive antics. It was disappointing that Mrs. Petrov, the Australian-Russian spy of the title, played no role at all in the story.

The dramatic pay-off comes late in the play when Anna’s fraud is revealed and exotic Anna becomes plain Anne Loxton.

There are some interesting, if not compelling written notions about Anglo-Australians feeling less interesting than their migrant neighbours. There are also references to the ill treatment and alienation of post-war migrants that bear a striking resemblance to the fear and suspicion directed at recent Middle Eastern and Asian refugees.

Director, Chris Bendell, keeps the numerous short scenes moving swiftly. He uses simple staging to create a number of locations and designer, Kellee Frith, adds detail to the stark, white stage with the addition of nick-nack boxes and Polish icons.

Mike Bishop and Carole Patullo play the Polish parents with a suitable earnest and serious tone. They break hilariously into broad comedy as Anne’s “real” Yorkshire

As Anna/Ania/Anne, Jude Beaumont is credible as the naïve child and the duplicitous adult Anne. Toby Newton is versatile as Ania’s brother and his investigative journalist is very entertaining. Katie-Jean Harding is subtle as Ania’s friends.

There are flaws in this script but the themes will raise issues for discussion in the VCE students who are studying it.

By Kate Herbert