Thursday, 24 February 2011

The Pavilion ***

The Pavilion by Nick Musgrove & Alexandra Lee
Chapel off Chapel, Feb 24 to March 5, 2011
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 24, 2011

You don’t need to be a cricket tragic to see The Pavilion, but it certainly helps to know a lofted cover drive from a reverse sweep and a wrong’un from a wide ball.

In this naturalistic, light comedy by Nick Musgrove and Alexandra Lee, directed by Tom Peterson, we are voyeurs in the clubrooms of the fictional Glendale Community Cricket Club. For 90 minutes we watch the Glendale eleven, who range from 16 to 60 years, career through their batting order in a match that could mark the end of their finals hopes.

The play’s structure follows the shape of the match. The dramatic action, punctuated by off-stage highlights on the pitch, plays out in the clubrooms where each lost wicket cues a new episode in the characters’ interactions. Although these avid, amateur sportsmen avoid discussing personal issues, these seep into the clubroom banter, revealing plenty about the individuals.

The provocative clown, Dave (Nick Russell) feels abandoned by best mate, Simmo (James Needham) whose loyalties now lie with his wife. Gambler, Alistair (Dylan Lloyd), places secretive bets between overs. Team captain, Martin (Paul Dawber), has a suspiciously low run rate and his secret affair damages the team’s morale.

Although this is not a theatrically imaginative script or groundbreaking production, it has a parade of diverse, recognisable characters, a few good laughs and it escalates to a final, satisfying, personal battle.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The End by Samuel Beckett ***1/2

The End by Samuel Beckett
By Malthouse Theatre
Beckett Theatre, Malthouse, Feb 22 to March 1, 2011
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ****1/2

For the second time this month, my wish for 2011 is granted: an actor in an empty space in a show that focuses on the performer, acting technique and language – without technology. Hooray for actors!

Robert Menzies, deftly directed by Eamon Flack, stands alone in a stark, black box to perform Samuel Beckett’s novella, The End. Although not written for the stage, the 22 unedited pages of Beckett’s prose weave complex word pictures, evoking a vivid landscape filled with places and people.

Menzies’ sad, battered, clown face, scruffy hair and gruff, bleating voice conjure an old derelict wandering the streets, rambling and raving as his path leads him to his inevitable, predictable demise. The actor steps reluctantly into the space, fixes his bare feet deliberately onto a marked spot in the centre of the black floor and begins his story or, rather, his collection of scrappy memories.

The man is by turn angry, frustrated, demented, ranting, melancholy, but always confused and vulnerable.

This novella, written in 1946, incorporates elements of his later works: existential dilemma, obsession with age, death and the futility of the human condition. The old man in The End foreshadows the two hobo-clowns in Beckett’s most famous play, Waiting for Godot, and has echoes of Krapp’s Last Tapes and Endgame.

This is a hero’s journey towards death, played out by one of the forgotten and homeless people in an unforgiving city.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Motherhood the Musical ***

Motherhood the Musical by Sue Fabisch
By HIT Productions
Athenaeum Theatre,  Feb 17-27, 2011
Reviewerd by: Kate Herbert on Feb 22, 2011
Stars: ***
Ah, the trials of motherhood: nappies, crying babies, school runs, weight gain, sleep deprivation, weak bladder. Motherhood the Musical, by Sue Fabisch, is a collection of songs pegged together by scenes at a baby shower.

This show, directed by Terence O’Connell, is identification theatre. We all recognise these types.  Rebecca Moore is Amy, the hopelessly naïve, expectant mum viewing babydom through rosy glasses. She sings the romantic, I’m Having a Baby, interrupted roughly by the others who set her straight.

Barbara, played by rich-voiced, sassy Amelia Christo, is jaded and exhausted at home with three kids. She sings about whining kids in Mummy, Mummy, Mummy, but also delivers a moving ballad about her love for her son.

Versatile Ziggy Clements plays Brooke who juggles her law practice with family and sings about her obsession with bulk buying in Costco Queen. Trisha, played by Jacqueline Hoy, a frazzled, divorced mum, sings about her loneliness when her kids are away in Every Other Weekend.

The dialogue is cheesy, the pace loose in the sketches and some tunes sound like songs by The Wiggles but the audience of women roared at the cheeky, accurate lyrics.   

A couple of numbers are gutsy blues or rock tunes and the finale is a rousing, gospel song, The Kids Are Asleep, a celebration of that moment of peace and liberation for parents.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

‘Tis A Pity She’s A Whore, Malthouse ***

‘Tis A Pity She’s A Whore by John Ford
By Malthouse Theatre
Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, from Feb 16 to March 5, 2011
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb16, 2011
Stars: ***

Modern adaptations of classical plays can be illuminating and theatrically challenging. However, Marion Potts’ production of ‘Tis A Pity She’s A Whore teeters on the edge of melodrama rather than penetrating the moral murkiness of John Ford’s 1633 Jacobean tragedy.

This is not to say that it lacks theatrical merit or that some audiences won’t love its bold, economical style, musical elements and contemporary references. The cast is reduced to nine and the sub-plots all but eliminated. A single, modern punk (Chris Ryan) boasting about his sexual conquests replaces the foolish suitors.
Because of the savage editing and reduced cast, too much of the flesh of Ford’s play and too many characters are missing making the story confusing and incoherent. By stripping characters and sub-plots, the breadth of the moral decay, hypocrisy and corruption of this 17th century society is lost. It rushes to its bloody end and we feel we have missed something important.
Potts takes risks with her collage of styles and some are successful.  Soprano, Julia County, adds a romantic, emotional layer as she glides above the ghastly, earthly events. Anna Cordingley’s three-level set is a metaphor for the multiple levels of morality and status. Her backdrop, in the roiling style of a Mannerist painting, is a highlight.
Ford’s play is always considered controversial. The children of Florio (Richard Piper), the virginal Annabella (Elizabeth Nabben) and her brother, Giovanni (Benedict Samuel) have an incestuous relationship. Annabella’s tutor, Putana (Laura Lattuada), approves the affair. When Annabella falls pregnant, she is hurriedly married to Soranzo (John Adam) who abandons his vengeful paramour, Hippolita (Alison Whyte), who is then betrayed by Vasques (Anthony Brandon Wong).

There are some strong performances particularly from Adam, Nabben and Whyte, although the acting is uneven. After oodles of sex, murder and revenge the stage is littered with bloodied bodies. Ultimately, this production favours form over substance. The idea is interesting but the execution only partially successful.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

A Behanding in Spokane, MTC ***1/2

A Behanding in Spokane 
By Martin McDonagh, by Melbourne Theatre Company
 MTC Sumner Theatre, Feb 10 to March 1, 2011
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 10, 2011
Stars: ***1/2

Martin McDonagh says his black comedies walk the line between comedy and cruelty. His newest work, A Behanding in Spokane, combines his signature, laugh-out-loud dialogue and situational absurdity with blatant and latent violence. The stage is a dangerous place for his characters.

It is a revenge comedy: a hand for a hand instead of eye for an eye. Decades earlier, the brooding, racist, Carmichael (Colin Moody) was behanded (his hand cut off) by rednecks who waved goodbye to him with his own hand.

For 26 years, the obsessed Carmichael fruitlessly scours the country for his lost hand. A couple of chancers, Toby (Bert LaBonté), the black marijuana dealer, and his dim-witted girlfriend, Marilyn (Nicole da Silva), try to con him by selling him an aboriginal hand stolen from a museum. All hell breaks loose and they face the wrath of Carmichael.

The play has some of the classic elements of McDonagh’s style. A group of eccentric, flawed characters are trapped in an isolated, claustrophobic location, in this case, an Arizona motel room. Cruelty and violence collide with banal conversations and peculiar obsessions. The outcome is unpredictable and the situation dangerous.

Moody is compelling as the dour, volatile, surly Carmichael. Although the other characters appear to be too clever, clean and middle class, LaBonté captures the weakness and bravado of the frightened Toby, da Silva is suitably dim as his gal and Tyler Coppin is funny as the weird, reluctant receptionist.

Peter Evans’ production needs to escalate to an explosive ending. The pace is too slow in the final scenes – but that could be in the writing. Strangely, these American characters have the style and language of McDonagh’s Irish characters but they lack the credible, dim edginess of the quintessential American criminal.

This script is not as successful as McDonagh’s six early plays set in isolated, western Ireland. It is a one-gag story that needs either to be unleashed and dive further into absurdity and chaos, or to be harnessed into a shorter play. If you want to see a classic McDonagh, see the movie, In Bruges. It is brutally funny.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Lady Chatterley’s Lover ***

Lady Chatterley’s Lover
Adapted from D.H. Lawrence by Glenn Elston, Australian Shakespeare Company
Rippon Lea, Feb 8 to March 17, 2011
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Novelist, D. H. Lawrence, would be delighted by the amount of naked, youthful flesh and blatant sexuality in Glen Elston’s adaptation of his erotic tale about adultery and lust between the cultured Lady Chatterley (Hannah Norris), and the rough-handed game-keeper, Mellors (Jamieson Caldwell).

The two actors gambol audaciously outside the Rippon Lea mansion, tearing their clothes off amongst the trees, capering sensually on tables and beds or under a rainstorm. Caldwell’s lean musculature and Norris’s pale flesh glimmer in the fading twilight.

As a student I was obsessed with every luscious and scandalous novel by Lawrence and Lady Chatterley’s Lover was his most controversial. Connie is bored in her sexless marriage to the pompous Sir Clifford (Soren Jensen), a wheelchair-ridden invalid while Mellors, a former army lieutenant, lives alone after the end of his marriage to a carping harridan.

Elston’s adaptation incorporates Lawrence’s passionate, provocative language as well as the electric, highly sexualised physicality of his characters. Caldwell is deliciously wicked, seductive, ironic and physically abandoned as Mellors and Norris captures the vibrating, wide-eyed need of Connie.

Several minor characters provide narration to fill the gaps in the story but the balance between narration and scenes is not quite right. The first scenes that set the background could happily be excised or condensed. The play really gets going when Connie and Mellors first meet.

This is a cheeky, robust production and who could pass up sensuality on the lawns at Rippon Lea with a glass of wine and a picnic hamper?

Ruben Guthrie ***1/2

Ruben Guthrie by Brendan Cowell, Red Stitch Actors Theatre
 Rear 2 Chapel St., St Kilda Feb 8 to March 5, 2011
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 8, 2011
Stars: ***1/2

The stage is a dangerous place in Brendan Cowell’s play, Ruben Guthrie. As Ruben, Daniel Frederiksen is a totally out of control drunk, so all the danger is in the bottle – or, rather, bottles – that surround him, imprisoning him in a world of expensive and deadly booze.

Ruben Guthrie is the Creative Director and golden boy for a slick advertising agency. He fuels his fertile imagination and compelling ad campaigns with grog, recreational drugs and ego. When his young, glamorous partner, Zoya (Anna Samson) dumps him because of his boozing benders, Ruben is forced to confront his addictions and assess whether his talent lies only at the bottom of an empty vodka glass.

At intervals, Frederiksen addresses us directly as his Alcoholics Anonymous group. We stagger with him through his Twelve Steps. We witness his appalling behaviour toward Zoya and the next lover, Virginia (Erin Dewar), a scrambled, recovering addict. We listen to the horror stories of his drunken escapades leaping from a roof or strangling a stranger. We observe the pious, psycho-babble that accompanies such recoveries.

Cowell’s writing is audacious, contemporary, hard-edged and fast-talking. The dialogue is well-observed, shifting from bold and funny to moving and sensitive. The structure follows Ruben’s recovery period, taking us along on his dizzying rollercoaster ride. The second half becomes a little unwieldy, with too many characters and some awkward, abstract scenes during Ruben’s relapse into booze.

However, the social observations are incisive, facing addiction in the affluent, commercial world rather than on a grimy street. Frederiksen is compelling as Ruben, managing to be both charming and repellent and a talented cast supports him.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Invisible Atom by Anthony Black *****

Invisible Atom by Anthony Black
By 2b Theatre Company
Where and When: Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre, Feb 4-13, 2011
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars:***** (Yes, 5!)

Invisible Atom is a testament to the power of the actor. For most of the hour, I sat gaping at Anthony Black’s exceptional skill and the inexorable narrative unfolding in his poignant, ironic human tragedy. It is an epic tale of a man’s journey from security toward an inevitable, personal calamity.

Black is alone on a small, elevated stage that he peoples with a parade of complex, credible characters. With taut direction by Ann-Marie Kerr, he uses classic theatrical devices to create his story.

Under a stark light, two walking fingers create a tiny, man-puppet; a metaphor for man’s insignificance in the universe.  He adroitly shifts characters in a blink by lowering or raising his spectacles, flicking his trench coat, tilting girlishly, changing accents, raising pitch or blurring vowels. It is consummate acting technique and delicious to behold.

The compelling Black self-narrates as Atom, a man drowning in an existential crisis. Atom was a successful stockbroker with an expensive house and car, a loving girlfriend and a young baby. After a bomb kills his colleagues he questions his life and begins his disastrous, downward spiral into despair.

This is not only splendid performance, but it has equally elegant, inspiring writing by Black. The production is atmospheric, hilarious, often distressing, but features gob-smackingly skilful acting.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Skin Tight, Feb 2, 2011 ***

Skin Tight 
By Gary Henderson, SaySIX Theatre and The Groundswell Division
Where and When: fortyfivedownstairs, until February 2 to 20, 2011
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Skin Tight is a fierce, emotional short play by New Zealand playwright, Gary Henderson, depicting a couple in a passionate, violent, sexually charged relationship. It has a visceral physicality making the stage a sexy and dangerous place.

It begins with a jolt; the young couple hurl themselves bodily at each other, falling to the ground, wrestling violently and erotically in piles of discarded clothing.

The play is like a time a capsule of the relationship between Tom (Michael Whalley) and Elizabeth (Holly Shanahan). They drag up memories, make confessions, taunt and tease, attacking physically and verbally and even using knifeplay in a disturbing scene. Their passionate physicality is underscored by crackling, 1940s gramaphone music and percussive, electronic sound (Jared Lewis).

The past collides with the present and the future is dimly ominous. Henderson’s writing cunningly misdirects us to make assumptions about the couple’s relationship, circumstances and particularly about their age. They look young but slowly we discern the truth.

In this production, directed by Justin Martin with choreography by Tom Hodgson, the balance between dialogue and physicality is unstable. Whalley and Shanahan give committed, impassioned performances but their physicality feels disconnected from the dialogue. Their emotional detail is much clearer in the choreographed scenes than the spoken.

Henderson’s script craves more nuanced performances, more detailed characterisation and layering of pain with pleasure, youth with maturity. However, this production goes some way in exploring the pain, longing, passion and underlying despair of Tom and Elizabeth.

By Kate Herbert