Frankenstein in Love

The Monash University Student Theatre production of Frankenstein in Love, performed for the Melbourne Fringe at Collingwood Underground Carpark, is an ambitious, visually strong, yet ultimately uneven horror story that misses its mark when it comes to the plot in a manner that distracts from its potential.

The play – an early work by writer and filmmaker Clive Barker (The Books of Blood, Hellraiser) – takes place in a Central American country in the midst of a coup led by the mysterious El Coco (Benjamin Marshall). It is quickly discovered that under the previous dictatorship, an exiled European doctor, Josef Frankenstein (Thomas Middleditch) has been allowed to carry out human experiments on enemies of the people. Now the maimed and monstrous survivors of the doctor’s experiments, including El Coco himself, are after revenge.

The play’s use of visual elements is very strong, with the chorus painted in make-up reminiscent of Mexico’s Day of the Dead, and the gore being actually gory, with ripped out hearts and flayed characters shouting for revenge being run of the mill events in this unapologetically lurid play. The lighting is also, for the most part, effective and seamless, working well with the use the actors make of the underground venue: slowly creeping out of the dark, the audience seeing them before the other characters do. With all of these elements in play, it was curious that the delivery of the text was decidedly un-camp, with the exception of Tegan Harrod’s Lazaro, who nailed her Igor/Renfield-like character with a great mix of physical performance and vicious buffoonery.

I would have understood the choice of a serious portrayal of all of these elements, had the potentially strong thematic content of the script been explored. At a time when Central America seems to be tearing itself apart, at a time when torture and body horror is the norm for both filmmakers and government superpowers, at a time when fresh batches of war criminals continue to be unearthed from conflicts that ended not so long ago, it seemed a shame that none of these modern anxieties were used to lend a helping hand to the production in any consistent way.

Ultimately, a choice had to be made on what everyone was to run with. Uttering thematic elements as tokenisms is not the same as a thorough and thoughtful exploration of them. Auschwitz, coups, human experimentation, all within an unstable Central American government; so many strong ideas were circulating under the surface of the script. A utilisation of the elements of horror, coupled with some reference to the sociological anxiety or disruption in which most horror stories are contextualised when they are written, was obvious in its absence in this production.

Rating: Two and a half stars

Monash Uni Student Theatre present
Frankenstein in Love
By Clive Barker
Directed by Emma Palackic and Sophie Phillips
Production Design: Sophie Phillips
Lighting Design: Jason Lehane
Sound design/Composition: Ross Unger
Cast: Benjamin Marshall, Alexanda Wynne, Rosie Noone, Joel Skurrie, Thomas Middleditch, Tegan Harrod, Josh Karlik, Nick Fry, James jackson, Henry Brooks and Isobel Roberts-Orr

Collingwood Underground Car Park
September 16 – 17 and 19 – 25 

Melbourne Fringe Festival
September 21 – October 9

See the original post here: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/frankenstein-in-love-185671

Gwen in Purgatory

Gwen is ninety. Recently moved out of the now for sale family home, she is newly ensconced in a remote, newly built condo, complete with fan forced ovens and air conditioners, corresponding remote controls and maddening instruction manuals.

Set in real time, members of her family seemingly happen along on the now frail matriarch, carrying out a disingenuous performance of having her best interests at heart. Daniel, her grandson, is protective, unanchored by the loss of his mother to ambiguous circumstances. He has been brought up by his family, in particular his fussy Aunt Peg (referred to as ‘mum’) in a functional, yet ultimately inadequate way.

Peg herself seems to have fallen victim to ‘only responsible daughter’ syndrome, frustrated by the expectations of the family for her to take on the figure of ‘carer’, whilst simultaneously trying to embrace her independence before it is too late. Peg’s brother Laurie is the failed male figure of the family, an ineffective and selfish businessman, but as the sole remaining son he has been given the role of the patriarch, a position where he is completely out of his depth.

Observing the goings on is Father Ezekiel, a newly ordained Nigerian priest, well meaning but alienated from the interactions of this family, his goal throughout the play to sign off on blessing the new house and get to the local library so he can Skype his family. You hate to use the word ‘innocent’ when describing his character, but in many ways that is how he is written, or rather is used to further push the idea that this family, with their flapping dance around Gwen, is completely oblivious to the ways in which their attempts to care for each other actually inflict great pain.

Tommy Murphy has touched on these themes of family before in his 2005 play Strangers In Between. In that play the gay main character Shane has escaped his rural NSW home town after a beating from his brother, a trope that is both activated and subverted within the text. That lack of clear judgement is emphasised by an almost complete absence of stage directions save entrances and exits. In reading the text it means that you find yourself reading it too fast, too quickly jumping between the characters, but it is an exciting prospect for the interpretation of this play by anyone producing it. This ambiguity in the characters’ intentions can be coloured and emphasised as it fits that particular production, and in a reading of the text on an academic level, it can achieve much of the same.

In Gwen in Purgatory, as the foibles of the seemingly caring characters emerge in the text, you find yourself searching for someone to blame, a bad guy. You search for an overarching comment on the treatment of the elderly in society. Tommy Murphy, and by extension the characters refuse that, the play emphasising the inherent brutality of being human, of the need to serve yourself before others. Laurie and Peg are no more guilty than Gwen of damaging the ones closest to them through ‘trying to do the best for them’. It is an ugly truth, but one that draws humour, and a sense of humanness into the text.

Published

Tommy Murphy

Currency Press | 978-0-86819-894-1 | PB

$21.95 inc GST

Original Article: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/publishing-and-writing/gwen-in-purgatory-183060?sc=1

We are Doing Well

I’d heard a lot of good things about prolific theatre group Forty Forty Home, which unfortunately may have raised my expectations to unfair levels going into We Are Doing Well, their Melbourne Fringe Festival production. A production heavily relying on preconceived signs and signifiers, a sympathy towards the glitch aesthetic and an assumption of collective left wing groupthink meant that the production, while not bad, didn’t leave itself to actually say anything despite its myriad of intentions.

We Are Doing Well starts with Mel, your typical current affairs, Naomi Robson-esque newsreader having a meltdown on air. Horrified and embarrassed, she flees the studio only to come across a room that she’d never noticed before, inhabited by Jen, an ambiguous figure from television’s past, and a beach ball called Helvetica. Both are soaking up the rays of a videotaped tropical island paradise.

Jen invites Mel to stay, brings the beach ball and an apricot Danish to life, and all try to explore the nature of modern news reporting. Ideas about regret surface, the impact of lies. Part of the problem however, was that I knew what the subtext was going to be because I read the program. The actual execution of said subtext wore itself a bit thin on the ground, turning the actual play into a bit of a one note song, its padding out with the use of surrealism only effective to a point.

The surrealism was a big sticking point for me, especially since the presence of a newsreader, filled with regret at misreporting a story of neglect, has a tremendous amount of weight to it. You don’t write a play with a character, or more aptly, a symbol like that without doing something with it. Mel, however, spends most of the play in an ineloquent freeze-frame, only articulating the aforementioned feelings of shame and regret in the final moments in the piece. This leaves the audience wondering what her unarticulated angst means for most of the play, although it seems we’re supposed to know the source, that ‘current affairs newsreader’ automatically signifies ‘bottom feeding story fabricator’. Yes, that is true, that is what the majority of the people in the room probably did see in Mel’s character, but you either wanted that thought expressed in the text or, if a mutual assumption has already been made about them, an extension of the thought beyond that. Neither was achieved. Instead, when any headway was made, a segue to the beach ball coming to life or a surf rock dance would happen instead, manufactured whimsy which is often hard to nail.

The video projection, reminiscent of the website Everything is Terrible, had a homemade twinge to it. The vision stuttered, the sound pitched; a reminder that this island paradise is not real, is impermanent. Then there is the content, the newsreader and the morning show host. Their main conflict is guilt, the narcissistic realisation that one’s life has been created out of lies, that the other’s has been created out of a dissatisfaction with their chosen career. The job has become boring. I feel like I’m lying to my kids. I am unhappy. The only solution is to escape into a fabricated world. But even there you are not safe.

All these ideas have resonance, but without the emotional attachment to the characters, it’s hard to bring yourself to care whether they leave the room or not (another big sticking point, Mel continues to complain that she wants to leave, but doesn’t, even though there is nothing stopping her, physically or emotionally). I wanted more from this production than what it gave its audience, and I think Forty Forty Home are capable of a lot more.

Forty Forty Home present We Are Doing Well at Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall. Season concluded.

Written by Ella McDonald and Erin Kelly

Directed by Anne-Louise Sarks

Melbourne Fringe Festival, September 22 – October 10

Original Post: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/we-are-doing-well-182580?sc=1

The Divine Cabaret

Neil Hannon and The Divine Comedy remind me of that peculiar time in the Eighties when a musician could meld together any series of genre-bending ideas and quite easily cast them into the welcoming arms of any number of eager listeners. One only has to think of Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman (For Massenet)’ – a song that is both brilliant and, if you are driving, makes you want to crash into the nearest brick wall by the seventh minute – which, in 1981, spent a week at number two in the British charts.

The Divine Comedy were and are a strange little band that wrote songs about public transport, bondage loving knighted public officials and gin soaked boys, and it’s this storytelling element that imbues the Melbourne Fringe show The Divine Cabaret.

Geraldine Quinn, Mark Jones and Karlis Zaid belt out a striking tribute to the group, but the beauty of the show is that the three singers, as well as the magnificent backing band are such consummate musicians in themselves that you don’t need to have a lick of an idea who the Divine Comedy are. I barely did, save for a few cheeky downloaded tracks so I could pretend to know what I was talking about.

The sense of Hannon’s original vocal style easily translates to the live, cabaret tinged performance that is given by Quinn, Jones and Zaid. Jones is also on keys, but the three vocalists beautifully spot each other’s solos with great harmonising. There wasn’t an off note in the evening, something that is usually expected with any performance.

There is an attempt by the three to construct a narrative, woven between the songs, coupled with a peculiar sense of humour that you can guess has been inspired by Neil Hannon, sometimes making you wish you understood the joke a little better. At the end of songs you find yourself trying to concentrate on the frenetic storytelling coming from one of the singers before you finally realise the reason it’s so hard to focus – the other performers have also launched into a barrage of noise at the audience, so that the stage is transformed into a chaotic storytelling battle, rattling along, descending into confident silliness. I liked the slow burn of it; it’s unexpectedness.

And gosh could the singers really wail. It especially came out when Geraldine Quinn sang ‘Thrillseeker’, with the other singers hanging back, happy to harmonise as she took over the stage, always on the edge of really physically thrashing about. Karlis Zaid was more self-contained, his gaze outward as at a target, especially when recounting the sexual dalliances of an unnamed knighted public servant (excuse me if I’m not sure of the name of the song, it felt weird to try and steal a set list). Mark Jones only once ventured out from behind his keyboard to tell a spoken word tale of what was lurking in his woodshed, other times approaching his singing with a more casual air that belied the intensity of his vocals.

This was a show of seemingly effortless musicianship that had a startling and vivid air, and a damn good, if subtle, sense of humour too.

The Divine Cabaret at Trades Hall, season concluded.

Melbourne Fringe Festival, September 22 – October 10

http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/the-divine-cabaret-182490?sc=1

Under Milk Wood

To begin at the beginning. How can it be that a single actor could even come up with such a brilliant but mad as hell idea: a one woman version of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, his 1953 radio play that features over 60 characters? Sixty of them! A play that was penned by the beautiful, damned, chauvinistic Welshman, encapsulating all that he loved and loathed about his countrymen; the sniping, the singing, and, of course the drinking; and all of it is brilliantly realised by Zoe Norton Lodge in this brilliant, and in many ways inexplicable, performance.

The play is set in a small Welsh village called Llareggub (‘Bugger All’ spelt backwards, an in-joke Thomas spent most of his life trying to slip in somewhere) from a predawn morning to the closing of the day. It consists of snatches of conversations, the solitary thoughts of the lonely and nostalgic, the young and old, and even the dead. It is not a slice of life kind of play – there’s too much magical, dense and grandiose language going on, especially from the narrator: “There’s the clip clop of horses on the sunhoneyed cobbles/of the humming streets, hammering of horse- shoes, gobble/quack and cackle, tomtit twitter from the bird-ounced/boughs, braying on Donkey Down.”

Bambina Borracha Productions – specifically their set designer, Natalie Hughes – have chosen a very simple set that can be easily transformed through the various props and guises available, underpinned by a multimedia backdrop (designed by director Vanessa Hughes) that adds colour to those sections of the play that require more than one voice at a time. A sheet hung up to dry on the washing line can become a shawl on Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard, or a bundled up baby for Polly Garter, while the sound of drying washing whips in the wind.

Thomas originally wrote the play for radio, and it has since been adapted and mounted for theatre and film. This is what makes it so interesting to translate to a visual medium. You can’t have 60 actors traipsing about the stage, so it makes sense to put it on as a one person show, cut out the stress of elevating the importance of one character over the other. Even so, the thought, the precise detail that has gone into this production is amazing; you can see the exertion on the face of Norton Lodge, but it doesn’t affect one’s enjoyment of the performance one jot; in fact it enhances it. If we had been subject to such a flawless performance without the actor showing any sign of physical strain and concentration, it would have made the play less human, less engaging. As well as being taken in by the story, the audience found itself as if watching a marathon runner, egging her on to the finish line, but watching the grace of her movements on the way. Oh, and the Welsh accent? Fantastic. Watch this while you can.

Bambina Borracha Productions present Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas, at Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall until October 9 

Directed by Vanessa Hughes, performed by Zoe Norton Lodge, set design by Natalie Hughes

Melbourne Fringe Festival, September 22 – October 10

Original Post: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/under-milk-wood-182445?sc=1

She’s Not Performing

Margarite’s demons are catching up with her. A woman in her early 40’s with the energy to drink and dance the night away with a boyfriend who, while not that much younger than her, she treats like a refreshing boy toy, there’s something eating away at her that twists her joyful dancing into a frenetic sway. The stage at La Mama has been transformed into a gentlemen’s club, and it’s there, late at night with her boyfriend, Iain (Mike McEvoy), drunkenly watching the dancers, that Margarite’s (Andrea Close) memory is triggered. Twenty five years before, while still a schoolgirl, she gave birth, adopting the baby out straight after. She’s Not Performing portrays a segment, an impression of Margarite’s pain as she remembers her daughter, who should now be twenty five, and decides to search for her. As she slowly reconnects with the father of the child, Hamish (Christopher Bunworth), and increasingly alienates Iain, she finds herself drawn to the dancer she saw on that first night at the men’s club, a dancer, Annie (Rachel Purchase) who bears an uncanny resemblance to Margarite’s younger self. The character of Margarite is a bit refreshing; at the age of forty two she has not aged gracefully, and still messily navigates her way through the space. The dissonance in her character is a relief, but the relation of her character to the storyline is not. The subject matter of adoption is always going to be fraught, but She’s Not Performing is disturbing not because of its subject matter, but because of the inherently narcissistic motivations of the older characters. This would be an interesting bent if this narcissism was not also portrayed as heroic, moral and meaningful. Margarite is messed up because of the way society has moulded her into a type, a slut, and damaged goods. This, however, gives her the right to treat those around her as reflections and extensions of herself, characters, if you will, in her own psychodrama. This does well to create dramatic episodes, heighten the tension in a series of set pieces, but does nothing to make you sympathise with, or even like the main character. Margarite’s world is a vacuum, a slowly closing circle, with not even enough room for the idea that her daughter is a real person with her own agency. At no point does she speculate what sort of person her daughter might be. Instead she is thought of as an extension of Margarite, a reflection, demonstrated through the scenes she shares with the dancer in the strip club. She looks just like you. She is you. A handy metaphor for Margarite to confront her demons, to remonstrate against her fate using the figures of the ‘nice guy’ the ‘seemingly moral family man’ and ‘stripper’, to claw her way to some sort of peace and determination within herself in order to move forward. These are not, however, abstract characters. Rather they are people Margarite projects her anger and confusion onto. Demeaning her boyfriend, having flagrant disregard for the feelings and welfare of the dancer she ‘befriends’, Margarite’s hell is extended to anyone whose life she touches, especially for those who care for her. The peace she comes to towards the end of the play is at the cost of everyone around her, a note you feel is supposed to be poignant and determined, but left me feeling frustrated at the obsessive use of possessive nouns around an abstract figure, a daughter that is decided upon as Margarite’s salvation, whether she wants it or not.

She’s Not Performing at LA MAMA THEATRE A Doll and Soulart Production A New Play bby Alison Mann (Winner Melbourne Dramatist’s Emerging Playwrights’ Award 2008) Directed by Kelly Somes With Christopher Bunworth, Andrea Close, Mike McEvoy, Rachel Purchase August 18 – September 5

see original post: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/shes-not-performing-182160?sc=1

The Return

Two angry yobs board the last train to Fremantle. The small and ratty Trev, contrasting with the grandiose and muscular Steve, find the perfect foil to their boredom when Lisa, a young law student, boards the train, swinging wildly between charm and outright threatening behaviour towards her. When another two characters, the initially introverted ‘writer’ and Maureen, a put-upon housewife, enter the scene, the play heads towards an overly convoluted climax.

The original insular and potentially explosive concept of the play, that of the train carriage at night, is sound. Unfortunately this underlying idea of a concept-driven set piece is the rule, rather than the exception to the play, with each of the characters remaining just that: types, vessels driving a script based in the narcissistic sense of shame the author, Reg Cribb, has drawn from a real-life experience of his own on the trains of suburban Perth.

Apparently, again according to the writer’s notes, he witnessed two yobs, thugs, name them what you will, harass and threaten a young woman on a train in a carriage full of passengers who failed to intervene. The writer’s guilt from not helping this woman in the first instance, and in taking the story of her trauma and making a play out of it in the second, can be an understandable point of artistic conflict. The proceeding half conceived attempts to salve these feelings of guilt are not. The ‘writer’ character transforms from the mute observer, to the Machiavellian, middle class artist, to unbalanced vigilante in a manner of minutes towards the end of the play, derailing any meaningful study of the variety of reactions human beings have towards aggression, vulnerability and peril. None of the characters are allowed either a picture of incompleteness or an ambiguous moral subtext. Each are driven by idealised concepts of love, passion, or revenge, unless of course the character is female, in which case their oblique and patronising motivations seem to be that they… well, had nothing better to do.

The central concept that the writer wants to explore is that of a disaffected masculinity, a manhood no longer in need. That is why everyone is drunk and stoned and violent, why this incident happened, because of a disaffected manhood. It is how the character of Lisa became a “battle scarred victim” to quote Cribb. It’s not that I don’t buy the argument; it certainly has resonance from when it was brought up in the post World War Two era. Then the post Vietnam era. Then the post Buffy era. But this play would only warrant further argument if it wasn’t for the presence of that pesky ‘writer’ character. His character is superfluous and as incoherent as Steve’s movement between being a swearin’ bogan and then completely changing the modulations of his dialogue to talk about Verdi. It’s not that a thug is incapable of talking about Verdi, just that the writer has an obvious expectation that you’re only capable of talking about him if you do so in a grandiloquent fashion. In the end we’re left with male characters, their heads in their hands, wondering where it all went wrong. Meanwhile the female characters are put down as they are picked up, useful objects to help the story unfold or for the men to identify with. Maureen isn’t a woman with slowly dwindling choices, she is the older lady who reminds Trev and Steve of their mum. Lisa is a woman to be threatened and rescued in equal measure, her only agency is that of disappearing once she is of no more use to the story.

The makers of the play, therefore, are left with an ensemble of characters whose only sure shot is of the protracted scream of rage and despair. The set is striking and gives a lot of scope for theatrical and physical manipulation of the confined tableau, but in such a confined space the air isn’t given to the characters to create a rhythmic rise and fall of tension, with a tendency to fall back on a level of projection which isn’t really warranted in the confined space of the Old Council Chambers. Unfortunately the effect of the stagecraft was lost on a script that lacked any coherent resonance, a clumsy stab at gender politics that is incapable of disentangling itself from the author’s own wish fulfilment.

TaDaa Productions present

The Return

written by Reg Cribb
directed by Andrew Gray
featuring Katy Brinson, Brendan McCallum, James Taylor, Emily Thomas and Anthony Winnick

The Return is a journey about everyday people on the last metropolitan train to Fremantle.
It will bring laughter, fear, threat and deceit … these stories may offend – please try not to judge.

Dates:
Preview: Wednesday, 2 May 2010 at 8.00pm
Season: 3 – 19 June 2010 (Tuesday – Saturday at 8.00pm)

Venue:
Trades Hall – Old Council Chambers
corner of Lygon Street and Victoria Street, Carlton

Tickets:
$28 Adult
$20 Concession

Bookings > Bella Union:
03 9650 5699
Or online

Original Post: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/the-return-181453?sc=1