No-nonsense Reviews 2007

Dimboola directed by Justyn Rowe for Encore Theatre Company Potato Shed, Drysdale December 6 2007
This was a big, well-staged production of Australia's favourite cringe-making Ocker play.
For the uninitiated, Dimboola, the play, takes the form of an Australian country wedding with the audience becoming 'guests' at a reception that includes every ugly Aussie scene imaginable, from underlying family feuds to religious spats, gatecrashers and boorish drunks.
The Potato Shed venue was thoughtfully converted for this purpose with the bridal table highly visible on a raised platform along one entire wall, while selected family members and interlopers were seated at tables between the platform and audience 'guests' who were also seated at tables.
The scene was set before the production began, with a couple of overbearing louts, (Nick Frcek and Slavco Zwirn) - later to become gatecrashers - outside abusing 'guests' before their arrival, while 'family members' mingled with guests in the foyer , showing them to their seats to be entertained by a very competent musical group led by 'Lionel Driftwood' (Colin Mack). The latter parts of this audience acclimatization worked well, but the former not at all, mainly due to a distinct lack of relevant or humorous repartee from the gatecrashers. The pair's loud and repeated taunts of "Where's yer permit?" were simply bewildering to most 'guest' audience members.
The same one-line taunt was boorishly repeated again and again once the pair had 'gatecrashed' the event, usually to fill the many gaps and pauses in dialogue from the bridal table and beyond.
For its part the wedding party displayed a remarkable range of acting ability. Notable were Shane James and Rob Macleod as the feuding fathers of a mismatched bride & groom, Trish Redman, who made her maid of honour into a lovable flirt, and Justyn Rowe who played an impossibly tipsy uncle of the groom. The various degrees of acting drunken behaviour became a feature of this production, it was displayed by almost of the support cast, from priest Bob Ball collapsing into the cake to best man Chris Young's rambling indiscreet - and pretty much incoherent- speech to groom Troy Wilson's mute staggering through to 'crusty old maid' Susana Nicholls literally letting her hair down once liquor was applied. Supporting these caricatures (again, quite literally) were bride Claire Hamilton, her mother Lee Foyster, and in-laws Melissa Harvey, Becci Valentine and Samantha Clark. Geoff Sadler played a hapless blow-in reporter.
The ETC is a new company with a good deal of ambition, plenty of ability - and much to learn. All were displayed by this production, where just a couple of lighter touches would have so much benefited what became essentially a drawn-out series of relentlessly loud and ill-mannered over-the-top caricatures.

- Colin Mockett

Arsenic & Old Lace directed by Maryanne Doolan for Torquay Theatre Troupe,Torquay Seniors Centre, 30 Nov 2007
Every theatre company has its own unique atmosphere, made up from the sum qualities of performance combined with the 'feel' of its theatre. With TTT that atmosphere can be capsulated in one three-letter word. Joy.
This begins with the front-of-house staff, who, though clearly inexperienced, almost radiate a sense of 'Hey, look at what we've achieved just by being here.'
And that joyful feeling is transmitted through to the audience, who appear so happy and proud to have a good local theatre company - even if it does have to borrow a performance space from the local seniors club.
That was not all the company borrowed for this production. The programme thanks Geelong Rep, Peninsula Players and Lyric Theatre Co for loans of costume, props and equipment - and that could also extend to the borrowing of a couple of actors, too.
And these will all be returned, I'm sure, having been subject to that special brand of Torquay enjoyment. Because the font of TTTs happiness is its on-stage crew. The cast of this production was so clearly having a good time that their elation radiated almost visibly from the production area.
I say 'production area' because there was no formal stage - the awkward-shaped room was divided lengthwise with the audience taking half while the cast worked on a large set cleverly fashioned to incorporate the room's foibles.
Making most use of this space was Michael Baker in the lead role of Mortimer Brewster. He bounded scurried, scampered and leapt around the set in a frenzied panic throughout - after all, he had just learned that his maiden aunts were misguided mass murderers. In total contrast, Terry Roseburgh and Carleen Thoerberg played the aunts as ultra-gentle sweet innocents, their calm courtesy adding weight to Michael's flat-out panic. As an added foil, their brother and Mortimer's uncle Teddy was a lovable lunatic convinced that he was president Roosevelt - and so adeptly and sympathetically portrayed by Michael Lambkin.
But then entered the villain, in the form of Mortimer's nasty criminal brother Jonathan, played with wicked relish by Barry Eeles. Barry and his degenerate sidekick Dr Einstein (Bryan Eaton) were both 'borrowed' actors, imported from Geelong companies. They had clearly caught the TTT joy, and simply wallowed delightfully in their villainy. Somewhere in the resulting mayhem were slotted Mortimer's fiancé Elaine, whose bewilderment was neatly portrayed by Lisa Berry, and a trio of sympathetic but dumb cops in Martin Duke, Kevin Fitzpatrick and Fred Preston. Her father and their Lieutenant were ably portrayed -in dual roles - by another highly capable import in Bruce Murray. Sterling support came from Marie Darby and Robert Roseburgh - and also the tech, backstage and pre-production crews, whose fine input gave the whole production its authentic 1940s feel, with suits, hats, dresses and hairstyles all suitably in keeping.
At base, Arsenic & Old Lace is an absurd farce, and a dated one at that. But it is remarkably well written and crafted, so that when performed adeptly - as it was this time - then the play's humour easily transcends its outdated vintage character.
And then we got a bonus - in all that Torquay joy.
- Colin Mockett


Educating Rita Directed by Stacey Baldwin for Geelong Repertory Theatre Company Woodbin Theatre November 29, 2007
This was a perfect play for Rep's intimate Woodbin theatre space, with a cast of two and a single unchanging set. And the company made a very good job of it.
Willy Russell's thoughtful, intelligent, study of the dynamics of a spring/autumn, have/have not, U/nonU relationship was presented on an excellent authentic-looking set under the control of an enthusiastic young director.
Director Stacey Baldwin admitted in the programme that she hadn't seen the play before being asked to handle it, but 'fell in love with it' having read the script.
This was evident in her steady, sure direction and stimulating casting.
It's no secret that seasoned Geelong actor Colin Urquhart has long coveted the part of Frank. He's a perfect fit for the jaded middle-aged university professor - and he clearly relished this opportunity, revelling in every choice line.
Colin possesses a powerful stage presence that can sometimes be a problem to directors - he can easily overwhelm lesser talents on stage. But not in this case.
That's because for the key part of Rita, Stacey chose relative newcomer Charlotte Hukvari, who has plenty going for her. She's tall, slim, young and bright. She has a brilliant smile and striking, model-girl good looks. She possesses excellent acting skills and a stage presence that's every bit as commanding as Colin's.
The pair worked well on stage together, and both had clearly laboured long and hard on their hefty scripts - they were on stage virtually throughout a long 2 ½ hour play with dozens of scene changes, yet were word, movement - and costume change - perfect.
And such is the quality of Russell's script, that's all was needed to do to produce a memorable evening's theatre.
On the downside, Stacey's full-on direction lacked subtlety, allowing some dramatic and humorous opportunities to be overlooked - and Charlotte's English north-country accent, though entirely consistent throughout, was at not altogether exact. Imagine Julia Zemiro impersonating John So and you'll have an approximation. But having tuned in and overcome the mangled language, we audience were able to enjoy two fine actors in a very good production of an excellent play.
And as a bonus, with Stacey and Charlotte, Geelong can anticipate two emerging new theatre talents packed with potential.
 - Colin Mockett


Construction of the Human Heart Directed by Brett Adam for Keep Breathing Productions Potato Shed November 22, 2007
Given playwright Ross Mueller's history of writing radio plays, this at first appeared to be a live on stage play reading. The two actors were seated square-on to the audience, reading their scripts. The set was two chairs on a bare stage.
But this first impression was deceiving. They were, in fact, reading a first-draft script they had written, and the set wasn't bare, it was minimalist - allowing the most subtle of nuances to become magnified without distraction.
And this look behind the obvious element, almost 'what-you-see-isn't-what-you-get'
was carried into the script. Far from being a straight radio play about a journey with a child in a car, as first heard, the story became a study of grieving, then evolved into exploration of close relationships - then an almost therapeutic examination of the break-up of a partnership.
In short, this was a fascinating play on a number of levels that was both thought-provoking and absorbing. And this was all achieved inside 70 minutes in a single act.
It's small wonder that Construction of the Human Heart is held as an excellent example of modern theatre.
This was a small, portable production that had just about everything. This started with highly insightful writing - from Geelong's Ross Mueller; it then had tight, clever direction that never interfered with the play's flow- from Brett Adam - and it then gave its the two actors the opportunity to display exceptional up-close and personal skills. This was taken up with relish by Maria Theodorakis and Todd MacDonald. Add some spot-on sound and lighting cues from Casey Bennetto and Rob Irwin and the result was, simply, an excellent and memorable evening of theatre.
Please Keep Breathing more.
- Colin Mockett

Key For Two directed by Dennis King for Peninsula Players Drysdale Hall November 15 2007
Breathing new life into dated English farce is a specialty down Drysdale way. The town's Peninsula Players - and in particular director Dennis King - can weave spells over audiences so that their belief is suitably and thoroughly suspended within five minutes of the houselights dimming.
That was certainly the case with this play, written in 1983 by John Chapman and Dave Freeman. It was set in a different place and a different era - England, pre AIDS, pre-mobile phones and still relishing post-pill sexual freedoms. At that time and place, promiscuity was a hoot - if you could get away with it. And the contrivance of finding ways to get away with it was the basic plot of Key for Two.
The single-joke plotline had separated wife Harriet living in comfortable relationships with two married men, both of whom are cheating on their wives and each unaware of each others existence. But this cosy arrangement went haywire when a sexy female friend - also separated - turns up to stay, the two lovers arrive at the same time - followed by their wives and the newcomer's drunk husband. Stir in a mythical mother, a broken leg and crook back, gallons of vodka and brandy and. believe it or not. you had a night of riotous laughter.
It shouldn't have happened, I know. We should have seen through all the obvious moves with 'Oh that couldn't or wouldn't really occur.' and scoffed with 21st century scorn. But we chose not to. That's the PP's secret spell at work. Instead, we laughed at all the ridiculous antics, then laughed again as our credibility was stretched way, way beyond belief.
Much of this was due to the on-stage cast playing every move straight down the line. Meryl Friend played Harriet with a knowing mix of sly smiles and twinkling innuendoes while Lena Townsend made the most waspish vamp of a friend. As for the two husband/lovers, Russell Perry made his a jovial bumbling fool while Paul Friend was more knowing, but still so easily hoodwinked. Shane James was a perfect shambling drunk while Bodil Wright and Lee Foyster played the two wronged wives as upright, straight-laced - and totally humourless. Dennis King's direction kept the pace cracking along - but probably the biggest contribution to the evening's fun was simply the Players' reputation. We knew what we were watching had absolutely no relationship to reality - so we were able to laugh long and loud at the absurdity of it all.
And everyone had a happy, fun - and delightfully refreshing - evening.
- Colin Mockett