Reviews

Woman and maid

A Woman of Many Parts

By Erin Handley.

Published by Barcelona Metropolitan on 27 June 2013.

A Woman of Many Parts, the latest project from playwright and director Hunter Tremayne, generously lathers intrigue upon plot twists. It’s a humorous and daring piece of theatre that throws bizarre characters together and doesn’t shy away from absurdity. Read article.

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Book cover of Courtney Collin's The Burial

Unearthing herstory: Courtney Collins’ The Burial

By Erin Handley.

Published by Crikey‘s literary blog, Liticism, on 27 February 2013.

“If the dirt could speak, whose story would it tell?”

In her debut novel The Burial, Courtney Collins supposes that the earth would favour the stories of those who are furthest from it, ‘the ones who are suspended in flight’. The dirt must long for these distant stories the way a child yearns for an absent mother. Collins chooses to literalise this longing; her fictional tale about the historical Jessie Hickman, Australia’s last bushranger, is told through the dead eyes of Jessie’s newborn child. Read article.

 

Melbourne Town Hall during the comedy festival

Celebrity Theatresports

By Erin Handley.

First published Monday 16 April 2012 in Farrago.

Theatresports is an oxymoron. The unholy union of ‘theatre’ and ‘sports’ is akin to the combination of milk and citrus—chocolate and orange, in theory, simply shouldn’t mix. But like Theatresports, it just works.

Celebrity Theatresports has been a comedy festival favourite for more than a decade. It’s a one-off show that pits comedians, actors and Theatresports Champions against each other in short scenes. The performance was set up like a game show, with sparkly-blazered Patrick Duffy as our host.

In Theatresports, teams of three or four players perform within a four-by-four metre taped square. Players cannot step outside this stage while improvising. Each team performed scenes which were given a score out of 15 by the judges Noni Hazlehurst, Kristy Best and Christof the clown.

There are different rules for each ‘event’. ‘Subtitles’ is a game where two players speak and act in Gobbledygook (nonsense language, not the official tongue of Gringotts’ goblins), while the two others ‘translate’. In ‘Swapsies’, whenever the host calls out ‘Swap!’, the players must rotate into different roles and continue the scene. Additionally, whenever the host calls out a certain accent, the actors must all adopt it. In another event, actors must replay the same scene multiple times, but tinged with a different emotion. There’s mime, ballet, opera and stories told one word at a time. All 100% improvised.

Because it’s all off-the-cuff, Celebrity Theatresports was always going to be a hit-and-miss performance. It’s both the beauty and the limitation of Theatresports—you’ll get some fairly average scenes, but you’ll also get never-to-be-repeated nuggets of comedy gold.

One golden moment was the slow-motion commentary of the thrilling activity ‘cleaning the trophy cabinet’— Michala Banas was hilarious as she applied her tongue to the task. I was impressed by the players who managed to compose and sing rhyming lyrics on the spot, as well as the keyboardist’s seamless accompaniment. The audience was treated to a modern-day opera entitled ‘Charging My Phone’ (in which Nicola Parry was particularly brilliant) and a Kanye-style rap performance by Yoda (played by Rik Brown, with Scott Brennan using his hands for Yoda’s ears).

It was also amusing to watch Duffy bounce up and down, wondering if he should stop Rusty Berther mid-scene because he stepped over the taped line. That’s another paradox of Theatresports—you’re encouraged to think outside the square, yet never step beyond it.

 

Myriam Margolyes acting in front of Dickens portrait

One of Dickens’ Women

By Erin Handley.

First published Saturday 24 March 2012 in Farrago.

“I’ve had a passion for Dickens all my life. I learnt from him that literature is not peripheral to life; it is the stuff of life itself.” Miriam Margolyes spoke these words in her astounding one-woman performance of Dickens’ Women, which recently finished in Melbourne and will continue to tour Australia until May. The 2012 world tour aligns with Dickens’ 200th birthday.

Margolyes hardly needs to state her passion; it’s written all over her performance. She wrote Dickens’ Women with Sonia Fraser and performed it at the 1989 Edinburgh Festival. It’s impressive that after 23 years of rehearsing these characters, Margolyes still emits energy and sheer delight.

Dickens’ Women is a collection of monologues and dramatic readings that dramatise 23 different characters (only three of them male). Miriam Margolyes (as herself) strings the pieces together by sharing her knowledge of Dickens and drawing connections between the women in his life and the women of his novels. Centering a performance on the women in Dickens’ novels was ambitious. Many consider Dickens a male chauvinist who could not depict a believable, three-dimensional female character. The format ofDickens’ Women works because it shows Dickens’ fictional women in the context of his reality, and it displays his breadth of female characters, rather than a single character’s depth (or lack thereof).

This format also showcased Margolyes’ talent. She has a face so expressive she can immediately flick from one character to another. She could convincingly portray the idea of a 17-year-old with her voice alone. At 70 years of age, this is no mean feat. It’s clear that Margolyes relished performing Dickens’ marginal characters—they are caricatured, humourous, even grotesque, and this makes for brilliant theatre.

Although I enjoyed it immensely, I knew there would be characters missing from Dickens’ Women. I would have liked to see the highly satirised Mrs Jellyby, but Dickens’ wrote over 20 novels and there are only so many characters one woman can play in two hours. I would have preferred to see the deranged Miss Havisham performed by Margolyes in monologue form, rather than read dramatically. But the only real disappointment of Dickens’ Women was that Nancy from Oliver Twist did not get dramatic treatment. She is a challenge to the idea that Dickens could not write a female character of emotional maturity, and Dickens was drawn to her. Towards the end of his life, Dickens performed many dramatic readings, and would read the exchange between Bill Sykes and Nancy with such intensity that his doctor ordered him to stop, for fear of his health. But Dickens could not. Oliver Twistwas also the first Dickens novel that Margolyes read, so it’s strange that Nancy was omitted.

However, I admired the way Margolyes brought peripheral characters into the spotlight. Her poignant portrayal of the lesbian Miss Wade from Little Dorritwas outstanding, as was her final monologue—a tender rendering of crazy Miss Flite from Bleak House. The lighting here was particularly effective; the spotlight slowly closing in around Margolyes’ face, showing the state of Miss Flite’s mind and creating a sense of entrapment.

Apart from these somber monologues, Margolyes had her audience laughing throughout the entire performance. The courtship scene between Mrs Corney and Mr Bumble from Oliver Twist was one such highlight; Margolyes impressively played both the smug beadle and the blushing woman in their affectionate ridiculousness.

Just as Dickens made these characters come alive for Margolyes, she did the same for her audience; she drew the women of Dickens out of the musty realm of Literature and into vivid theatricality.

 

Woman in ballet outfit

Repositioning Lolita: Martha Schabas’ Various Positions

By Erin Handley.

Published by Crikey‘s literary blog, Liticism, on 19 March 2012.

It’s difficult to know what position to take with Martha Schabas’ debut novel, Various Positions.  On one hand, the plot is fraught with clichés connected to ballet and to ‘coming of age’ plotlines. On the other, it’s an ambitious homage to Nabokov’s Lolita that questions the nature of truth and responsibility. Either way, Schabas’ prose is beautiful, detailed and engrossing, and Various Positions is worth reading for this alone. Read article.