At the Melbourne Comedy Festival

Issue 

Faith, Hope and Psychotherapy
Written and performed by Liz Sadler
Directed by Kirsten von Bibra
Courthouse Theatre, Carlton, until April 19
Mistress
Written by Tobsha Learner
Performed by Michele Williams
Directed by Rose Clemente
Anthill Theatre, South Melbourne, until April 19
Reviewed by Bronwen Beechey

An interesting and positive feature of the Melbourne Comedy Festival is the number of performances and shows by women, including a number of one-woman shows.

Faith, Hope and Psychotherapy is a comic look at New Age philosophy and the personal development industry. Liz Sadler very ably plays seven different characters representing both the seekers after truth and enlightenment and those who claim to help them. They include Guru Swami Peanutbutter (direct from his ashram in Balwyn), money-making motivator Carol Cashflow, Narrelle who leaves Kinira to find herself and ends up breaking two hands with one brick, and her boyfriend Trevor, trying to find the wild man within.

While Sadler takes hilarious potshots at the excesses of the New Age industry, she also acknowledges the need for many people in a confusing and alienating society to find meaning in their lives. This is brought out particularly well by her Guru character, who among the mystical nonsense and jargon occasionally utters comments of surprising common sense.

Particularly outstanding is Sadler's portrayal of a Taoist sex practitioner, which involves a certain amount of audience participation and had the audience in hysterics.

Mistress also takes a few shots at the New Age industry, but this is only one of a number of issues raised in a fairly complex and dense script.

Michele Williams plays three women linked by one man — Richard Cunningham, a Channel 10 newsreader. Richard's wife, Diana, is a Toorak socialite whose life is thrown into turmoil when she discovers that Richard is having an affair. Realising that she has submerged her whole identity in marriage and the round of parties and charity launches, she embarks on a course of meditation, rebirthing and primal screaming.

Helen, the mistress of the title, is a young woman from a working-class background who has risen to the position of floor manager at Channel 10 through her looks and intelligence. Fired from her job when she and Richard are caught bonking in the broom cupboard, she maintains her expensive lifestyle by working as a telephone sex operator, and waits for Richard to leave his wife and "pop the big one".

The third character, Aphrodite, is a young woman from a Greek family who is the girlfriend of Richard and Diana's rebellious son, Damian. Very much aware of the class and cultural differences between herself and Damian, Aphrodite agonises over whether to lose her d that she will be rejected if she does.

The plot is a series of hilarious incidents involving New Age therapy, an amateur production of Hamlet, a Greek engagement party and blackmail with compromising photographs.

Early in the production I felt apprehensive that the characters were somewhat stereotyped, and certainly the character of Aphrodite came perilously close to Acropolis Now's Effie at times. However, Learner's script and Williams' performance bring depth and life to the three women. I can also guarantee that anyone seeing this play will never see male TV newsreaders in quite the same way again.

The Bridal Suite
By Barry Dickins
Performed by Elizabeth Westmore
Directed by Cheryl Ballantine
Budinski's Theatre of Exile, Fitzroy, until April 18
Reviewed by Andrea Bunting

Reminiscent of Miss Havesham in Dickens' Great Expectations, Vera Smith, tattered and dirty in her wedding dress, delivers a tragic yet comic series of recollections about her life.

The Bridal Suite is a one-woman show set in an old fruit picker's hut out on the track in New South Wales. Vera's monologue alternates between the past, the present and what she wishes her life might be in the future.

In the present, she is an eccentric and often outrageous middle-aged woman resorting to drink to cope with her lonely existence. Her memories of the past are fixed on her former husband Jack. We relive their big country wedding, and the tragic truck accident that took his life. Vera's hope for the future is to live in Sydney, to get her own flat, to have friends, to escape from her wretched life.

Elizabeth Westmore gives an outstanding performance, drawing the audience into Vera's world, eliciting both compassion and a sense of sorrow at what her life has become.