18 May, 2007


Eagle's Nest Theatre Company

Northcote Town Hall is a wonderful community resource: a grand, 120-year-old building, providing a venue for local theatre productions in the small but adequate space out the back known as the West Wing. The theatre seats about 100 people on scaffolded seats, and is an intimate space – always an interesting setting for a production as grand in scale and premise as 'Hamlet'.

During the first scene one could be forgiven for thinking the cast would get through the play’s full four-hour breadth just by speaking very quickly. Happily though those nerves calmed and the abridged version ran at an intelligible pace.

Eagle’s Nest Theatre Company’s take on this greatest of tragedies portrays Hamlet as an intelligent, grieving prince. He is a step removed in mind, though not physicality, from those around him, watching on bemusedly as their lives progress so easily following the death of his father. Its creative director, James Adler, plays Hamlet, and brings erudition and introspection to the role. His classic Hamlet is nonetheless a modern man, grappling with morality and with the weight of power, borne of his royal status and the heaviness of the task of revenge. He is a generous figure, happy in the company of friends Horatio, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, but simultaneously persecuted, perceptibly longing for his allotted task to be removed by some force as ephemeral as the ghost who gave it to him.

Bruce Woolley’s Claudius is excellent: debauched, thoroughly modern in cream disco suit, and wracked with wine-fuelled remorse at his ‘rank offence’. His impassioned prayer soliloquy contrasts sharply with a lack of such an emotional display from Hamlet.

It is hard for women to shine in this play of masculine angst and revenge. Liz McColl, as Gertrude, is motherly in her concern for Hamlet’s madness and distracted by her lust for her new husband, but, as is perhaps expected in a 21st century production, she does not show obsequiousness to either of the powerful men in her life.

The whole play is performed around a set of two regal chairs, two stools, a raised platform that functions as both watch tower and stage, and a sideboard (oft-frequented by Claudius to top up his goblet). With discreet lighting throughout, a meaningful effect is created during Hamlet’s conversation with his father’s ghost: old Hamlet’s hands shadow his son’s face and body, at times to embrace, stroke or remonstrate. This is an effective visual analogy of his insubstantiality, echoing Horatio’s assertion of his existence: “these hands are not more like”.

The plays runs at about 2 hrs 45 mins, with a 20 minute interval (the venue serves its guests well with a satisfying bar of beer, soft drink and wine at $6 a glass, as well as free water, but not so well by selling chips, the consumption of which were a notable distraction during the performance). 'Hamlet' presents a difficulty in that its very length is part of the tension of Hamlet’s inaction, but it must be condensed for this forum. The soliloquies are reduced, and the battle with Poland is not surprisingly absent. More surprising was that Hamlet’s soliloquy when he sees Claudius praying was not included: to some this speech is critical in verbalising his inner turmoil and need for surety before action. However this was an assured and genuine version of Shakespeare’s greatest play, which achieved a pleasing balance between a modern re-telling and an evocation of Elizabethan theatre.

08 May, 2007

Cherry Lounge

359 Brunswick Street Fitzroy; 03 9416 0024

Quiet on this particular Friday night, Cherry Lounge is welcoming, with its conventional layout: a bench seat down one wall facing maroon leather chairs, a bar (with a considerable array of spirits) down the other, and a raised area with some larger tables at the back.

On being seated, we were presented immediately with the specials board. Tonight’s selection included Vitello Milano, Atlantic Salmon and Osso Bucco. I went for the Beetroot Gnocchi special – ricotta and chilli gnocchi served in a cheesy sauce ($18). SG was taken with the duck in a plum and aperol sauce with green beans ($25). Taking the menu description literally, SG also went for a side of wedges, which the quartered potatoes served with the duck made somewhat redundant, but more on them later.

The wine list offers reasonably priced wines by the glass, but mainly from small, interstate vineyards. I had a Warburn Estate Pinot Grigio from the Riverina.

So, to the food. SG enjoyed the duck, but I thought it was a little tough, and its dark purple colour indicated a little overcooked. It must be said though that the serving included both a breast and leg piece (though I would certainly have preferred one better-cooked piece). The aperol broth lent a lovely mix of citrus and stock flavours. For my dish, I was surprised that a ricotta gnocchi was served with a cheese sauce – I thought a light tomato sauce could have been kinder to the fairly delicate beetroot flavour. Having said that, the dish was not too heavy to be enjoyable. However, when something’s advertised with chilli, I want at the least to be able to feel some heat, even if I can’t taste it.

On the plus side food-wise were the wedges – they were outstanding. Quality potatoes, not just some leftover mangy bits, crispy coating, visible sea salt flakes and sour cream.

Each element of our dining experience at Cherry Lounge held surprise and/or disconcertion. First of all, the Polpette Insalata special was described as salmon fishcakes…does that strike everyone else as odd? The book-folded, laminated menu included a full page of their breakfast options, and the mains started out with a $15 chicken burger followed immediately by the duck. What are they trying to be – weekend café, foodie-bar or restaurant? During our meal we noticed that there was also a tapas menu on the wall, and near the bar there was also a completely separate by-the-bottle wine list. The restaurant is decorated with vintage Euro posters, giving it the chic bistro feel, but also has a permanent mannequin at the bar and crazy murals on the way to the toilets, making it feel more like a grunge café. Again, which crowd are they going for? The service was a little distant, given there were a handful of diners and four waitstaff, except for when my wine glass was (almost) empty, and three of the staff came over separately to offer a top-up.

Our overall impression was that the restaurant was well-priced for the quality it offers (I’ve never seen that much duck for $25), but that it’s trying to be too many things. It made us think of Gordon Ramsey and his kitchen makeovers –pick your niche and focus on it. Simultaneously it’s a bar, bistro, brunch café, retro and grunge. Maybe Friday dinner is in fact its sideline and if we’d gone at 11am on a Sunday we’d be raving about its vibe and scrambled eggs. But with that much competition in Brunswick Street, they’re unlikely to get repeat custom just to check if we missed something first time around.

04 May, 2007

Pizza Farro

608 High St, Thornbury

Pizza Farro first came to my attention via their stand at the FLOUR festival during the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. They were selling spelt flour, which they use in all their pizza bases. I was very interested, as since I started baking a lot I’m keen to source something, anything, to use other than that bleached, almost indigestible stuff known as white flour.

The restaurant is wonderfully decorated inside – rows of rolling pins hang from the ceiling, the curtains are stitched together from old tea towels, and the furniture is a mismatch of old, well-restored wooden tables and chairs. The larger room at the back has high cathedral ceilings, and the lighting and care taken in the décor give the venue a friendly, relaxing vibe. The wait staff are incredibly attentive and helpful – I think they’re feeling the vibe as well and can’t help but be in a good mood.

Complementing all of this is a varied menu and great food. Pizzas form the bulk, not surprisingly, and they’re broken down into meat, non-meat and fish. The combinations of ingredients are imaginative and even for carnivores the veggie mixes look just as appealing, such as olive tapenade, baby spinach, ricotta, roast artichoke, toasted pine nuts, garlic and sea salt. Since I’m with SG, however, I know that on this occasion going sans meat is not an option, but the artichokes have caught my eye so we go for the Carciofi – napoli, bocconcini, Virginian ham, roast artichoke and fresh parsley. A garlic focaccia to start is presented simply, a bit like a pide, and could have done with some extra oil to pour over. The pizza was excellent – even as you’re eating you can tell the spelt base is being kinder to your stomach, and without worrying about filling up too early on white flour you can readily indulge in the topping tastes. The ham is thinly sliced and goes a treat with the artichoke, the moistness of which is off set by the more textural bocconcini.

Just a word on our BYO as well – the meal was wonderfully washed down by a 2003 Bleasdale Malbec, with was smooth, slightly sweet, and full in the mouth with the soft Malbec grape.

Note the restaurant also sells their spelt flour – a 500g bag is $3.50