Winton’s Signs of Life, The Review

It’s been a long time between drinks for Helen Morse between flashing her boozies in Stone in 1974 (or was it the other bikie chick?) and appearing in Tim Winton’s “Signs of Wife” at Perth’s State Theatre. Well it is a long time between drinks if you disregard the hideous Bryan Brown era, which I guess we all do, and the most tedious period of Oz film revival covering Caddie and Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Signs of Life is supposedly a continuation of Winton’s attempt at a Mills and Boon romance – Dirt Music. Well, bad romance is how Dirt Music appeared to me from the only 5 pages I could get through. With lines like”Georgie (Morse’s character earlier in life) stood out there longer than was comfortable, until her breasts ached from the chill .” – perhaps Dirt Music is a sequel to Stone? No doubt her bodice is ripped in future scenes. It’s a fat fucker of a book, so you’d hope so.

Now most Tim Winton fans will want to know one thing first – the footwear situation. Did the dude strip off his Converse or DBs, saying, as Georgie does in Dirt Music, “Bugger it, why not?” as she fairly implausibly lays her togs on the stranger’s truck, lets go his dog and has a nudie swim? That’s Dirt Music I’m talking about by the way. Nothing as interesting as a nude swim happens in Run for Your Wife the stage sequel.  The new, the very suspiciously new ripple sole desert boots stayed on. Unfortunate because that would have been the only interesting thing about this very, very boring piece of corporate theatre.

At least with Rising Lunch there was a superb set and the cast made some determined headway through the Winton dead weight script.

Signs of Wife had none of this, but does have:
A year 12 final year drama style set that looks so cheap that you always felt it must be about to be drawn aside to reveal some luscious interior. It never does. 
The trademark Cherry pedestrian direction. Surely there must be some way of ameliorating Winton’s habit of leaving vast lengths of time where characters have to literally stand staring doing fuck all.
A fucking kite. Again.
A ghost husband. Ljuke bet me that the aboriginal male character (probably the pick of the bunch payed by Tom E. Lewis) would turn out to be a ghost. Sorry Ljuke, you lose – but you sort of win because there was a ghost husband. A fucking ghost husband! It’s hard to critique George Shevtsov’s barefoot ghost husband, because he spends the majority of the play standing motionless and staring. He really does!
Morse being fairly ordinary.
Pauline Whyman playing the implausible.
Characters that you don’t care about.
Revealed secrets that are worth nothing when shown.
Awkward pause dogged dialogue.
There is no tension of any kind. Shouldn’t there at least be the tiniest hint of sexual tension between the leads? Why does she want him to stay? Her husband’s white ghost willie surely can’t be doing the job after 6 weeks underground. Can’t we at least have the slightest hint of some horizontal ebony and ivory in the future? The possiblity of a hint?
I wanted this to be bad, obviously, but unfortunately it was just really, really boring. Why does Winton feel he needs to do corporate theatre. What’s in it for the dude?
It’s hard to think of anything good to say about Signs of Wife. One or two half funny lines. Adequate lighting. The fact that there’s no intermission so you can get out quick. And the theatre is, as ever, lovely inside. And Max Kaye was there too.

About The Lazy Aussie

Commended Haiku writer. A lover of The West's Worst. Perth stand-up comedian, photographer and writer.
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95 Responses to Winton’s Signs of Life, The Review

  1. “The fact that there’s no intermission so you can get out quick.”
    Actually I think there was no intermission so nobody could escape during the break. There would have been a rush to the bar in any case.


  2. Dear Sir,
    So the “SIgns of Life” is dead.Just to give a “back story” to your excellent review L.A. ,via the BOCS website, the cast consists of Tom E. Lewis, Helen Morse, George Shevtsov and Pauline Whyman, the crew Kate Cherry Director
    Zoe Atkinson Set & Costume Designer
    Jon Buswell Lighting Designer
    Ben Collins Sound Designer/Composer
    These cowards need to step up and defend this excrescence.
    Yours sincerely,


  3. Tim did seem to take a harder than normal look when he saw me. Maybe he noticed that I looked at his shoes first.


  4. Ljuke says:

    The ghost was bound to happen in some form or another (and ghosts always have to stand still, staring menacingly). Did anyone get fingered on the beach? That’s another old favourite. The fingerer then has to reflect on the similarity between the saltiness of the ocean and the saltiness of the fingeree.



  5. Did I mention there was much talk of pole sitting?


  6. orbea says:

    Rebecca Gilling in Stone. Helen Morse was as well played Stone’s GF, Learnt something today


  7. Even The West is basically calling it crap today.


  8. NF#1 says:

    Water did him no favours last time. Sure they’d clapped, as drowsily content as after a summer’s day picnic at Mettam’s pool. But he’d gone our too far and too deep for their sheltered shallowness, gotten caught in the rip of his own oceanic gifts, then sucked back to shore and dumped. But no point lying panting in the surf, washed over by defeat’s briny spume. Time to head inland and inward again, back to his roots; back to the solid, dependable earth whereon he knew where he stood. Enter stage left: a new play, another chance.
    Mr Winton, would you like to try these?
    He turned from his reverie to the proffered shoes, soles as rippled as the laughing sea. But they wouldn’t laugh at him this time. More pity them if all it took was a pair of shoes to quell their manatoid braying…


  9. JC says:

    Oh god. I’m being handbagged to go and see this tonight with my girlfriend. Any advice on how to get through it?


    • Tank up early. There’s no intermission.


    • keatster says:

      chest pains early on?


    • rottobloggo says:

      Sunglasses disguise the fact you’ve nodded off (unless you snore).


    • Bento says:

      WA nostalgia bingo card?


      • RubyRuby says:

        Or rural Westralian towns, regions, bingo card… that would work, too.


        • sarah says:

          Westalgia? I kind of like that word.
          I get what you are doing here WoP but the small and tall ones are too easy a target.
          … anyways
          here is a story from the deep south from a mate who works in the local shop (cue League of).

          An Aboriginal man came in the other day, looking a bit loosened up.
          That unicorn in the window is looking at me, he said. It wants me to take it home. Another one, she thought.
          I might buy it for my daughter, he said. D’yer think I should buy it for my daughter?
          She got the plastic unicorn from the window and while she was there he waylaid her with:
          Do you like singing? dancing around a bit. I like singing.
          No, nah, don’t like singing, she said, thinking – don’t make eye contact, don’t make eye contact, and wrapping up the unicorn in tissue paper behind the counter, trying to hurry along the sale.
          He started singing anyway.
          Later that night she went to see Tim Winton’s new play.
          Yes, of course. Tom E Lewis.
          He’s an actor. He was fucking with you, wasn’t he? I asked.
          Yep, he had a fine time with me that day, she said.


  10. The Legend 101 says:

    What ever happend to Cloudstreet?


  11. skink says:

    We saw it at the weekend, and find it hard to disagree with any of the statements here. Mrs. Skink put her finger on what was wrong: that it was the most two-dimensional piece of theatre she had ever seen: flat set, flat direction, and the characters all stood in a line staring into space waiting for their sentimental monologue.

    Poor Helen Morse spent most of it stood centre stage with her hands in her pockets, occasionally taking one hand out to massage the back of her neck. The only way the director marked the passing of time was by lighting changes and fresh cups of tea. I’m sure at one point we all sat waiting for the tea to steep in real time.

    There was one passage where all four actors stood side by side with their arms folded, Wintoning into the middle distance, and tree blossom started to fall from the sky. It was the only thing moving on stage. It was the most dynamic part of the play.

    I think Winton’s been reading his Chekhov, and has turned The Cherry Orchard into Tim’s Olive Grove, although he doesn’t seem to have read what Chekhov said about guns. I think the director put that in just to wake up the audience. The old bloke dozing next to me nearly went into arrest.


    • And then the gun is just forgotten and left lying loaded on the table.


    • skink says:

      I was reminded of that line from Willy Russell’s ‘Educating Rita’ about overcoming the difficulties of staging Ibsen:

      ‘Do it on the radio’

      it was like Winton had written a radio play and Cherry could think of no way to animate it, so let them stand there with their hands in their pockets reciting it. I started to wonder if they had painted a white dot on the back wall of the auditorium to give the cast something to focus on.

      ‘I’ve got to have something to do with my hands, how about I pretend to fix a flat tyre for the whole of Act Two?’

      ‘Good idea, then spend ten minutes scraping the dregs out of your cereal bowl’


      • And didn’t the spare tyre just peter out too? I don’t remember him finishing fixing it. I may have been rubbing my eyes at the time though.


      • There was a facebook comment saying that staring at the audience while talking about sand was not good theatre.


        • RubyRuby says:

          I don’t think the offers of discounted food at various Northbridge establishments are worth the pain (Black Swan post about using the tickets to get 10% off burgers, sushi etc).

          Is it part of the Perth Cultural Centre vibrancy or just a desperate ploy to try to move tix?


          • skink says:

            I think it is pure pragmatism. We came out of the theatre at 9:30 and found it difficult to get something to eat. We went to the sushi place and were told the kitchen was closing. We took a walk down James Street and saw nothing we wanted to eat.

            difficult to get a good meal in Northbridge at 10pm, just burgers and kebabs and chain restaurants. Had to get in the car and go to Asiatown, which was dead. Ended up wishing we’d gone back to the ‘Disse


  12. PeteF says:

    Perhaps it is worth going, to the theatre anyway. After all, if the carpark bog can win a prize the theatre one must be v.spesh.


  13. skink says:

    I don’t know about ‘psychic dissonance’ and a ‘strong whiff of existential crisis’
    but I had a bit of gastric turbulence, and there was a strong whiff of exuberant verbosity.


  14. Dave says:

    You are an idiot. Saw it tonight and loved it. Winton and performances brilliant.


  15. skink says:

    Oy…Black Swan…enough already!
    is there not another playwright in the state?

    Cherry and Winton to collude on another theatre work where people sit still on stage and take turns reciting monologues to the middle distance.

    Winton says he is interested in how people commemorate their dead and so will resurrect John Howard and watch him die on stage again.

    working title: ‘Strine.’


  16. Pingback: Outrage Sunday 82 Di’s Best Panties | The Worst of Perth

  17. Rereading my excellent review almost got me wanting to see the next one with John Howard. I had turned down the chance. It would just depress me to see more bad theatre. And it would annoy me if it wasn’t bad.


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