Below the Belt

Premiere 20 March,1997
Venue Powder Room, Melbourne Town Hall, Melbourne International Comedy Festival

bare-chested man holding a sequinned lady puppet

Below the Belt
John Rogers with Gilda
Photograph (detail): © James Penledis, 1997

A welcome addition to the Comedy Festival program from Melbourne’s own visual theatre company.

Rob Gravestocks: The Age, Melbourne, 1997

BELOW THE BELT was the umbrella title for three short works developed by individual Handspan Theatre members for performance at the 1997 Melbourne International Comedy Festival..

BELOW THE BELT was the first work directed by the recently appointed Artistic Director at Handspan, David Bell, and the last membership-initiated project produced by the company.

The works in BELOW THE BELT were unrelated but loosely linked in expressing the darker side of sexuality and seduction billed as 'three new twisted tales that sit somewhere below the belt'2. The work included:


Devised by Heather Monk, Waiting was a whimsical piece about a lonely waitress looking for love and ravished by a large and lewd puppet lobster.

This is as strange as it sounds.

Kate Herbert: Sun Herald Melbourne 1997


Devised by Rod Primrose Gilda was a miniature piece set in a mini-Victorian theatre which transformed as the action progressed, following a drag queen’s travails in her escape from the hell of conformity. The piece was the next evolution of a series of creative development projects: Gilda Tonight (1994) and Gilda Under Glass (1995), the latter performed in the Myer Bourke St Melbourne windows for the 1995 Melbourne International Festival. Critics writing of BELOW THE BELT found this piece the highlight of the three.

The high point of 'Below the Belt' was Gilda written by Rod Primrose and performed with John Rogers, both of whom are highly skilled puppet-masters and makers with a long history with Handspan. Gilda is a transporting moment in the theatre.
Gilda is a miniature female in sequined gowns who sings her way from the Gates of Hell. The puppeteers are visible on stage and establish a sensual relationship with their figurine. The piece has a delicate beauty and romance as well as a mythic quality. It is finely wrought and the figure’s manipulation is masterly.

Kate Herbert: Sun Herald Melbourne 1997

Sugar On Top

This vignette by Liss Gabb portrayed a stripper who turned the tables on her band of manipulating bouncers - the exotic dancer peels off her panties, her feather boa, her G-string – then her legs, her pelvis and finally her pert breasts one by one4. This piece had previously been staged independently by its creators at the Builders Arms Hotel in Fitzroy in the 1994 Melbourne Fringe Festival.

After BELOW THE BELT’s Showcase appearance at the Comedy Festival the work was not retained in the Handspan repertoire.

It was the last Vignette production that developed puppetry manipulation performance in the flexible style that had become a hallmark for much of the company’s innovative work in its earlier years.

Under David Bell’s leadership Handspan Theatre was renamed Handspan Visual Theatre, signalling a removal from Handspan's puppetry-based performance design. Long-standing company artistic memberships began to lapse in the new era for the company and small-scale experimental works developed by individual members were no longer prioritised in company programming.

  1. Handspan advertising copy Below the Belt 1997

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Creative team
Director David Bell
Devised and designed Heather Monk
Soundtrack music Pascal Comelade & Hughes Le Bars
Creative development (1996) Ariette Taylor, Rod Primrose, Ben Cobham, Philip Lethlean & Heather Monk
Devised and designed Rod Primrose
Soundtrack music Erasure, Kylie Minogue, Eartha Kitt, Portishead & Hugh Wayland
Puppet maker Rod Primrose
Creative development (1994) Rod Primrose, Hugh Wayland, John Rogers, Paul Newcombe, Rob Matson, Christine Mooney, Tony Hood, Matthew Hood, Boris Conley & Victoria Huff
Sugar on Top
Devised and designed Liss Gabb
Original director Peta Murray (1994)
Soundtrack Music The Reverend Horton Heat & L7
Puppet Maker Colleen Crapper
Project collaborators Shane Grant, Nik Pajanti, Johnboy Davis & Pamela Morrow
Waiting Heather Monk & Liss Gabb
Gilda Rod Primrose & John Rogers
Sugar on Top Liss Gabb, Katrina Gabb & Heather Monk (1997)
Megan Cameron, Liss Gabb & Katrina Gabb (1994)
28 March – 20 April 1997 Melbourne International Comedy Festival
Total performances 24
Total audience Unknown

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