Tuesday, 20 February 2018

This Is Eden, Feb 15, 2018 ***1/2

by Emily Goddard 
at fortyfivedownstairs, until Feb 25, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ***1/2

Review also published in Herald Sun in print on Tues Feb 20, 2018 & online at Arts/Lifestyle. KH
This Is Eden-Emily Goddard-photo Justin Batchelor

If you've ever talked cheerfully about having convict ancestors, your attitude may change after seeing This Is Eden, Emily Goddard's play depicting the horrific conditions of incarcerated female convicts at The Cascades Female Factory in Hobart Town in 1839.

In Susie Dee’s moving and often funny production, Goddard, initially playing a gauche but well-meaning tour guide, gently introduces her audience to the history of the Factory and the women who were transported from England for trivial crimes.

This companionable engagement with the audience shifts dramatically when Goddard reappears as filth-covered, desperate young convict, Mary Ford, who languishes in isolation and silence in a tiny, dank cell (design, Romanie Harper).

Goddard is a skilful chameleon, transforming physically and vocally from naive tour guide to tortured victim fighting to retain her humanity and identity.

As the convict, Mary, Goddard delivers vicious parodies of her tormentors, using the black comic style of Bouffon, the grim, mediaeval, French clown that attacked Church and State through brutal imitation.

The first target of Mary’s vitriol is an upper class, settler's wife who used Mary as a servant – or should we say slave?

Goddard's second venomous parody is a pompous, fire-and-brimstone Reverend, who threatens the girls with hellfire for their petty sins, and her final target is the blustering Factory superintendent who justifies his inexcusable actions with, ‘I'm just following orders’.

The less gruelling scenes with the tour guide relieve the pressure of the punishing scenes of Mary in her darkened cell, but the dynamic range of the show, including the shifts between Mary and the tour guide, are sometimes awkward.

This is Eden is on the VCE syllabus, and audiences of secondary school students will be engaged and challenged not only by Goddard's skilful performance, but also by the confronting details about the Cascades Factory and our dark history.

By Kate Herbert

Friday, 16 February 2018

Good Muslim Boy, Feb 14, 2018 ***

Adapted by Osamah Sami & Janice Muller from Sami's memoir 
Produced by Malthouse Theatre and Queensland Theatre Company
At Malthouse Theatre, until March 11, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts/ Lifestyle on Friday Feb 16 2018. KH
Rodney Afif & Osamah Sami - Good Muslim Boy - pic Tim Grey

If you've ever cursed governmental red tape, Good Muslim Boy by Osamah Sami will make you thank your stars that you’ve never confronted Iran’s obstructive bureaucracy.

In this stage play adapted from his memoir by Sami and director, Janice Muller, Sami plays himself in a distressing but often funny, true tale about wrangling Iranian bureaucrats so he can transport his father’s body home to Australia after he dies suddenly on holiday in Iran.

During his four-day ordeal, Sami travels from office to office and city to city, facing a parade of characters ranging from the grotesque and manipulative to the tragic and ordinary.

Rodney Afif is particularly effective in multiple roles, including a hilarious cab driver, a surly clerk, a jaded cop, and a helpful Imam. Nicole Nabout plays other minor characters, including a moving portrayal of a philosophical, homeless woman sleeping on a snow-laden street, although her male roles are less successful.

Sami himself may have limited stage-acting skills, but he relies on the truthful emotion of personal experience, and his final scenes, dealing with his father’s exodus, are touching.

Some dialogue sounds too prose-like, as if lifted directly from the memoir, while the series of short scenes and Sami's direct-to-audience self-narration, lack dynamic range. However, the Aussie colloquialisms, local references and linguistic confusions provide plenty of comedy.

A simple but versatile design (Romanie Harper) uses a large, transparent, tram shelter that transforms into multiple locations in Melbourne and Iran, including mosque, morgue, embassy, airport and government offices.

Despite its flaws, the story grabs us with its depiction of the passionate commitment of a son trying to honour his departed father, a scenario many will recognise.

By Kate Herbert

BY / Osamah Sami, adapted for the stage by Osamah Sami and Janice Muller
DIRECTION /Janice Muller        
CAST / Rodney Afif, Nicole Nabout, Osamah Sami
SET & COSTUME DESIGN / Romanie Harper

Thursday, 15 February 2018

The Children, Feb 13, 2018 ****

by Lucy Kirkwood, Melbourne Theatre Company with STC
Southbank Theatre, The Sumner, until March 10, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts / Lifestyle on Thursday Feb 15, 2018. KH
L-R: Sarah Peirse, Pamela Rabe, William Zappa.
How do you live a carefully planned, comfortable, serene and healthy retirement when you are forced to live on the edge of a Fukushima-like nuclear catastrophe?

In Lucy Kirkwood’s confronting and unsettling play, The Children, married couple Hazel (Pamela Rabe) and Robin (William Zappa), two retired nuclear physicists who used to work at the nearby nuclear plant, have had to move to their isolated cottage on the English coast where they survive on ‘less’: less food, less electricity, less everything.

When Rose (Sarah Peirse), their old friend and fellow physicist, arrives unexpectedly and uninvited, the three must confront not only their shared past, but also a grim future and a challenging, ethical dilemma.

Kirkwood’s witty, pithy dialogue challenges our views of ageing, social responsibility, and the ethical issue of bringing children into a dangerous world.

Set in a realistic, farmhouse kitchen (design, Elizabeth Gadsby), Sarah Goode’s compelling, naturalistic production boasts an exceptional cast of three of Australia’s finest actors in Rabe, Peirse and Zappa.

Rabe is brisk and blunt as the sensible, active, and always busy Hazel, whose life is turned upside down by the nuclear disaster, but who is even more distressed and destabilised by Rose’s sudden arrival after decades of absence.

Zappa brings a touch of playful, relaxed blokiness to Robin, her husband, but he later shifts into a darker state of vulnerability and quiet desperation.

Peirse, as Rose, is the grit in their well-oiled machine, and her wild edginess and chaotic lifestyle bring a sense of danger that leads to the startling but inevitable reason for her visit. No spoilers here.

In a contemporary world unable to successfully resolve most natural and man-made disasters, Kirkwood’s play is a potent reminder that our past is unchangeable, our present is fragile and our future riddled with uncertainty.

By Kate Herbert

Monday, 5 February 2018

HIR, Feb 4, 2018 ***

By Taylor Mac, by Red Stitch Theatre
At Red Stitch Theatre, until March 4, 2018
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts On Tue Feb 6 or Thu Feb 8, 2018. KH
HIR_Jordan Fraser-Trumble, Belinda McClory, Harvey Kaska Zielinski_c Teresa Noble
The disarray and domestic chaos on stage in HIR, a play by Taylor Mac, is a reflection of the dysfunctional relationships and peculiar behaviour of the family of four.

Playwright, Mac, is a renowned American artist whose performance and stage persona defy definition, and the issue of refusing to be defined in ‘normative’ terms is at the core of HIR.

In a rundown house built on landfill, Paige (Belinda McClory) lives with Arnold (Ben Grant),  her stroke-victim husband, and Max, (Harvey Zaska-Zielinski), her teenage transgender son who was, until recently, her daughter.

When older son, Isaac (Jordan Fraser-Trumble), returns from war service, he upsets Paige’s frenetic, new, domestic ‘order’ that involves drugging and tormenting her formerly violent husband and cultivating new, bizarre activities to support her rather confused transgender son.

The performances are strong in Daniel Clark’s frenzied production, but watching it is a distressing, anxiety-inducing, sometimes enraging experience because of the aggressive, almost demented behaviour of characters who are inherently dislikeable, despite each occasionally garnering our sympathy because of their predicaments.

Each member of this battered family is in transition, but each is experiencing a different type of change; no one understands or accepts the others’ evolving identities and ideologies, and everyone seems totally unaware of his, her or hir (Max’s gender-neutral pronoun) own failings or transgressions.

McClory is compelling as Paige, balancing carefree cavorting, rule-breaking antics and muddled views on gender theory, with frantic, uber-controlling behaviour and her frightful abuse of Arnold.

Grant captures both the childlikeness and latent violence of Arnold, while Fraser-Trumble manifests the troubled psyche of a war veteran in Isaac, and Zaska-Zielinski expresses Max’s gender fluidity.

The most disturbing element in HIR is that the characters exhibit no positive evolution of gender roles, merely replacing one abuser with another. Let’s hope that’s not Taylor Mac’s solution to alter the patriarchal paradigm of straight, white male power.

By Kate Herbert
Hir_Belinda McClory, Ben Grant, Jordan Fraser-Trumble_c Teresa Noble

Hir_ Harvey Kaska Zielinski, Jordan Fraser-Trumble_c Teresa Noble

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert–The Musical, Jan 30, 2018 ****1/2

Book by Stephan Elliott & Allan Scott, music by various artists 
Presented by Michael Cassel Group & Nullabor Productions, with MGM On Stage
Regent Theatre, no closing date but must close by May 2018. 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ****1/2
 Review also published in Herald Sun News on Wed Jan 31, 2018, and in Arts/Lifestyle (online & print) on Thurs Feb 1, 2018. KH
L-R: David Harris, Tony Sheldon, Euan Doidge
Slap on your false eyelashes, bouffant wigs, sequined gowns and stilettos because Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is back and it’s chock-a-block with camp innuendo, cheeky choreography and eye-poppingly garish costumes.
Simon Phillips’ irreverent production is a feast of absurd lip-syncing and classic, disco tunes including: It’s Raining Men, I Love The Nightlife, I Will Survive and Shake Your Groove Thing.
This effervescent night belongs to its accomplished, vivacious leads (Tony Sheldon, David Harris, Euan Doidge) who play three drag queens going on tour in a battered bus to Alice Springs to put on a kaleidoscopic drag show for yobs in pubs!
Sheldon uses old-fashioned comic timing, double-takes and face-pulling in a well-measured performance as Bernadette, an ageing transsexual, veteran drag artiste yearning for middle-class elegance and normality.
Harris balances Tick’s sassy, drag persona, Mitzi, with Tick’s real life vulnerability, and his rendition of I Say A Little Prayer poignantly captures Tick’s pining for his unknown son.
Doidge completes the trio as the audacious Felicia, the outrageous, young drag queen who delivers sultry versions of Hot Stuff and Better The Devil You Know.
Blake Appelqvist is outstanding as mischievous Miss Understanding, belting out What’s Love Got To Do With It?, while Robert Grubb is sympathetic as Bob, the outback mechanic, and Lena Cruz is a firecracker as his ‘mail order wife’, performing her hilariously vulgar (and racist?) Pop Muzik routine.

Below the stage, the tight band (arrangements, Stephen ‘Spud’ Murphy) performs the disco tunes with gusto, while the three Divas (Angelique Cassimatis, Samm Hagen, Clé Morgan), with their exceptional voices, command the space overhead.
A talented ensemble shines in musical numbers featuring vibrant choreography (Ross Coleman, Andrew Hallsworth), vividly kitsch costumes and unwieldy headdresses (Tim Chappel, Lizzy Gardiner), while the evocative production design (Brian Thomson) and lighting (Nick Schlieper) complete this gaudy production.

Melbourne, grab a vodka martini and strap yourself in for a lavish, crass, high-camp road trip on a glittering bus called Priscilla.
By Kate Herbert 

Director: Simon Phillips

Designer: Brian Thomson
Musical Director: Stephen Gray
Arrangements: Stephen ‘Spud’ Murphy
Choreographers: Andrew Hallsworth and Ross Coleman
Costumes: Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner
Lighting: Nick Schlieper
'I Will Survive' - Priscilla Queen of the Desert - Photo by Ben Symons
Euan Doidge as Felicia - Priscilla Queen of the Desert - Photo by Ben Symons

Tony Sheldon as Bernadette - 'Les Girls' - Priscilla Queen of the Desert - Photo by Ben Symons

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Strangers In Between, Jan 24, 2018 ***1/2

Written by Tommy Murphy, Midsumma Festival
At 45downstairs, until Feb 11, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: **1/2
Kate Herbert reviewed a preview performance with the permission of the producers. 
Review also published by Herald Sun in print on Fri Jan 26, 2018 & possibly later online (Lifestyle or Arts).
STRANGERS- Wil King (left) and Simon Burke_Pic credit is Sarah Walker-

Strangers In Between by Tommy Murphy is a funny and poignant ‘coming out’ story about Shane (Wil King), a naive youth who seeks a new life in King’s Cross after fleeing his family home in country Goulburn where being gay is unacceptable.

Shane is an innocent abroad in a messy, noisy, unpredictable city, and King effectively captures
the wide-eyed, childlike confusion and frantic nerviness of this lad who doesn’t even know how to wash his own clothes and can’t work the cash register at his job.

Although he is fearful of living in The Cross, with its population of prostitutes, bikies and drug dealers, Shane eventually finds support and solace in his new friends / mentors: an older gay man, Peter (Simon Burke), and the younger, street-savvy, Will (Guy Simon).

In Murphy’s 2006, award-winning script, the dialogue is fast moving and witty, with pithy, often mischievous observations about being a gay man living in The Cross.

The characters confront the blurred boundaries of their relationships, and struggle to understand whether their bond is based only on lust, or has evolved into friendship and a sense of responsibility and community.

Burke’s nuanced, detailed performance as Peter is a highlight, and he sympathetically embodies this older man who is lonely, generous, but needs love and friendship as much as the next person.

Simon successfully balances his two roles as the sassy, attractive Will, and Shane’s tough, homophobic, but evidently repentant brother, Ben.

Set in a space empty but for a bathtub and a silvery, fringed curtain that epitomises the glitz of King’s Cross, Daniel Lammin’s production focuses on characters and their intimate, but slippery, uncertain relationships.

Occasionally, Lammin’s staging places actors in awkward positions in the space, forcing some audience members to crane their necks to view the action.

For the sensitive viewer, Strangers In Between contains graphic, confronting sexual references, but it is also a warm, engaging depiction of a young man’s introduction into the gay community.

By Kate Herbert
STRANGERS- Wil King (left) and Simon Burke_Pic credit is Sarah Walker-

Friday, 26 January 2018

Nassim, Jan 23, 2018 ****1/2

By Nassim Soleimanpour 
At Fairfax Studio Arts Centre Melbourne, until Jan 28, 2018
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ****1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun in print on Fri 25 Jan, 2018 & possibly later online (Lifestyle or Arts). KH

Alison Bell in Nassim
Theatre is usually based in artifice so, in Nassim, it is startling and compelling to witness the raw, unembellished truthfulness and genuine intimacy of a totally unrehearsed actor and the humble presence of the playwright, Nassim Soleimanpour.

Named for Soleimanpour, an Iranian now living in Berlin, this startling, funny, cunningly wrought script also features him as an off-stage character whose hands are the only visible part of him projected on screen.

By the second half, Soleimanpour arrives on stage to exuberant applause, although he remains a silent, but compelling partner for his actor.

As in Soleimanpour’s previous play, White Rabbit Red Rabbit, each night, a different performer reads and performs his script for the first time and, on Melbourne’s opening night, Alison Bell is the guinea pig who opens the box bearing her name, then follows his instructions.

She reads lines from a huge screen, tells Soleimanpour’s story and learns his native language, Farsi, as does the audience.

Although obviously way out of her comfort zone, Bell remains charmingly wide-eyed and compliant as she struggles to understand her role, waits for instructions and comments wryly on her predicament.

Soleimanpour is a warm, cheeky but provocative presence both on- and off-stage and, with silent, childlike giggles, he delights in teasing his actor with his tricksy, witty script that he gleefully reveals is 450 pages.

Nassim is naive, nostalgic memoir and childhood storytelling, but it is simultaneously a mischievous taunt at cleverly constructed plays and smug, actorly performances that rely on technology, rehearsal and slick direction.

Despite its empty stage and intimacy, Nassim uses technology including a live camera feed, screen projections, phone texts, family photos and even Skype.

We take our mother tongue for granted, but Nassim gently reminds us that other people’s languages elude and confuse us, twist our tongues and slip from our memories in moments but that, whatever our language, we share a common humanity.

Soleimanpour’s script is meticulously structured to predict twists or surprises, and the audience adores and applauds his audacity in a spontaneous standing ovation.

Other artists performing Nassim: Benjamin Law, Nakkiah Liu, Charlie Pickering, Catherine McClements, Denise Scott.

By Kate Herbert 
Alison Bell in Nassim

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Wicked, Jan 20, 2018 ***1/2

Music & lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, book by Winnie Holzman
Based on the novel by Gregory Maguire, by Young Australian Broadway Chorus 
At National Theatre, St Kilda until Jan 27, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Emily Svarnias as Elphaba,Jasmine Arthur as Glinda

With all the leads in this production of Wicked played by teenage actors, the unlikely relationship that evolves from loathing to intimacy between two young witches is almost identification theatre for young audiences.

The compelling, emotional core of the story is the secret girlhood friendship between the witches from The Wizard of Oz. Elphaba (Emily Svarnias), the sensitive, outcast, green-tinged child, becomes the Wicked Witch of the West, while her pretty, popular rival, Galinda (Jasmine Arthur), grows up to be Glinda the Good.

Svarnias compellingly portrays Elphaba’s emotional journey from shy child to young rebel to terrifyingly powerful witch, and, when she sings the challenging Gravity, her vocal control, thrilling tone and big voice belie her tender years. This 19-year old has a bright future in musical theatre.

Arthur has a charming voice and is suitably perky as the gleefully conceited, relentlessly cheerful, flirtatious teen witch, Galinda.

Robert Coates’ production, with its vibrant choreography (Jacqui Green), evocative design (Mike Fletcher) and lighting (Linda Hum), populates the stage with an overwhelmingly massive but enthusiastic ensemble aged 10 to 21 years, with a youth orchestra (musical director, Andy Coates) doing justice to Stephen Schwartz’s rich and diverse score. The total cast is 114!

The ensemble fills the stage, playing witch-hunting citizens of Oz, students, monkeys and denizens of Emerald City, and their chorus numbers are resounding and exhilarating.

Other featured actors include: Rishab Shrivastav as Fiyero, Emily Palmer as Madame Morrible, Taylor Troeth as Nessarose, Jackson Hurwood as The Wizard, Tristan Sicari as Doctor Dillamond and Darcy Harriss as Boq.

Winnie Holzman’s book strips away many of the complexities of Gregory Maguire’s original, fantasy novel, and the narrative is riddled with relevant, contemporary themes including bigotry, bullying, political manipulation and the persecution of those who are ‘different’.

This first, all-youth Australian production of Wicked is vivacious and enjoyable and brings youthful energy to a fantasy tale of friendship and corruption that echoes our modern world.

Kate Herbert
Jasmine Arthur as Glinda

Emily Svarnias as Elphaba

Orchestrations by William David Brohn
Musical arrangements by Alex Lacamoire and Stephen Oremus

Emily Svarnias as Elphaba
Jasmine Arthur as Glinda
Emily Palmer as Madame Morrible
Rishab Shrivastav as Fiyero
Taylor Troeth as Nessarose