Tuesday, 21 November 2017

A Very Kransky Christma, Nov 20, 2017 ****


A Very Kransky Christmas by The Kransky Sisters 
At The Alex Theatre, until Nov 26, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert  on Mon Nov 20, 2017
 Review also published in Herald Sun online on Tues Nov 21, 2017, and later in print. KH
Kranskys L-R: Dawn  (Carolyn Johns), Mourne (Annie Lee), Eve (Christine Johnston
 A Very Kransky Christmas is an achingly funny and eccentric comedy-cabaret performed by the three peculiar and socially awkward siblings known as The Kransky Sisters.

They perform Christmas themed tunes on unconventional instruments – the saw, tuba and a 1960s keyboard – and their oddball musical arrangements transform Chrissie carols into oompah-oompah tunes or a horror movie soundtrack.

Mourne (Annie Lee), Eve (Christine Johnston) and Dawn Kransky (Carolyn Johns) are old-fashioned, repressed, weird spinsters of a type only seen in 1940s CWA cookbooks or in gothic horror movies.

While Mourne appears to be a barely controlled lunatic, Eve is her naive follower, and poor, bullied Dawn looks like a frightened hamster.

Mourne drives the show with her dry, gloomy but witty patter as she and Eve tell awful tales of their isolated and deprived childhood in a caravan in the tiny, Queensland town of Esk, while their ostracised half-sister, Dawn, watches mutely.

This cunningly written and well-structured cabaret looks as if it is thrown together by three incompetent old bats, but is clearly the result of the masterly musical-comedy skills of its three performers.

Johns, as the silent Dawn, provides pulsating tuba solos, Lee plays guitar and keyboard, and Johnston excels on keyboard and singing saw – yes, a real saw.

Their version of Santa Claus Is Coming to Town will haunt any child’s Christmas dreams, and a medley transforms popular songs by Lady Gaga, Daft Punk and Sia into Kransky Christmas chaos.

The audience participates with glee, rattling their car keys to Ring of Fire and singing the chorus of Deck The Halls, then the sisters reinvent The Twelve Days of Christmas, assisted by two cheerful victims dragooned from the audience.

This is bizarre and memorable Christmas cabaret that will make you value your normal family and view your Christmas songs in a new light.

by Kate Herbert

Thursday, 16 November 2017

The Testament of Mary, Nov 9, 2017

The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín, by Malthouse Theatre
Merlyn Theatre, at Malthouse, until Nov 26, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 9, 2017
Stars: ***1/2
 Review also published in Herald Sun online Arts in print & later online. KH
Pamela Rabe_Testamen tof Mary_Pamela Rabe_photo Pia Johnson

The brittle, sharp-witted character in Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary bears little resemblance to the biblical Mary, mother of Jesus, whose purity and forbearance inspired countless religious orders, churches and artworks.

In Anne-Louise Sarks’ production, Pamela Rabe vibrates with barely contained anxiety as she describes, from Mary’s perspective, events leading to the capture, torture and crucifixion of her unnamed son who we know to be Jesus Christ.

Mary roams the bleak, clinical, dimly lit rooms that feel like a prison as she waits for the return of two men, disciples of her son who need her to endorse their narrative that frames her son as a miracle worker and the Son of God.

But Mary tells a different story of a grieving mother wracked with guilt, fear and shame: a mother whose radicalised son is now unrecognisable to her.

Her tale resonates with stories of the mothers of radicalised zealots, who cannot understand their sons’ changed behaviour.

Tóibín’s text is lyrical, textured and richly evocative, using vivid, mesmerising word pictures to conjure Mary’s memories and to express an undercurrent of menace.

Rabe’s performance is intimate, restrained and steeped in pain as Mary relives episodes including Lazarus’s rising from the dead, a wedding at Cana, Jesus carrying the cross and his horrific crucifixion.

The most powerful scenes are Rabe speaking uninterrupted, directly to the audience, standing still and trembling without the earlier unnecessary action or lighting changes.

However, a body microphone amplifying her voice unnecessarily restricts Rabe’s vocal and emotional range and, although the stylish design (Marg Horwell, Paul Jackson) plants Mary firmly in the modern era, it does not illuminate Mary’s story or adequately reflect Tóibín’s poetic language.

Tóibín’s Mary’s grim story of a distraught mother is as credible as those of the male, gospel writers but hers is more realistic and accessible.

By Kate Herbert

costume & co-set design / Marg Horwell
lighting & co-set design / Paul Jackson
composition & sound design / Steve Toulmin
Pamela Rabe_Testamen tof Mary_Pamela Rabe_photo Pia Johnson

Thursday, 9 November 2017

The Father, MTC/STC, Nov 8, 2017 ****

By Florian Zeller, translated by Christopher Hampton
By Melbourne Theatre Company & Sydney Theatre Company 
At Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, until Dec 16, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 8, 2017

Review also published in Herald Sun online on Thurs Nov 9, 2017, and later in print. KH

The Father_ John Bell_pic Philip Erbacher

Watching someone you love spiral into dementia is distressing, but being the person experiencing that descent into confusion must be far, far worse.

And so it is in Florian Zeller’s play, The Father, as we view André’s (John Bell) life from both the outside and from his own addled and angry perspective.

Bell is charming, frightened, frustrated and frustrating as André as he struggles to comprehend the changes in his immediate surroundings when he moves from his own, beloved apartment in Paris to live with his daughter, Anne (Anita Hegh), and her partner, Pierre (Marco Chiappi).

André’s familiar and previously secure world is evaporating as we watch: furniture disappears, he repeatedly loses his precious watch, and he does not recognise his daughter, her partner or his carer.

In a sensitive, nuanced and heart-rending performance deftly directed by Damien Ryan, Bell effectively captures André’s transformation from a belligerent, confident and intelligent older man, into one plagued by angst, fear and bewilderment.

Zeller’s challenging play, translated from French by Christopher Hampton, is episodic, using short scenes and repeated vignettes to highlight André’s loosening grasp of time and place.

The witty dialogue makes comedy the flip side of despair and characters shift from friend to foe as we observe them from André’s viewpoint.

Hegh is sympathetic as Anne who is overwhelmed by her father’s deteriorating condition, while Chiappi, as her partner, plays the supportive but pragmatic voice of reason.

Three additional cast members complete this strong ensemble: Faustina Agolley is the relentlessly cheerful carer, Laura, while Glenn Hazeldine and Natasha Herbert play multiple characters that heighten André’s disorientation and panic.

The Father is a warm but confronting play that tilts our perceptions and challenges our views of ageing and dementia.

By Kate Herbert
The Father_Anita Hegh, John Bell_pic Philip Erbacher

Cast - John Bell, Faustina Agolley, Marco Chiappi, Glenn Hazeldine, Anita Hegh, Natasha Herbert
Director - Damien Ryan
Translated by Christopher Hampton
Set & Costume Designer - 
Alicia Clements
Lighting Designer - Rachel Burke

Monday, 30 October 2017

Brigadoon, Oct 28, 2017 ****

Book & Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, Music by Frederick Loewe 
By The Production Company 
At State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne, until Nov 5, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sat Oct 28, 2017
Stars: ****
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Mon Oct 30, 2017 & later in print (31/10). KH
Brigadoon - Genevieve Kingsford & cast  - pic Jeff Busby

Lerner and Loewe’s Brigadoon is a deliciously old-fashioned, musical rom-com set in a magical, 17th century Scottish village that materialises out of the mist for only one day every 100 years.

Jason Langley’s production transposes the period from 1947 to 2017 when rich boy, Tommy (Rohan Browne), and his jaded friend, Jeff (Luke Joslin), who are New Yorkers on a tourist trek through Scotland, stumble upon this fairy tale place.

During their single day in this mythical place, Tommy falls in love with copper-haired beauty, Fiona (Genevieve Kingsford), while Jeff fights off the advances of brazen Meg (Elise McCann).

Accompanied by the on stage orchestra under Michael Tyack’s musical direction, the cast provides a feast of musical numbers including Almost Like Being In Love, the memorable love duet sung by Browne and Kingsford.

Browne is magnetic and roguish as Tommy, adding another dimension to the character with his skilful and sprightly dance moves, while Kingsford’s rich, powerful soprano is perfect for the spirited Fiona, and her duet with Browne, The Heather on the Hill, is warm and charming.

Matthew Manahan is boisterously upbeat as bridegroom, Charlie, and he vivaciously leads the ensemble in I’ll Go Home With Bonnie Jean.

Joslin garners laughs as the glib and cynical Jeff while McCann is suitably brassy and seductive as Meg and Nancye Hayes plays the restructured role of Mrs. Forsythe with dignity.

The simple stage design (Christina Smith) provides space for vibrant choreography (Cameron Mitchell) while the hanging wooden crosses that protect the village from the evils of the outside world lend a darker edge to the village story.

Brigadoon is performed infrequently, but the audience’s response to its rollicking tunes, magical landscape and romantic narrative suggests that it should materialise out of the Scottish mists more often.

By Kate Herbert
 Brigadoon - Nancye Hayes; Genevieve Kingsford; Rohan Browne - pic Jeff Busby
Rohan Browne - Tommy Albright
Genevieve Kingsford - Fiona
Nancye Hayes - Mrs Forsythe
Elise McCann - Meg
Luke Joslin -Jeff Douglas
Stefanie Jones, Matthew ManahanStephen Hall, Sally Bourne, Joel Granger

Director -Jason Langley
Musical Director -Michael Tyack
Costume Designer - Isaac Lummis
Choreography -Cameron Mitchell
Set -Christina Smith
Lighting- Matt Scott

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Book of Exodus Part II *** Oct 19, 2017

Created by Adena Jacobs & Aaron Orzech, by Fraught Outfit
At Theatre Works, until Oct 29, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts on Thurs Oct 26, 2017 in print only. KH

The cast of fifteen children works very hard in Book of Exodus Part II, an abstract, physical interpretation of Exodus, the second book of the Old Testament.

Adena Jacobs’ production, developed with Aaron Orzech, takes literally the notion of ‘The Children of Israel’ by casting children as the Israelites who escape Egypt led my Moses, roam the desert and invoke the wrath of Yahweh when they worship a false idol.

The cast captures a sense of the tribe’s disorientation, unruliness and desperate need of the leadership of Moses or Yahweh to lead them out of the desert and provide them with purpose.

Part I of Book of Exodus included surtitles explaining narrative and characters, but Part II has no such explication so relies on theatrical imagery and some visually engaging vignettes.

The performance is episodic, with children performing scenes that distil the stories into simple, repeated, ritualistic actions.

They begin in sleeping bags on the gleaming, black floor then rise to weave through the space as if lost in the desert.

They strip to shorts and singlets, then run, chase, murmur, whisper and scream – all without dialogue, apart from a few words spoken by one child.

They spill black powder, spreading it over their skin and the ground then, in imagery that exaggerates the notion that they are infants, they suck on babies’ bottles or drink from a complicated tubal feeding system attached to one child who may depict Moses.

They jump frantically to reach a rack of feeding nipples lowered from above, but finally, exhausted by their failed efforts to drink from this device, they degenerate into feverish, convulsive hysteria.

Although they work hard, the children appear to have limited connection to the story so the Exodus myth remains confusing and incoherent; even those familiar with Exodus may not penetrate the symbolism.

Unfortunately, this production is so opaque and obtuse that the compelling stories of Exodus are unrecognisable and the outcome is ultimately unsatisfying theatre.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 12 October 2017

What If It Works? MOVIE REVIEW Oct 12, 2017 **

What: What If It Works? 
Written & directed by Romi Trower, produced by Tristan Miall
Released in Melbourne on Oct 12, 2017 at Lido, Classic & Belgrave Cameo cinemas
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Adrian (Luke Ford) is suspended from his post-doctoral research in quantum physics when his Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder finally impairs his capacity to function.

He encounters Grace (Anna Sampson), a shy artist who has multiple personalities, one of which is G, a provocative vamp and an artist, another being Spike, a crass and abusive loudmouth.

Adrian is a germophobe who cannot abide being touched, wears gloves 24/7 and scrubs everything several times a day. However, he adores driving fast and lives in a chaotic but well-scrubbed garage owned by his father.

This movie suffers from a lack of nuance and complexity in its characters, relationships, narrative and comedy. Adrian, Grace (and her other selves) and the people who surround them are caricatures instead of layered characters. The psychology is simplistic, with Adrian being a two-dimensional representation of an OCD sufferer and Grace’s multiple personalities being broadly comical.

The flimsy and contrived narrative, silly comedy and over-written dialogue are only occasionally interrupted by a couple of more sincere interactions between Adrian and Grace when they perch on their park bench.

Trower vainly inserts colourful drag queens and Melbourne laneways decorated with vivid graffiti to elevate the quirkiness but it is all to no avail when the story is so sketchy.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

American Song, Oct 8, 2017 ****

Written by Joanna Murray-Smith, by Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre 
At Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre, until Nov 5, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts in print on Thurs Oct 12, 2017, and online (date TBC). KH
Joe Petruzzi

Parents may relate to a father’s sentimental reminiscences about holding his baby son tucked safely inside his coat on a winter’s day.

They may also feel the aching familiarity of that same father, Andy’s (Joe Petruzzi) pain and alienation when that baby grows into his silent, secretive and surly teenage son, Robbie.

Petruzzi gives a sensitive, nuanced but muscular performance as Andy in American Song, Joanna Murray-Smith’s 90 minute, solo play that was commissioned for an America audience.

Tom Healey’s assured and well-paced direction lends the play emotional and dynamic energy as Andy builds a real, stone wall (designer, Darryl Cordell) while he weaves his tale of hope and joy that turns to grief and horror.

Murray-Smith’s dialogue is conversational and lyrical, philosophical and natural, while Petruzzi is convincing and compelling as Andy, playing him with passion and sympathy.

The writer successfully creates a dramatic structure that initially lulls us into a false sense of ‘happy families’, then sows the seeds of doubt that grow like weeds into genuine fears until Andy reveals one final, horrific incident that changed his life, and the lives of others, forever.

Guns are far too easy to access in America, gun crime is rife and, in a week when so many died in Las Vegas, this play confronts the human loss that is the result of Americans’ unholy and dangerous ‘right to bear arms’.

Healey’s intelligent and deceptively simple production incorporates evocative lighting (Bronwen Pringle) and a subtle soundscape (Patrick Cronin) that build atmosphere as the tension escalates in Andy’s story.

Through Andy’s musings, Murray-Smith asks where the simpler, more humanist America society that was characterised in Walt Whitman’s famous poem, Leaves of Grass, has gone.

This week, the world is once more asking the same question.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Caravan, Oct 7, 2017 ***1/2

THEATRE - Melbourne Festival
Written by Angus Cerini, Patricia Cornelius, Wayne Macauley & Melissa Reeves, presented with Malthouse
At Forecourt, Malthouse Theatre, until Oct 22, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ***1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts in print on Oct 10 & later online. KH
Susie Dee, Nicci Wilks, pic Tim Grey

The love-hate relationship between the mother and daughter in Caravan is ugly, unpredictable and characterised by bickering, confrontations and sporadic reconciliations. 

Daughter, Donna (Nicci Wilks), and Mum, Judy (Susie Dee), live a claustrophobic existence, emotionally and financially trapped in their tatty, 1960s caravan littered with Judy’s pill bottles and a fast-emptying wine cask and furnished with mismatched fabrics, a crummy CD player and tiny TV.

Judy lies stranded on the bed like a beached seal, craving the cheap alcohol that is killing her, while Donna searches for dates on her Tinder account then dashes out to meet them for dangerous, quicky sexual encounters behind the caravan.

The power dynamic is volatile between this co-dependent pair as Donna struggles to nurse her selfish and smug mother who, in turn, whines and manipulates her daughter and refuses, after 37 years, to give her a kind word or reveal the name of Donna’s father.

The dialogue is acerbic and funny, effectively combining Aussie slang with poetic language and, although it has four writers, the tone and style are coherent and cohesive.

With humour and poignancy, the play successfully articulates the desperate plight of these two women who are bound by poverty, tragedy and hopeless dreams of a better life.

Wilks is totally credible as Donna who looks like a trapped and beaten creature that keeps returning to its abuser, while Dee plays Judy with a wry smile and an almost palpable, inner fantasy life that keeps her mood strangely buoyant as she lies incapacitated.

The audience sits outdoors – albeit under cover – peering like voyeurs into the open side of the caravan, experiencing the cramped, physical environment of the ‘white trash’ caravan and feeling the despairing atmosphere of its two inhabitants.

There are echoes of Beckett’s hapless tramps and Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern when the women play games, tell stories and torment each other to pass the endless, isolated hours.

Caravan is an unsentimental observation of this dysfunctional relationship and its leaves an audience hoping that a better day will come for Donna and Judy, but knowing that it will not.

By Kate Herber

Susie Dee pic Tim Grey
 Nicci Wilks
pic Tim Grey

Friday, 6 October 2017

Please, Continue (Hamlet), Oct 5, 2017 ***1/2

Created by Roger Bernat & Yan Duyvendak, by Dreams Come True, Geneve
At Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, Oct 5-9 2017 
Melbourne Festival
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ***1/2
This review is published only on this blog. This NOT a review for Herald Sun. KH
This pic is not of Melbourne season
Hamlet killed Polonius. It’s a fictional killing, but we know it happened because we witness him stick the knife into the arras behind which Polonius is hiding while he eavesdrops on Hamlet’s conversation with his mother, Gertrude.

But what would an Australian criminal court make of the evidence?

Please, Continue (Hamlet) is a dramatised and mostly improvised version of a court case against Hamlet, complete with a real judge, real lawyers and forensics expert. The legal personnel change each night but the three constants are the actors playing Hamlet (Chris Ryan), Ophelia (Jessica Clarke) and Gertrude (Genevieve Picot).

If you’ve ever witnessed court proceedings, you’ll know that they can be slow, laborious and mind-numbingly dull with occasional moments of interest or glimpses of brilliance and wit from a barrister.

Such is the case with these proceedings that are based on a blend of Shakespeare’s Hamlet with a real murder case.

On opening night, Lesley Taylor QC led the Defence with confidence, sharp humour and theatrical flair while John Champion SC was formal and dignified leading the Prosecution and forensic pathologist, Ass. Prof. David Ranson was compelling and a bit of a hoot – perhaps unintentionally.

This Hamlet is a lowbrow petty crim rather than a privileged royal and Ryan captures his nervous evasiveness. Clarke’s Ophelia is a resentful party gal while and Picot’s Gertrude is nervy and suitably bemused by the legal palaver.

Please Continue (Hamlet) is perhaps more interesting as an idea than as a piece of theatre but its success depends to a great degree on the legal fraternity’s capacity to entertain a crowd.

By Kate Herbert

On opening night, Oct 5, 2017, legal team included:

Judge: Hon. Prof. George Hampel AM QC
Defence: Lesley Taylor QC & Daniel Aghion
Prosecution: John Champion SC & Jeremy McWilliam
Judge’s Associate: Grant Lubofksy
Forensic pathologist: Ass Prof David Ranson