Friday, 30 October 2015

Someone LIke Thomas Banks, Oct 31, 2015 ***

Written by Thomas Banks & Gayelene Carbis
By Platform & Straightjacket Productions
At 45downstairs, from Sat Oct 31, 2015
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sat Oct 30
Stars: ***
Full review also published in Herald Sun online on Mon Nov 2, 2015 and thereafter in print. KHs

Looking for love is hard enough in this world, but when you are a young, gay man living in a regional town and you have a disability, that search becomes even more complicated.

Thomas Banks is an engaging, playful 24 year-old who lives with cerebral palsy, but that’s not stopping him having a full life doing jobs that include disability advocate, usher, actor and writer.

In Someone Like Thomas Banks, a short performance about his life, Thomas addresses the audience directly and, although his speech is often difficult to decipher, his message is always clear: he wants love and he wants to communicate with people and engage fully with the world.

Thomas looks for love and friendship online where he can express himself fluently in writing without having to rely on verbal interaction.

However, sometimes things goes awry when he meets prospective partners in person and, in one hilarious first date encounter re-enacted by audience members, Thomas asks too much too soon, his date scarpers and Thomas foolishly considers pursuing him.

Thomas makes fun of his own pushiness, his need to text a new beau ten times a day and of his desire to chase the men who reject him or delete him from Facebook.

He reveals that he wants a partner to be cute, that he visits gay saunas four times a week (Is he exaggerating?) and that he likes older men.

His joyfulness and joking are tempered with distressing stories about being bullied on the bus as a child, being rejected when a potential lover first sees his disability and being mistaken for a drunk then beaten.

Thomas employs various devices to tell his story, including his Stage Manager (Canada White) translating unclear dialogue for us, even when Thomas insists that we’ll get the gist without her help.

He uses an electronic translator to convert his typed words to speech, while his thoughts and Facebook posts appear as dialogue on an upstage screen.

Lucy Freeman’s direction keeps the play personal, amiable and simple as Thomas tells tales of love lost and won then lost again.

In addition to audience members, White and an enthusiastic Auslan interpreter (Lynn Gordon), a further character, Rodney (Lee Mason), joins Thomas on stage or, more precisely, on screen.

Rodney’s counselling and interviewing techniques challenge Thomas’s choices, motives and relationships while providing clarity for Thomas’s indistinct responses.

In this very personal story, we join Thomas’s quest for a life with meaning and his search for love in all the wrong places – a search with which everyone, with or without disability, will identify.

By Kate Herbert

Performed by Thomas Banks
Canada White – Stage Manager & Lorraine
Lucy Freeman – Director
GayeleneCarbis –Co-writer
Nina Barry –Macauley - Dramaturg
Lee Mason – Rodney (on video)
Performed by Thomas Banks
Canada White – Stage Manager, Set Designer & Lorraine
Lucy Freeman – Director
GayeleneCarbis –Co-writer
Nina Barry –Macauley - Dramaturg
Lee Mason – Rodney (video counsellor)

L-R:  Canada White & Thomas Banks

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Dracula, Oct 30 2015 ***

After Bram Stokerby Little Ones Theatre & Theatre Works
Theatre Works, Oct 30 until Nov 14, 2015
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***
Full review also published in Herald Sun online on Mon 2 Nov 2015 and thereafter in print. KH
 Amanda McGregor, Kevin Kiernan Molloy, Alex Aldrich - photo by Sarah Walker

Silent movies merge with pantomime in this irreverent parody of Bram Stoker’s Dracula featuring that lusty, fanged vampire as a comical composite of Bela Lugosi, Buster Keaton and Gloria Swanson.

In Stephen Nicolazzo’s production, two women (Alexandra Aldrich, Catherine Davies) share the role of Count Dracula who switches gender, age and sexual preference as often as he changes hairstyle and costume.

The early scenes between Aldrich’s Dracula and Janine Watson, who is compelling as his unwitting victim, Jonathan Harker, are the most entertaining and skillful, featuring classic, silent clown routines, sharp comedic timing, snappy choreography, comic grotesquery, broad gestures and facial expressions.

The stylised, hedonistic feasting is a highlight, with Dracula (Aldrich) and his under-dressed underlings (Kevin Kiernan Molloy, Morgan Maguire) ritualistically tantalising the blokey, bemused Harker (Watson) with food, drink and sensual delights.

After 30 minutes, the crispness of this gothic style is lost, the story and characters become confusing, the timing flabby and the theatrical devices overwrought, leaving the next hour much less coherent and professional.

Without the program notes that outline the narrative machinations, an audience has little chance of following the characters’ journeys, particularly when they change gender, costume and even the actors playing the roles.

Catherine Davies is a luscious, lascivious young Dracula in his/her blood red gown, Amanda McGregor’s Mina is a feisty man-girl, while Molloy’s Van Helsing is a comical cross between religious maniac and fitness freak.

Redheaded Zoe Boesen is suitably delicate as Lucy, Dracula’s virginal victim, but Brigid Gallacher, a fine actor, is wasted in the extraneous role of the imprisoned madman, Renfield.

The stage design (Eugyeene Teh) with its glittering silvery-black floor and sheer lamé drapery captures the gothic castle of Dracula as well as the silent movie ‘silver screen’.

The atmosphere is heightened by an evocative soundscape (Daniel Nixon) underscoring the entire show.

Dracula is a valiant theatrical attempt that is entertaining in its artifice, parody and campery, but it cries out for clarity and consistency.

By Kate Herbert
Director Stephen Nicolazzo
Set Design Eugyeene Teh
Costume Design Eugyeene Teh and Tessa Leigh Wolffenbuttel Pitt
Lighting Design Katie Sfetkidis
Sound Design & Composition Daniel Nixon
Performers: Alexandra Aldrich, Zoe Boesen, Catherine Davies, Brigid Gallacher, Amanda McGregor, Morgan McGuire, Kevin Kiernan Molloy and Janine Watson
 Alex Aldrich -photo by Sarah Walker
 Amanda McGregor and Zoe Boeson -photo by Sarah Walker
Kevin Kiernan Molloy -photo by Sarah Walker

Bugle Boys, Oct 28 2015 ***

Written by John Livings
Chapel off Chapel, until Nov 1 2015
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Wed Oct 28, 2015
Stars: ***
Full review also published Herald Sun on Friday 30 Oct 2015 (p87). Should be online at H-Sun on Monday Nov 2. KH

The Bugle Boys L-R: Maxene (Jon Jackson), Patty (Michael Dalton), and LaVerne (Andrew Dessmann)

Picture US servicemen sporting 1940s wigs and blue, satin army uniforms doing a parody of The Andrews Sisters in a World War II Concert Party and you get Bugle Boys.

This spoof, written and directed John Livings, features three local singers in drag playing the famous wartime sisters, Maxene (Jon Jackson), Patty (Michael Dalton), and LaVerne (Andrew Dessmann).

Livings is responsible for tribute shows about Etta James and Marvin Gaye, but Bugle Boys is a naughtier, less respectful mockery that relies on caricatures, cheeky repartee and innuendo as much as it does on memorable songs.

The direction is bumpy, cueing needs tightening and the writing of comic banter is a little flabby, often predictable and almost always spicy and suggestive – just like a drag show.

The three performers do plenty of eye rolling and mugging to the audience to heighten the jokes but better comic timing would give the gags an edge.

Musical direction by Mark Jones provides strong harmonies, although they are obviously not as close as The Andrews Sisters’, while Greg Riddell playing piano on stage gives a zippy accompaniment.

Jackson’s Maxene gets progressively more soused as she/he sucks on her hip flask of Bundy and totters clumsily across the stage, but his falsetto singing (Maxene was the soprano) is one of the highlights, particularly in I Wanna Be Loved and Bei Mir Bist Du Shön.

Dalton, who is known for his drag character, Dolly Diamond, gives Patty a wheezing, earnest quality as she leads the trio in its repertoire of tunes and narrates the details of their chequered childhoods and adult careers.

Dessmann’s LaVerne is sassy, dim and, according to all their gossip, promiscuous, which makes him seductive and salacious as he sashays around the stage, singing and dancing his saucy choreography (Jeremy Hinman).

There are plenty more songs to appeal to devotees of The Andrews Sisters, including: Rum and Coca-Cola, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby and, of course, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, with a real bugler onstage.

You won’t get a genuine homage to the Sisters in this one-hour cabaret/comedy but, if you like a drag-show parody, Bugle Boys may suit your taste.

By Herbert

Michael Dalton,  Jon Jackson, Andrew Dessmann

 The Andrews Sisters - the real ones!
The Andrews Sisters

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Masquerade, 22 Oct 2015 ***

By Kate Mulvany, based on the book by Kit Williams
By Griffin Theatre Company & State Theatre of South Australia
Melbourne Festival
Southbank Sumner Theatre; 22 to 25 October
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review published in Sunday Herald Sun on Sun 25 Oct & later online (on or after Mon 26 Oct 2015).KH

Kit Williams’ beautifully illustrated and wildly successful children’s puzzle book, Masquerade, was the first ‘armchair treasure hunt’ and the hunt continues in Kate Mulvany’s play based on this UK publishing phenomenon.

To create the script, Mulvany uses the characters, locations and riddles that Williams embedded in his vividly coloured, intricately detailed illustrations.

In a simple story, the Moon (Kate Cheel) falls in love with the Sun (Mikelangelo) so she sends her servant, Jack Hare (Nathan O’Keefe), to deliver to the Sun her message of love with a gloriously bejewelled, golden amulet that depicts a running hare.

Into this tale of love and mortality, Mulvany cunningly weaves a second narrative thread about Joe (Jack Andrew), a child suffering cancer and trapped in his hospital room, and his mother, Tessa (Helen Dallimore), who diverts him with readings from Masquerade.

Joe’s story mirrors Mulvany’s own childhood cancer and her enchantment with this same book that soothed, cheered and distracted her during her illness.

Jack Hare reaches the Sun but has lost the amulet and forgotten the love message, so Joe and Tessa continue the story as they hunt for the lost amulet in a passionate, possibly ill-fated desire to save Joe from mortality.

O’Keefe is engaging, spirited and impudent as Jack Hare who addresses the audience directly, inserting modern references, cheeky asides and jokes.

Dallimore is warmly genuine as Joe’s mum and her profound need to save her son is trumpeted in her impassioned blues lament, while Jack Andrew is sympathetic as her ailing child.

Cheel brings a melancholy narcissism to the Moon and dizzy charm to Tara Treetops, while Zindzi Okenyo is a riot as the dancing Fat Pig.

Williams’ book relies on images and a few succinct, well-crafted lines of text, but the dialogue in the play is more wordy and sometimes too dense, slowing the pace of the action.

Although William’s paintings cannot be perfectly translated to the stage, Anna Cordingley’s costumes capture much of their vibrancy and playfulness.

Co-directors, Sam Strong and Lee Lewis, place Joe’s prison-like hospital room in the centre of the fantastical world of creatures and dreams that his imagination conjures as mum reads the book.

The production could be tighter and faster-paced and some judicious dialogue editing and snappier cueing could contract the show into a single act.

Some well-placed, sharply choreographed physical comedy and dance and a few short, singable songs for kids would enhance this production and probably make it more accessible for children.

Live music and songs by Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen lend the flavour of gypsy music and European folk tunes with their featured accordion, violin and guitar, although some of the songs are repetitive in style and tone.

Pip Branson’s feisty, versatile violin gives resonance to The Man Who Plays the Music That Makes The World Go Round.

The blend of sadness, joy and concepts of mortality may be unsuitable for small children, but families can go on an ‘armchair treasure hunt’ with Joe who is inspired by a book that allows him to escape his pain, however briefly.

By Kate Herbert

Co-directors: Sam Strong and Lee Lewis
Music: Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen

Saturday, 17 October 2015

1984, 16 Oct 2015 ****1/2

1984 by George Orwell
Adaptation by Robert Icke & Duncan Macmillan
By Headlong (UK)
Melbourne Festival 
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, Oct 16 to 25, 2015
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Fri 16 Oct 2015
Stars: ****1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun online on Mon 19 Oct 2015 and thereafter in print. KH
Cast of 1984 by Headlong; pics by Manuel Harlan 
L-R: (Parsons) Simon Coates; (Martin) Christopher Patrick Nolan; (Julia) Janine Harouni;  (Winston) Matthew Spencer (rear as O’Brien) Tim Dutton; (Charrington) Stephen Fewell; (Mrs Parsons) Mandi Symonds; (Syme) Ben Porter

The most alarming thing about this theatrical re-imagining of George Orwell’s 1984, adapted by UK company, Headlong, is that Orwell foreshadowed in 1949 a dystopian future that resembles our present.

Corporations and governments currently have control of, and demand even more intrusive, unfettered access to our personal information and, in 2013, Edward Snowden alerted the world to a clandestine surveillance program run by the NSA.

Orwell wrote 1984 after the horrors of Nazism and World War II, but when Britain still suffered post-war trauma and food rationing and Stalin’s Soviet Union ruled the Eastern Bloc.

The all-powerful Big Brother and the repressive Thought Police of the tyrannous government in 1984, reflect but predate the East German Stasi secret police and its citizen spies.

In their stage vision of 1984, Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan conjure a compelling theatrical landscape as well as provoking vehement political discourse.

Their direction is crisp, uncluttered and seamless while their adaptation synthesises Orwell’s message into a concise, riveting script with a crystal clear concept, searing narrative and credible characters, all delivered by an impeccable ensemble.

The production is unnerving with its sense of impending doom, its mental torment, Shakespearean violence and gruesome, graphic scenes of torture.

As in Orwell’s book, Big Brother controls and maintains surveillance on the lives of Winston (Matthew Spencer), his lover, Julia (Janine Harouni), and his oppressed comrades, monitoring their every movement and word via ubiquitous telescreens and microphones.

Winston’s sins against the state include: writing in a secret journal, desiring love, Thought Crime that includes negative thoughts about Big Brother, and defying the state.

Such transgressions that we view as merely human needs or choices, are considered seditious and are punishable by death and being ‘unpersonned’, meaning that Winston will be erased from all public records.

The Ministry of Love is actually about hate, The Ministry of Truth deals in lies, the population is deprived, starved, brainwashed and oppressed into conformity with Big Brother’s regime while inconvenient truths are written out of history.

This repressive, regressive world reverses social values: ‘War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.’

In Icke and Macmillan’s interpretation, Winston’s mind slips between reality and horrific unreality so that he cannot discern whether he exists in the oppressive world of 1984 or in the world of those who read his journal a century later.

Spencer balances Winston’s naive heroics with a brittle, dogged rebelliousness that makes us cheer his pluckiness but want to shout warnings to shut up and keep his head down.

Tim Dutton is disturbing as the smiling villain, O’Brien, with his quietly threatening presence and ever-watchful gaze as he prowls like a lion stalking its prey, peering through grimy windows.

The cast creates a disquieting atmosphere of routine tinged with menace, playing characters such as the insidious spy, Martin (Christopher Patrick Nolan), anxiously cheerful Mrs Parsons (Mandi Symonds) and her fearful, rambling husband, Parsons (Simon Coates), who are terrified of their spying child who is a product of indoctrination.

Old Charrington (Stephen Fewell) is deceptively harmless while Syme (Ben Porter) constantly giggles nervously.

The design (Chloe Lamford) may look like a benign, wood-panelled library but its smoky windows, secret doors and corridors make it threatening even before it transforms into the starkly lit, sinister torture cell, Room 101.

The ominous environment is heightened by huge video projections (Tim Reid) overlooking the stage and the pounding, buzzing static of the invasive soundscape (Tom Gibbons) and evocative lighting (Natasha Chivers).

Remember, Big Brother is watching so hang on to your identity with both hands.

By Kate Herbert
O’Brien Tim Dutton
Charrington Stephen Fewell
Julia Janine Harouni
Martin Christopher Patrick Nolan
Syme Ben Porter
Winston Matthew Spencer
Parsons Simon Coates
Mrs Parsons Mandi Symonds 

Adapted and Directed by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan
Chloe Lamford
Lighting Natasha Chivers
Sound Tom Gibbons
Video Tim Reid
Janine Harouni as Julia

Christopher Patrick Nolan as Martin

Friday, 16 October 2015

Rituals of Art & Hatred, opens Tues 27 Oct 2015

By Michael Dalley 
Butterfly Club 
Tues 27 Oct -7 Nov, 2015 at 8.30pm

Here's a show I'm keen to see later this month. KH

From Media Release (this is not my review):

Michael Dalley is bringing his hit show of the Adelaide and Melbourne Cabaret Festivals ‘Rituals of Art and Hatred’ to The Butterfly Club.

Over the last decade, he has charmed audiences with his highly theatrical cabaret shows, including Vaudeville X’, ‘Urban Display Suite’, ‘Intimate Apparel’, and ‘Death in White Linen’. Whilst being thrilled to have won two Green Room Awards, Dalley is still livid at not winning the other ten for which he was nominated.

Michael Dalley is the master of satirical song writing. ‘Rituals of Art and Hatred’ is a compilation of the best songs of Dalley’s career such as, ‘The C Word’s Back in Town’, ‘Shit Art of the Mornington Peninsula’, ‘The Passive Aggressive Filipino Amway Lady’, and ‘I Love Private School Boys Doing Satire’.

Accompanied by his long time musical coordinator John Thorn, Dalley performs songs parodying today’s social conventions and affectations. Underscoring his material is the tension between his revolutionary impulses and his aspirational, bourgeois lifestyle.

Possessing a winning personality paired with an educated and insightful intellect, Dalley will have you laughing at the world, and more importantly, yourselves. “My duty is the truth. I’m not one to patronise. I’d much prefer to break your heart than flatter you with lies.”

‘Rituals of Art and Hatred’ will take you on a pilgrimage from the profane to the ridiculous. Come and be blessed!
End MR 

You Are Nowhere, 15 -19 Oct 2015

Creator: Andrew Schneider
Arts House
15-19 Oct
Performance Space 122 New York;  Melbourne Festival
I have not seen or reviewed this show but it looks interesting. KH
  Andrew Schneider; pic by Sarah Walker
  Andrew Schneider; pic by Sarah Walker

 From Media Release:

Blending physics lecture, pop culture and personal revelation, YOUARENOWHERE exposes cracks and anomalies in the cosmos, dissecting subjects from quantum mechanics and parallel universes to missed connections and AA recovery steps.
Incorporating an array of visual and aural effects, creative coding, interactive electronics and wearable sensors,
YOUARENOWHERE conjures a fluid and shifting landscape of sensory overload.
Battling glitchy transmissions, crackling microphones and lighting instruments that fall from the sky, Andrew Schneider transforms physical space, warps linear time and short-circuits preconceptions of what it means to be here, now.
YOUARENOWHERE imagines the awe and discomfort of meeting oneself.
What happens when you view yourself from the outside?
How do you hold on to yourself when confronted with an exact replica?
Which one is real? Which one is you? And what happens next?
Creating original works for theatre, video, and installation since 2003 and rooted at the intersection of performance and technology, Schneider’s work critically investigates the over-dependence on being perpetually connected in an always-on world.
Schneider creates and performs award-winning solo performance works, large-scale dance works, builds interactive electronic art works and installations, and was a Wooster Group company member (video/performer) from 2007-2014.
Performance Space 122

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

The Bacchae, 14 Oct 2015

Conceived by Adena Jacobs & Aaron Orzech, adapted from Euripides
By St. Martins & Fraught Outfit; Melbourne Festival
TheatreWorks, until 23 Oct 2015
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: **
Full review also published in Herald Sun online, Fri 16 Oct, then be in print at a later date. KH

The  Bacchae ensemble; pic by Pia Johnson

If you are expecting to see Euripides’ The Bacchae think again, because this production has more in common with a Little Mix concert than Greek tragedy.

Director, Adena Jacobs, uses (and I mean uses) nineteen girls in their mid-teens and one younger boy in this ill-conceived, impenetrable exploration and deconstruction of – well, something Euripides did not write.

The Bacchae suffers irrevocably from focusing on style and form over content and is pretentious rather than audacious.

Firstly, let me say that Kelly Ryall’s music, performed throughout by a pianist, string trio and percussionist, with harmonies by a few girls, is evocative albeit sometimes intrusive.

After a dimly-lit, far upstage depiction of the birth of Dionysus from the thigh of Zeus, one girl steps forward to ramble about her morning ritual of dressing and eating vegemite toast, then rather earnestly says, ‘I am the god, Dionysus, son of Zeus. If you do not believe me, I will punish you.’

In other banal, poorly staged scenes, the girls lounge around, check their phones, nibble snacks or stare at the audience with little apparent understanding of the purpose of their gaze.

The cast performs with an unsatisfying blend of the provocative and the uncomfortable, presenting a series of vignettes that look like soft-core pornography.

The girls are stripped to bikinis – one to only her knickers – their faces are masked and their adolescent bodies are slicked with oil as they writhe and cavort, wave strap-on phalluses, simulate sex, thrash their hair and one even bleeds gold paint from her crotch.

In her exploration of the Maenads, those wild, violent, demented female followers of Dionysus, Jacobs could have learned much about such convulsive, trance-like states from Okwui Okpokwasili in Bronx Gothic, a Melbourne Festival show from New York.

The ritualistic scenes in The Bacchae are probably intended to feel dangerous, edgy, confronting and impassioned but they end up looking overwrought, tame and awkward.

The fault, of course, is not with the cast of teens but with the director and her collaborator (or should we say co-conspirator?), Aaron Orzech, who are the adults in the rehearsal room asking young women to perform such cryptic, incomprehensible material.

This production smacks of exploitation and does not in any way illuminate the issues it so boldly pronounces in its Media Release.

Forget the age-appropriateness of the piece and ask, ‘Is this good theatre?’ The answer is a resounding, ‘No!’

By the way, it is recommended as suitable for audiences 16+.

By Kate Herbert
The  Bacchae - Carla Tilley_ pic by Pia Johnson