Kate Herbert is theatre reviewer, Herald Sun, Melbourne & formerly for Melbourne Times. Kate is a director & produced playwright (20 plays). Scripts published by Currency Press. She worked as an actor, comedian, improviser & teacher of Acting, Improvisation & Playwriting. Kate is currently Convenor of Professional Writing & Editing, Swinburne University. Read her reviews here or at: www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/arts. NB Explorer Browser doesn't always work on blog.
THEATRE By Harry Melling, by Melbourne
Theatre Company MTC
Southbank Theatre, The Lawler, until May 6, 2016; regional tour May 9-27, 2016 Reviewer: Kate Herbert Stars: ***
This review also in Herald Sun Arts in print and online after Mon April 25, KH
us that having a family, a job or even somewhere to sleep are privileges that
are out of reach for the disenfranchised in our communities.
Melling’s monodrama, Darcy Brown plays a homeless, 19-year-old youth who goes
door-to-door in London, peddling cheap household cleaning products as part of a
scam that his unseen but formidable Boss Man calls “Boris Johnson’s Young
for his movie role as Dudley Dursley, Harry Potter’s cousin, writes the Boy’s
dialogue in galloping, rap-style, blank verse that echoes the lad’s frenetic
behaviour and disordered, often unhinged thinking.
doing what I do best. I’m making a f...ing mess,” quips the Boy, and Brown’s
feverish performance makes clear that this Boy’s mess is mental as well as
Boy, Brown frantically scrambles and slides over a skateboard ramp (designer,
Marg Horwell), leaping off it to knock on the doors of affluent or middle-class
London homes only to be shunned, patronised or summarily dismissed.
embodies this disaffected young man’s desperation and fear as he tries to
scrape a living from dodgy peddling while avoiding the wrath of his Boss Man.
Dee’s dynamic direction intersperses still moments amidst hectic scenes, and focuses
on the rhythmic language, vivid characters and shifting locations the Boy
careers around the space, tumbling over and under the skate ramp, spilling the
Boy’s addled inner thoughts then reining in his ranting to politely address
customers on their doorsteps.
a parade of characters that include a shopkeeper who sells him illegal
fireworks, the Boss Man, an obliging elderly resident, a helpful, little girl
who he calls The Gatekeeper and her mother who the Boy recognises from his
poignant craving for redemption and to find a place of love and peace are heart
evokes a sense of place as the Boy scampers agitatedly along streets and spends
troubled, painful nights sleeping on concrete in a car park, although the skate
ramp restricts the space and seems too confining for Brown’s physicality.
could pace himself better and relax a little so that the Boy’s chaotic
behaviour does not interfere with the clarity of his dialogue, thereby ensuring
that the underlying social commentary is always comprehensible.
Matthews’ rumbling, live percussion underscores the Boy’s anxious journey and
punctuates dramatic moments with thumping bass notes, although it occasionally
obscures Brown’s dialogue for those seated near the drum kit.
a tough story that uses contemporary, lyrical language to inventively
investigate life on the streets.
THEATRE By August Strindberg, adapted by Kip
Williams from a translation by Ninna Tersman By Melbourne Theatre Company MTC
Southbank Theatre, Sumner, until May 21, 2016 Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 21, 2016 Stars: **1/2
Review also in Herald Sun Arts in print on Monday 25 April, 2016 and online by Tues 26 April.KH
Mark Leonard Winter, Robin McLeavy. PicJeff Busby
are myriad challenges in updating August Strindberg’s late 19th
century Scandinavian play, Miss Julie, with its central issues of lust between
social classes and misogyny.
Strindberg wrote his play in the ‘naturalistic’ style,
set it in a single location – the kitchen of Miss Julie’s (Robin McLeavy)
aristocratic father’s estate – and
focused on the truthful depiction of the scandalous relationship between the
privileged Miss Julie and Jean (Mark Leonard Winter), her father’s manservant.
Kip Williams’ adventurous adaptation
retains the kitchen setting, the naturalistic acting and the forbidden relationship
between Miss Julie and Jean, but it uses contemporary language peppered with
expletives and reduces the complexity of the characters’ psychology.
Unfortunately, this production favours form
over content and, although the simultaneous, live projection of a filmed
version of the onstage action is a compelling visual device, the enormous,
overhead screen is a distraction.
the film is a novelty but it becomes an annoyance that draws the eye away from
the live performance or even replaces it when characters go so far upstage that
we are forced to look at the screen.
huge, on-screen personae dwarf their live counterparts below and, because the
actors must perform to multiple cameras outside the glass-walled kitchen
(designer Alice Babidge), they are mostly in profile or facing upstage; back-acting
can be interesting, but not for 100 minutes.
the film focuses on the minutiae of the actors’ performances, echoing Strindberg’s
desire for naturalism, it fails to illuminate story, characters and
relationships or provide a further dimension to our understanding of the
1888 Sweden, Miss Julie’s elevated social position would make her fall from
grace shattering, but removing the yawning social status gap between her and
Jean eliminates the risk and shame that should drive her to flee her home or
now peculiarly modern relationship lacks credibility and also the devastating
intimacy that should evolve over their passionate, perilous, Midsummer night
Mark Leonard Winter, Robin McLeavy. PicJeff Busby
portrayal of Jean misses the subtle balance of arrogant, ambitious upstart and
cruel peasant, lacks the raw masculine power of the working class that attracts
Julie, and relies on shouting to express his cruelty and self-absorption.
Miss Julie combines a dizzy, flirtatious, contemporary party girl with the naive
girlishness and entitled power play of an aristocrat.
increases Miss Julie’s volatility and blurs her boundaries and the escalating
conflict between the lovers is epitomised in Jean’s comment that they will
“torment each other to death”.
Williams dilutes Miss Julie’s hysteria, McLeavy expresses her vulnerable, unbalanced
and deluded personality, but Miss Julie’s devolution into desperate suicidal
action does not ring true in this contemporary portrayal.
Zahra Newman brings
depth and truth to Kristin, Jean’s beleaguered, religious serving-maid ‘fiancée’,
and the character provides an objective view on the doomed relationship and grounds
the scenes in which she features.
production is an inventive, modern interpretation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie
but it sacrifices dramatic truth and complexity for technical innovation.
MUSICAL THEATRE Music & lyrics by Anthony
Costanzo, book by Peter Fitzpatrick Chapel
off Chapel, until April 30, 2016 Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 16, 2016 Stars: ***1/2
This review also online in Herald Sun on Tues April 19, 2016 and later in print. KH
Alinta Chidzey Stephen Mahy – pic James Terry
There is much
to like in CROSSxROADS, a romantic
comedy that is one of those rare beasts – a new, Australian musical.
With music and lyrics by Anthony Costanzo and book by
Peter Fitzpatrick, CROSSxROADS boasts a small but exceptionally talented cast,
featuring three favourite, local musical theatre performers: Stephen Mahy, Alinta Chidzey
and Fem Belling.
The story focuses on the evolution of Rick (Mahy) and Amy’s (Chidzey) on-and-off
relationship that begins on their 1999 university Graduation Day but, over the
next ten years, suffers interruptions, miscommunication, pig-headedness and the
tyranny of distance when they live in different countries.
Fitzpatrick’s book cunningly employs the ‘sliding
doors’ narrative device that depicts crucial moments in Rick and Amy’s lives
when they could have taken alternative pathways that could have led them to
different relationship destinations.
Costanzo’s complex lyrics cleverly illuminate characters,
develop relationships and advance the story in a repertoire of songsranging from bold choruses to power ballads, anthems
and poignant love duets.
magnetic as Rick, allowing his character to grow, albeit slowly, from the
brazen, irresponsible and boyish 21-year old, to a driven company executive
then to the mature man who wants love in his life.
is thrilling when he sings Rick’s impassioned lament about his chequered life
journey, Yellow Brick Road, and he provides captivating lead vocals in the
her clear, bright but powerful voice, is charming and engaging as the bookish, conservative
Amy and her version of Amy’s Moving On is touching.
Chidzey are entertaining in the playful duet, That’s My Shit, and their voices
blend effectively in the rich and emotional tune, I Don’t Know You.
powerhouse voice is a feature in the show and she plays Hannah, Amy’s eccentric
best friend, with a sassy, audacious edginess.
Joe Kosky creates
a sympathetic and funny character playing Rick’s best mate, Barrel, a boyish,
boozing, good-natured boofhead.
The ensemble relishes
the comedy in the satirical tune, The Difference Between, provides swelling vocals
and exhilarating harmonies in Paint The Town Green and in the rousing finale,
Epilogue/I Don’t Know You.
direction keeps the staging simple and the action moving swiftly while the
five-piece band is tight and tuneful under the musical direction of David
Th songs may
not all be memorable, but the quality of this production, with its fine cast, suggests
that CROSSxROADS could be the new, Australian musical to watch.
THEATRE By William Shakespeare, Bell
Shakespeare Company Fairfax
Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, until May 1, 2016 Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 15, 2016 Stars:***1/2
Review also online in Herald Sun Arts on Tues April 19, 2016 and also in print. KH
Romeo and Juliet - Kelly Paterniti, Alex Williams_pic Daniel Boud
the first minutes of the opening night of Romeo and Juliet, the electrics
failed and director, Peter Evans, diverted the audience with chatter about
Shakespeare until the lights came up, accompanied by a cheer, and the crowd was
now in the palm of his hand.
production captures the passionate spirit of Shakespeare’s play about adolescent
‘star-crossed lovers’ from feuding families, beginning as a playful comedy
before veering relentlessly into tragedy after Mercutio’s (Damien
death, the first of many.
youthful cast, although older than Juliet’s almost 14 years, embodies the
intemperate passions and lack of impulse control of these privileged, young
people of Verona; the stage is steaming with hormones.
of Shakespeare’s glorious, poetic textures and rhythms are lost amidst the brazen,
energetic delivery of famous monologues, but the volatility of these teenage
lovers and their exuberant, feuding cohorts enlivens the story, bringing it
into our times.
curtained archway and two high balconies supported by scaffolding, and the
elegant, brocaded costumes, evoke the Italian Renaissance town on this stage
within a stage designed by Anna Cordingley.
Romeo is boyish, petulant, whining (a little too much whining), a victim of his
hormones and romantic fantasies that lead him into perils including seducing
and marrying his enemy’s daughter and killing her cousin leading to his death
and his lover’s. No spoiler alert needed.
Paterniti is pert and girlish as the besotted Juliet, and her tiny, poppet-like
frame and light voice make credible Juliet’s childish flightiness, foolhardy
decisions and romantic musings.
is a comic highlight as Juliet’s Nurse and she relishes her bawdy dialogue,
foolish ramblings and slapstick tomfoolery.
Strouthos plays Mercutio as a brattish,
brawling fun-lover but his characterisation lacks some of the charm and
charisma that are essential ingredients of any unforgettable Mercutio.
story is riddled with bullying, thuggery, gang feuds and domestic violence so a
contemporary audience needs to suspend any gentler sensibilities and try not to
judge characters such as Mercutio, Tibalt (Tom
Lord Capulet (Justin Stuart Cotta) as the bullies that
direction moves at a galloping pace while the palpably dangerous sword fights
(directed by Nigel Poulton) epitomise the hot-bloodedness of these feuding
is a dignified Benvolio, Hazzam Shamas opens the play with a comical Samson and
later plays the naive, fearful Friar.
gives grace and vulnerability to Lady Capulet, Michael Gupta plays the County Paris
as blissfully ignorant, while Cramer Cain is a goofy Peter, the servant.
Romeo and Juliet, the characters are on an inexorable march toward the tragic finale
in the Capulets’ tomb, but an audience cannot help but want to warn them every
step of the way and shout, “Don’t do it!” – to no avail, of course.
Melbourne International Comedy Festival Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, until
April 17, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert Stars: ***
Review also published online at Herald Sun Arts/Com Fest on April 9, 2016. KH
Trevor Ashley & Rhonda Burchmore in Twins
In Twins, two local cabaret legends, Rhonda Burchmore and
Trevor Ashley, wrap their exceptional singing in an odd package that comprises
campery, vulgarity, cynicism, sexism, self-deprecation and unfunny, trashy
It’s like watching episodes from two totally different shows
of vastly differing quality.
Twins relies on Burchmore and Ashley’s separate prowess and
celebrity as cabaret artists, but also on the ridiculous notion that they are
identical twins (borne by Maria Venuti), the absurdity of which is emphasised
in their duet, I’m Singing With My Twin In The Mirror.
Both are considered sassy, gay icons in Melbourne but Ashley
is short, plump and male (albeit famous for drag characters including Edna
Turnblat in Hairspray) while Burchmore is tall, leggy and female.
The altered lyrics that they sing to ABBA’s Dancing Queen
were, I think, ‘See them dance, that skinny vamp and that fat queen.’ She’s the
spaghetti to his dumpling.
They rev the crowd up with their rousing medley of Pointer
Sisters songs including, I’m So Excited, Slow Hand and Jump!
Ashley’s parody of Adele is a riot as he flails his arms,
tosses his Adele wig and adulterates her poignant lyrics to, ‘Hello, I’m
thinking about things I like to eat.’
Burchmore’s impersonation of Sia singing Chandelier is a
hoot as she stumbles blindly around the stage wearing her face-obscuring wig
while Ashley, in an unflattering white leotard, performs a hilarious
Rhonda Burchmore as Sia & Trevor Ashley as her 'dancer'
The satirical videos of the Kardashians and Entertainment
Today are really entertaining, but the video highlight is the outrageously
funny and provocative ad for The Real Housewives of ISIS.
The show has compelling songs, glitzy costumes and a
terrific (but scarily young) band, however the banter between the tunes is
often unsuccessful, amateurish or crass and the production could benefit from an outside director's eye.
The satire of Ellen Degeneres and her partner, Portia De
Rossi, doing a TV seminar called‘Nurturing your inner lesbian’, is awkward and mostly unfunny while the mermaid
sketch may offend some audience members.
Ultimately, the quality of the musical numbers and the
personalities of these two talented cabaret artists win the crowd and compensate
for the show’s intermittent failings.
Melbourne International Comedy Festival Written by Glynn Nicholas & Bev
Killick, produced by Glynn Nicholas Alex Theatre, St. Kilda until May 1,
2016 Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 7, 2016 Stars: ****
online in Herald Sun Arts/Comedy Festival Reviews, Fri April 8, 2016. KH
Sweden entry: Kyssa Minlodis sing Save The World
Trashy Europop songs, conceited singers, glitzy costumes,
gratuitous dancers, cultural pride and wind machines.
Song Contest: The Almost Eurovision Experience has many of
the idiosyncratic ingredients of real Eurovision – without Guy Sebastian muscling
in on that northern continent competition.
Writer-director-producer, Glynn Nicholas, wanted to make the
loudest musical ever and Song Contest, with its hand-held clackers, cheering
crowd and amplified music, is as noisy as a pop concert mashed with an AFL game,
but with more sequins.
Eleven countries compete in this contest that takes place in
beautiful Belarus, and Bev Killick plays the patronising and extravagantly but
tastelessly dressed host, Bettina Bitjakokov (say that aloud to get the naughty
Audience members, pumped up on booze, music and faux national
pride, swig drinks, clack clackers, wave the flags of their designated countries
then vote on their phones or on old-fashioned paper.
It’s a licence for rampant partisanship, bribery and
The songs may be parodies with mischievous lyrics, but they
are all singable and some are hilariously memorable, including the mock-inspirational
opening chorus of Beauty, Understanding, Music and Song, written by Nicholas.
A different country wins each night but Sweden, that bastion
of Eurovision winners including ABBA, won opening night with its sassy, tightly
choreographed quartet of Little Mix lookalikes (except for the gal with the
beard) in their sequined mini-dresses and garish wigs.
This reviewer voted Sweden second but voted #1 for Poland’s nostalgic
love ballad that epitomised old Eurovision in its sweet-voiced, naive and
awkward couple wearing traditional costume and backed by two achingly funny,
leotard-clad mimes wearing white neutral masks. Hilarious!
Italy’s Italian Stallion was suitably vain and obsessed with
his mother, Germany blended cowboys with a Bavarian slap dance and the UK’s
entry had plenty of pelvic thrusting on a motorbike.
Iceland’s costumes of white fur, silver lame undies and
feathered doves stretched the limits of sanity while Russia’s traditional-looking
babushkas stripped off their skirts to reveal the new Russia – and their
Jason Coleman and Yvette Lee’s choreography ranges from
provocative contemporary moves to the totally absurd while evocative lighting
effects (Stephen Hawker) complete the Eurovision picture.
The more over-the-top it got, the funnier it became, but the
songs are crying out for more mid-song key changes, extra sexist costume
reveals/strips and additional silly dancing.
The intro could be tightened and the voting needs to be
streamlined, but Song Contest will tickle the fancy of Eurovision aficionados
and newbies alike.
By Kate Herbert
Poland's duo haunted by mimes L & R. This is not, sadly, a pic of the song on stage.
Melbourne Internatioal Comedy Festival The Famous Spiegeltent until April 17,
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Wed April 6, 2016 Stars: ****1/2 Review also in Herald Sun Arts Online on Thurs April 7, 2016. KH
Ongals are side-splittingly hilarious Korean clowns who
communicate in gibberish and look like a gang of giant, marauding K-Pop babies in
pastel pyjamas – even when they’re juggling knives.
Imagine absurd, Three Stooges-style status relationships, boisterous
physical comedy and gestural language, then add alarmingly dangerous stunts and
audience participation all performed in nonsense language with the occasional,
discernible English word.
They have the audience eating out of their hands from the
first appearance of jolly, yellow Ongal who wears a lemon onesie (you know, one
piece jim-jams) and instructs the audience to shut up, sit down, turn off phones
and keep kids quiet or they’ll punish you gruesomely – in mime, anyway.
Yellow Ongal seems smart and controlling compared to red Ongal
who looks insane and clumsy while blue Ongal is delightfully dopey and plump.
The show is uproariously funny for all ages as the Ongals galumph
around the stage, taunting each other and the audience, encouraging one another
to perform more and more dangerous and ridiculous feats of juggling and
They play like toddlers, finding bizarre uses for objects
such as toilet seats, rubber gloves and paint rollers, but their finest lunatic
activity is using a garden sprayer as a ‘bottom-pump’ to help them blow up
balloons. Picture that!
They play a silly version Oh, Susannah on tiny, hand-held
bells, enlisting the assistance of a courageous young man from the crowd who they
haul back on stage later to be the victim of a whip-cracking stunt by blue
Ongal, the juggling star.
Jut when you thought you’d figured out Ongals’ comedy limits,
Beat Box Ongal arrives, using a microphone to perform stunning vocal sound
effects to accompany a three-way juggling routine.
Ongals’ Babbling Comedy is skilful, organised comedy chaos that
is often gob-smacking, sometimes alarming and always riotously funny. K-Komedy
Sammy J & Randy Land Athenaeum Theatre until April 17, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Mar 31, 2016 Stars:****
This review also appears in Herald Sun online Comedy Festival web page on Fri April 1, 2016. KH
Sammy J & Randy
Expect the unexpected in Sammy J & Randy Land because this
mischievous duo just keeps breaking rules and making the crowd roar with
When they plan to build their own theme park, Sammy J, the goody-goody,
nerdy human, and his stage partner, Randy, a rude, purple-headed, bogan puppet,
can’t agree on the theme, style, rides, target market – or anything.
This conflict generates a series of often achingly funny
episodes as Sammy J and Randy embark on their individual quests to create their
own version of the park.
The show is a rollercoaster ride of absurdity and vulgarity that
sees Sammy J performing his hilariously appalling one-man musical, A Jay in the
Life, Randy revealing his purple appendage on the Ghost Train and the pair
performing a Punch and Judy style puppet show about evil Randy the Ogre.
The duo performs on a carnival set design and the show feels
like old vaudeville, incorporating a straight man and fall guy, idiotic gags,
variety acts that include stick-, shadow- and hand-puppets, songs and crummy magic
tricks that include sawing Randy in half – well, in three.
With its adult themes, coarse language and intermittent,
graphic sexual references, this is not a children’s show but its balance of
raunchy, outrageous adult humour with playful, childlike silliness wins the
hearts and minds of the audience.
Randy’s theme park looks much more fun but far more
dangerous with its raptor enclosure, killer whale and manic monkeys.
This pair is accomplished and multi-talented, their comic material
is cunningly written and skilfully performed and they are totally in synch in
both their rehearsed and ad-libbed routines.
Sammy J and Randy take aim at soft political targets such as
Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott and the hapless Joel Fitzgibbon who becomes their
mascot, as well satirising the Bondi Vet and his impressive pectorals.
“Do you believe in magic?” they sing and, by the end of this
wicked and twisted show, Sammy J and Randy have performed some comedy magic on