Kate Herbert is theatre reviewer, Herald Sun, Melbourne & formerly for Melbourne Times. Kate is a director; produced playwright (21 plays). Scripts pub. Currency Press. She worked as actor, comedian, improviser & teacher of Acting, Improvisation & Playwriting. Kate was Head of Drama/Teacher, NMIT; Coordinator of Prof. Writing/ Editing, Swinburne Uni. Read her reviews here or: www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/arts. NB Explorer Browser doesn't always work on blog.
Created and performed by Zoë Coombs Marr, Ursula Martinez & Adrienne
Truscott Presented by Malthouse Theatre Beckett Theatre, Malthouse, until June 4, 2017 Reviewer: Kate Herbert on May 19, 2017 Stars: ***
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts on Monday May 22, 2017 and later in print. KH
Ursula Martinez (wearing a 'bumhead') –Tim Grey Photo
‘You will probably be
offended. Actually, you will be offended,’ says the publicity about Wild Bore
by Zoë Coombs Marr, Ursula Martinez, Adrienne Truscott.
And I was offended – but
not by the plumply jiggling, naked bottoms perched atop a trestle table and
talking into microphones.
Nor was I offended by the
performers’ full frontal nudity or the scatological language or the swearing or
even by the chocolatey stuff squeezing out of the padded ‘bum-heads’ that
masked the performers faces (or should that be ‘faeces’?).
And it wasn’t the rambling,
post-modern, self-referential, gender-political, meta-theatrical (Yeah, look
that term up ‘cos they use it repeatedly) monologues or the absurdly silly dancing.
And I certainly wasn’t
offended by their vehement and often hilarious attacks on theatre critics who have
ridiculed or dissected former productions by these artists and others.
What offended me was that they didn’t quote me! Clearly, I’m just too dull or
too nice a critic to be quotable. Of course, I expend a lot of energy avoiding
being quotable because critics are misrepresented and misunderstood as often as
are these performers.
Now, how do I write a
critical commentary on a show that is a critical commentary on critics’
critical commentary on critically awful shows? I can’t so I won’t.
Writers like to be
memorable, so plenty of critics write riotously scathing and unforgettable
criticism that artists dismiss, so I try to write criticism that artists may
heed – if I’m lucky and they are listening.
So, amongst the bums and
puns and rants and dancing and finger pointing and gallumphing around the
stage, there are some golden quotes from critics.
‘Al Pacino walks like an anchovy and looks
like an unmade bunk bed.’ Oh, how I wish I’d written that! That’s Rex Reed’s achingly
funny and vitriolic review of Pacino in David Mamet’s China Doll.
Martinez slices and dices
a critic that accused her of building a brick wall ‘for no apparent reason’ in
a show, and Coombs Marr has a go at someone who couldn’t tell the difference
between ‘dramaturgical design’ and ‘whimsical incompetence’ in her previous
Anyway, there’s no point
explaining or critiquing anything in Wild Bore except to say that some of it is
really funny and some is desperately dull and indulgent. You may love it if you
work in the theatre, or go to the theatre a lot, or love these three performers,
or are just a sticky-beak. And it’s short!
one famous book of ‘the worst theatrical reviews in history’ and it’s called No Turn Unstonedand it was edited in
1982 by Diana Rigg – yes, Mrs. Peel from The Avengers (the proper Avengers from
the UK in the 60s).
and I did write a scathing review once but you’ll need to scour every single
review in my blog to find it. It was a beaut!
Written by Lally Katz, by Melbourne Theatre Company Fairfax
Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, until June 24, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Thurs May 18, 2017
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Fri May 19, 2017 and later in print. KH
Virginia Gay, Rhys McConnochie, Nancye Hayes - photo Jeff Busby
humour about old age, serious illness, death and funerals makes you laugh, then
the folks and jokes in Minnie and Liraz may tickle your funny bone – or your
the Autumn Road Retirement Village in Caulfield, Lally Katz’s latest play pokes
fun at the strokes and heart attacks, deafness, widowhood, grandparenting and horribly
failed hip replacements of the various geriatric residents.
Minnie Cohen’s (Nancye Hayes) long-term Bridge partner dies unexpectedly, Liraz
Weinberg (Sue Jones), whose Bridge partner is also recently deceased, proposes
they join forces to win the hotly contested Australian Seniors Bridge Tournament.
agrees to partner her former rival on the proviso that Liraz introduce her
single grandson, Ichabod (Peter Paltos), to Minnie’s unmarried granddaughter,
Rachel (Virginia Gay).
people mellow with age, but Minnie and Liraz buck that trend, with Minnie being
ambitious, abrasive and quietly critical while Liraz is loud, mean, crass and
competitive to the death.
production succeeds almost exclusively because of its capable actors who give
life to Katz’s comic caricatures and work like Trojans to milk every last laugh
out of the rather obvious jokes and observational humour about old age.
sprightly and refined as Minnie and plays her with a vibrating anxiety and
acerbic tone that emphasise Minnie’s deep-seated fears about failing as a
parent and her obsessive need to marry off her granddaughter.
a comic highlight as Liraz, getting huge laughs from her deft manoeuvring of Liraz’s
motorised mobility scooter, her vulgar jokes, loud and rusty laugh and her
Minnie and Liraz unashamedly use emotional blackmail to manipulate their family
and friends, making them both thoroughly dislikeable – but comical.
very funny as the eccentric and clumsy Rachel, playing her with clownish
awkwardness as she struggles to overcome her self-loathing and under-confidence,
despite her success as the headmistress of a primary school.
Ichabod, Liraz’s socially inept physicist grandson, Paltos channels the
brainiacs in Big Bang Theory, getting laughs from his weirdly compulsive behaviour
and his obsession with alternative universes, but his character remains
McConnochie is sympathetic as Morris, Minnie’s lonely and long-suffering
husband, while Georgina Naidu is relentlessly cheerful as the aged care worker,
Anne-Louise Sarks, allows the actors to make the most of the gags, but her staging
the revolving stage (Mel Page) provides multiple locations in the retirement
home and the slow scene transformations initially mirror the residents’ pace of
the life, these scene changes eventually slow the production to a snail’s pace.
insubstantial, comic script includes occasional moments of pathos, such as Morris’s
poignant war story told during ‘memoir group’ and Minnie’s revelation of her
regrets but such moments are infrequent and the dialogue is repetitive.
funereal humour and the digs at possessive grandparents are certainly funny,
but this production succeeds primarily because of the comedic skills of its
Book and Lyrics by Alan
J. Lerner & Music by Frederick Loewe Produced by Opera Australia and John
Theatre, Melbourne, until July 27, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Review NOT published in Herald Sun. It appears only on this blog. KH
My Fair Lady, Anna O'Byrne & cast -photo Jeff Busby
Now, don’t pretend you’re too cool to sing along withthe songs in Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady because you know they are eminently singable. Wouldn’t
It Be Loverly?and Get Me To The
Church On Time stick in your brain like
Julie Andrews, who is musical theatre royalty, was the first Eliza
Dolittle in 1956, and she now demonstrates her directing prowess in this sleek,
funny and stylish production that features Australian soprano, Anna O’Byrne, as
the spirited Eliza, and Charles Edwards, British star of stage and screen, as
the bombastic Henry Higgins.
Lerner and Loewe based My Fair Lady on George Bernard Shaw’s play,
Pygmalion. If you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know the story, Higgins
is a ‘phoneticist’ (he studies accents and language) who makes a wager with
Colonel Pickering (Tony Llewellyn-Jones) that he, Higgins, can transform
Eliza’s voice and appearance from a rough flower seller to a lady in six
Andrews pays homage to the 1956 production by reviving Oliver Smith’s set
design that features London’s grubby streets and Covent Garden flower markets,
as well as its opulent homes and extravagant ballrooms bedecked with
In an inspired choice, this production recreates Cecil Beaton’s incomparable
costumes that range from the earthy tones and shabby fabrics of street urchins,
to remarkable, lavish ball gowns and those unforgettable and exquisite black and white
outfits at the Ascot races.
My Fair Lady cast -photo Jeff Busby
Edwards’ consummate performance as the arrogant, pompous Professor
Higgins elicits the audience’s outrage at Higgins’ bluntness and insensitivity
that borders on cruelty, then, with impeccable comic timing, tilts the crowd
into guffaws at his self-absorbed, mummy’s boy behaviour.
Using a clipped, spoken delivery rather than song, Edwards highlights
Higgins’ smug chauvinism in Why
Can't The English? and A Hymn to Him, then, just when we are certain that we
loath him, he turns us on our heads with Higgins’ warmth and secret longing for Eliza in I’ve Grown
Accustomed To Her Face.
O’Byrne’s performance is assured and her voice is both powerful and sweet
in tone, doing justice to the fanciful Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?, the feisty Just You Wait and Show
Me, the triumphant The Rain in Spain, and the romantic and celebratory I Could
Have Danced All Night.
Her Eliza is charming and her transformation from scruffy, rough-toned
Cockney to articulate and elegant lady is joyful and entertaining, although the
changes in her voice and behaviour from start to finish could perhaps be more extreme.
My Fair Lady cast - photo Jeff Busby
The audacious and hilarious Reg
Livermore is delectably vulgar, cheeky and greedy as Eliza’s booze-soaked
father, Alfred P. Dolittle, and his renditions, with chorus members, of With A Little Bit of Luck and Get Me
To The Church On Time, are crowd-pleasers.
Robin Nevin is deliciously refined and wittily restrained as Henry’s
mother, Mrs. Higgins, while Llewellyn-Jones is appealingly bluff and bumbling as
Colonel Hugh Pickering, and Mark Vincent’s velvet voice expresses Freddy
Eynsford-Jones’ puppy-dog adoration during On The Street Where You Live.
Under the musical direction of Guy Simpson, the orchestra gives an assured
performance of Frederick
Loewe’s inimitable music, while the accomplished
chorus provides rich vocals and vivacious choreography (Christopher Gattelli) in the ensemble numbers.
There is something delightfully old-fashioned and endearing about this
production with its picture frame / chocolate box, proscenium stage and swift
scene changes that take place magically behind the lowered curtain.
It is difficult to fault this captivating production, and Lerner and
Loewe’s My Fair Lady certainly earns its place as one of the most memorable and
exceptional musicals ever written.
By Kate Herbert
Anna O’Byrne Eliza Dolittle
Charles Edwards Henry Higgins
Reg Livermore Alfred P. Dolittle
Robin Nevin Mrs. Higgins
Tony Llewellyn-JonesColonel Hugh
Mark Vincent Freddy Eynsford-Jones
Mrs. Pearce Deidre Rubenstein
Directed by Julie Andrews
Musical DirectorGuy Simpson
Choreographer Christopher Gattelli
Set design Oliver Smith (from original)
Costumes Cecil Beaton
Costume recreation John David Ridge
Lighting design Richard Pilbrow
Sound design Michael Waters
Anna O'Byrne & Charles Edwards -Photo BrianGeach
Anna O'Byrne - photo Jeff Busby
Why Can't The English? – Professor Higgins
Wouldn’t It Be Loverly? – Eliza and Male Quartet
With A Little Bit of Luck– Alfred Doolittle, Harry, and
I'm an Ordinary Man – Professor Higgins
With a Little Bit of Luck (Reprise) – Alfred Doolittle and
Just You Wait – Eliza
The Servants' Chorus (Poor Professor Higgins) – Mrs. Pearce
The Rain in Spain– Professor Higgins, Eliza, and Colonel
I Could Have Danced All Night – Eliza, Mrs. Pearce, and
Ascot Gavotte – Ensemble
On The Street Where You Live– Freddy
Entrance/Embassy Waltz – The Orchestra
You Did It
– Colonel Pickering, Professor Higgins, Mrs. Pearce, and Servants
Wait (Reprise) – Eliza
Street Where You Live (Reprise) – Freddy
Show Me –
Eliza and Freddy
Market/Wouldn't It Be Loverly? (Reprise) – Eliza and Male Quartet
Get me To
The Church On Time– Alfred Doolittle and Ensemble
A Hymn to
Him – Professor Higgins and Colonel Pickering
– Eliza and Professor Higgins
Accustomed To Her Face– Professor Higgins
Have Danced All Night (Reprise) / Finale – The Orchestra
Written by Daniel Lammin Adapted from Spring Awakening by Franz Wedekind Presented
by Monash University Student Theatre (MUST) and fortyfivedownstairs At fortyfivedownstairs,
until May 21, 2017 Reviewer: Kate Herbert Stars:*** Review also published in Herald Sun Arts week of May 15, 2017. (Not on line yet.) KH
Awakening_pic by Theresa Harrison
That volatile and bewildering time when childish bodies suddenly transform,
sexuality awakens, emotions seem out of control, and nobody – especially
parents – understands you.
may have forgotten how fraught life can feel at 14, but the university student
actors in Awakening are not many years older than the troubled 14-year olds
they portray in Daniel Lammin’s adaptation of Franz Wedekind’s controversial
1891 German play, Spring Awakening.
production channels the conservatism and repression of 19th Austria that
Wedekind so scathingly attacked, but Lammin interweaves the contemporary
experiences of 21st century teens who communicate through texts and
Snapchat, take innumerable selfies and dance to 5 Seconds of Summer.
The six performers (Nicola
Dupree, Samanth Hafey-Bagg, Eamonn Johnson, James Malcher, Sam Porter, Imogen
Walsh) switch from 19th century dress to modern clothing in the
second act, but the issues confronting these children remain the same:
sexuality, depression, rape, violence, masturbation, sado-masochism and,
straddle the border between childhood and adulthood, shifting from chanting
rhymes and playing games to struggling with bodily changes and the complexity
of the adult world, all the while fighting to get answers to their questions
about life, love and sex.
is episodic, with scene titles being projected on a rear screen in the style of
Bertolt Brecht’s Epic Theatre of the early and mid-20th century.
episodic structure, we witness teenage characters that represent the differing
experiences of adolescents.
is the golden boy who is smart, handsome and confident, while his friend, Moritz,
is academically weak, unloved and depressed and Hansy is rude, selfish and a cheat.
the girls, the naive Wendla’s life is shattered when she is raped, Marta
assumes that being beaten by her father is normal, and Ilse is the promiscuous
several strong and emotive scenes, one being Moritz’s last, lonely moments
balanced on the edge of a rooftop, texting his friend before he jumps, and
another is the funeral scene when these young people wrestle with the concept
horrific moment, we witness Wendla’s desperate cries when she is raped, and in
another poignant scene she confronts Melchior who craves forgiveness.
positive moment is the cast’s rendition of Queen’s Somebody To Love with its impassioned
lyrics and exhilarating harmonies.
directorial choice to have each performer playing multiple roles may give the
sense that these teenagers share common experiences, but the performers lack
the skill to differentiate between characters as they switch roles, and this is
often confusing for an audience.
contemporary adaptation is enhanced by the authenticity and energy of its
youthful cast and it raises challenging social issues that echo the problems
faced by the children in Wedekind’s 19th century Austria.
Awakening was developed
by Lammin with Monash University Student Theatre for its first season at Trades
Hall in 2016.
I just found this article in my files. It was the very first article i wrote for Arts Editor, Robin Usher, when i became Theatre Reviewer for The Melbourne Times in 1992. It was also the hardest piece I ever had to write.
I came back from the 1992 Adelaide Festival where my colleagues and I had found the critical Arts commentary and theatre reviewing to be appalling. I called The Melbourne Times and Robin Usher answered. He had been in the Arts Editor role for only one month and he asked me to bring him some examples of reviews.
I wrote several reviews on show I had seen in Adelaide. I took them to him. He didn't read any of them but he talked to me about the shows and about theatre and then he gave me this topic to research and write. he told me o see these three plays by women and write a critical article called Gender in Australian Theatre.
Here it is. I found only a photocopy of the article so I had to type it out all over again. All the errors are as they were when I wrote it.
Thank you, Robin, for setting me on my path as an Arts writer and reviewer. You taught me how to structure a piece, bury my quibbles, use my expert knowledge as a theatre practitioner to analyse and comment on shows, and how to be fearless in the face of criticism.
'Gender in Australian
Writer: Kate Herbert
The Melbourne Times. Published around March
My first article ever for The Melbourne Times
Arts Editor: Robin
The gender landscape
approaching the 21st century is changing at such a breathtaking rate
it is a wonder men and women recognise each other when they crawl into bed at
night. Perhaps somewhere in unrecorded history, men and women negotiated shopping,
work, child-care, sensitivity, sex and fidelity. Who can tell?
What the new men’s movement seems to be saying is that men
are confused about traditional roles but have nothing with which to replace
them. Men don’t know how they are supposed to act any more. Are they blokes or
SNAGS? On the other side of the gender fence the role models that the Women’s
Movement created in the 60s and 70s are no longer relevant in the lifestyle of
women in the 90s.
The arts will always intersect withe the prevailing social
and inter-personal patterns. Playwright, particularly, have the opportunity to
explore human relationships in a way unavailable to any other art form,
creating three-dimensional forms ofthe
complex lives of modern, urban people.
There has been a spate of local plays dealing with these
issues. Liz Jones from La mama says she has been receiving an increasing number
of such scripts, predominantly by women, about personal relationships.
Three plays recently i production in Melbourne, and all
written by young women,, Wolf (being
staged at Playbox) and Mistress by
Tobsha Learner, and Ridge’s Lovers by
Joann Murray-Smith. All three are depicting what is commonly and cryptically
dubbed post-feminism. Each raises issues of relationships and gender confusion.
The irksome personal problems between men and women are not
new fodder for the playwright. Look at Medea,
A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Nor and
Torvald in A Doll’s House. Australian
contemporary theatre has followed this noble heritage.
Summer of the
Seventeenth Doll in the 50s looked at the working class and the long-term,
long-distance relationships between two cane-cutters and their girlfriends. The
Removalists penetrated the violence of the domestic home in the 70s and put
it under th microscope, while Don’s Party
stripped off the veneer of the middle-class lefties and revealed their
In the early 80s, Hannie Rayson’s Room To Move shifted the focus to the emerging new relationships of
the time. Men were cooking, housekeeping and emoting. Women were working and
asserting themselves. Love affairs were no longer just being ignored or simply
tolerated, they were being negotiated, for goodness’ sake!
The women created by Murray-Smith and Learner epitomise the
more recent struggle to integrate feminism with the New Conservatism of the
80s. In Ridge’s Lovers, Elle is an
attractive, cool and decorative bitch who uses her lover for sex and adoration
and shuns a domestic relationship. She defies most feminist principles except
independence of spirit. Stephanie dreams about a career as an actor but
fantasises about marriage and domestic bliss. Julia is simple but inarticulate.
They speak aloud some of the embarrassing fantasies and
secret scripts of modern women. They dream of being stick-insect thin, being
able to toss on any old thing and look fabulous, wearing lacy underwear
(presumably without feeling foolish or guilty), and about the Latin lover who
whisks tem off to an Italian villa.
The compromise continues. In Mistress Diana Cunningham subjugates her own career to her husband’s.
His mistress, Helen, waits in the wings for him to leave is wife. The young
Aphrodite treats her boyfriend like a demi-god. I Wolf, Damien Lupus’ wife, Deirdre, may be a successful politician
but she suffers from Daniel’s continual affairs. Toni is constantly in love
with unavailable men and the art school student uses Daniel to advance her
career and has absolutely no sense of sisterhood. It’s enough to make die-hard
feminists give up and wear frilly blouses.
These characters are still looking toward the old male
models to rescue them. In the plays, a man representing a very traditional role
is central to the plot and the women are like Russian satellites revolving
around him. The pattern of women identifying themselves through men is
ubiquitous. It is heartening that, at the end of Mistress, all three women try to extricate themselves from their
The poor men do not fare so well. They remain unresolved and unredeemed. Ridge
searches for this ideal women in a composite of all three lovers, although he
is interested in marrying the only one who does not want him. Familiar? Daniel
Lupus is a Casanova, a ‘root rat’, a compulsive seducer who does not even have
the imagination to think up new lines of seduction for each new conquest.Familiar? Richard Cunningham is an
unattractive example of the lapsed hippy-socialist that was breeding unchecked
on university campuses in the 70s his politics lapsing conveniently with his
Catholicism when he became a wealthy celebrity journalist.
All three men have an uncontrollable desire to possess
squillions of women. Don Juan had nothing on these guys. In the end, though,
they are more to be pitied than admired.
According to Rose Rothfield, a psychoanalyst, the Don Juan
is a common male psychological phenomenon. “Don Juan is trying terribly hard to
be a man and, to prove it, he sleeps with a lot of women. It’s not enough proof.
He has to do it again and again.” He is a wolf. Learner says that women, too,
may be wolves, but very few women make a lifelong vocation of it.
Yes, we all recognise the Don Juan, and the females in these
plays may be vocalising he deep and dark secrets of women out there. Audiences
may recognise themselves in the stereotypes on the stage. But do these
stereotypes challenge our ideas or broaden our thinking, or do they simply
confirm what we believe to be the truth? Does it matter?
Write and lecturer in Women’s Studies, Phillippa Rothfield,
suggests that theatre can deal with issues and concerns, or it can merely
depict. She questions whether it is sufficient simply to portray these
Here we stumble upon the glaringly obvious question: should
theatre written by women be feminist in perspective and political in intention?
Must it be emancipatory? Indeed, is theatre written by women the same thing as
Whether theatre can affect the very fabric of society is a
moot point. It may simply reflect previous change through a warped mirror.
Is it unreasonable to expect theatre written by women in
Australia in the 90s to have some impact on the gender debate? Phillippa
Rothfield says that women’s theatre is not just one thing any more. It is no
longer just Agit-Prop political statements of liberation.
But she also says, “There is a responsibility to bring
issues to bear in as open as possible a manner,” She dos, however, have
concerns about feminist authoritarianism and policing tendencies. Writing by
women is policed in a way men’s writing is not. Women will just not let up on
If we take these three plays as examples, women will not let
up on men either. The images of the 90s are disheartening. Is it possible or
appropriate for women to write characters representing the modern man? Much f
the dialogue about gender in society has emanated from the feminist writers. We
have a great deal of information to act as signposts for women but men have,
until recently, left each other out in the cold.
Peter McMillan, writer of Men, Sex and Other Secrets, says, “Men are angry at women saying
over and over again that men are this and men are that.”
He thinks it is pointless for men to complain about what
women are saying if they refuse to participate in the dialogue between genders.
“If they don’t like what’s being written or said they need to give a positive
model and a rational response.” If women playwrights are not writing accurate
representations of the 90s man, then men need to write them themselves.
This is not to suggest we need fewer plays from women. We
have not seen enough new works from women yet. Fidelius Morgan, in Female Wits (Virago 1980), write that on the London stage from
1920-980, fewer plays by women were performed than were played by the two major
theatre companies from 1660-1720. It would seem those figures have been
replicated during the same period in Australia and little has changed.
More women writers are emerging now who warrant support from
th local theatre community. To state the obvious, women and men are different
and we need as many and as varied voices as possible writing bout them for the
In this post-feminist era, it is not clear if playwrights
have a responsibility in relation to gender issues. Art has always reflected
life but it has not necessarily mirrored positive images. People are finding it
difficult enough to keep up with the heady rate of change in both societal and
personal arenas, let alone trying to create art which accurately represents the
complexity of gender roles.
Theatre may choose to comment on the gender conflict. It mat
also continue simply to entertain us. There is nothing wrong with
entertainment. The label ‘post-feminism’ may mean that feminism’ has finally
passed us by. It may simply mean that we should expect to receive the
occasional holiday postcard from it!