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.
MUSIC THEATRE Created by Warren
Wills At Chapel
off Chapel, until July 30, 2017 Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 27, 2017 Stars: **1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Thurs July 27, 2017 & later in print. KH
Thando Sikwila, Jess Mortlock, Warren Wills
Warren Wills’ piano playing and inventive musical arrangements are the great
strength and focus of Bowie & Mercury Rising, Wills’ tribute to his musical
heroes, David Bowie and Freddie Mercury.
accomplished musician and musical director, is the sole instrumentalist in this
show and his arrangements for piano and electronic keyboard have an expansive,
almost orchestral quality.
vocalist, Thando Sikwila, joins Wills on stage to sing an eclectic selection of
Bowie and Queen hits, ranging from Bowie’s Life on Mars, Suffragette City, Heroes and Space
Oddity to Queen’s We Will Rock You and
We are the Champions.
Sikwila’s performance is refreshingly unembellished and her rich,
controlled voice can be thrilling and moving; the show would improve if she
were let off the leash throughout, as she was in the bold, jazz-style finale of
Despite the musical successes, the component parts of this production do
not form a cohesive whole and the problems start with the repetitive
choreography (Jess Mortlock) and Sikwila’s awkward dialogue delivered at
irregular intervals between songs.
Mortlock is a capable dancer, but her choreographic interludes are
overwrought, do not illuminate the songs and are not effectively integrated
with the singer and musician.
Thando Sikwila, Warren Wills
Wills’ concept for the show is unclear and the dialogue, although
sometimes quirky and diverting, is often confusing, providing no through-line
The projected images are sometimes enlightening but more often distracting,
and the lighting (Jason Bovaird) needs simplifying to maintain the focus on
music and lyrics.
This production is crying out for a writer and, more urgently, a
theatrical director, to find a narrative and conceptual thread to link the
components and give greater insight into Bowie and Mercury.
This show would be far more successful if it limited its scope to being a
short concert cabaret with a tight focus on Wills, the pianist, and Sikwila,
the singer. I’d happily watch that show.
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, until July 30, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herberton July 20, 2017
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Fri July 21, 2017 & later in print. KH
Jo Turner, Mitchell Butel, photo Prudence Upton
In the past, as in this modern world, seemingly good, generous or
religious people can be cruel, vindictive and tribal in their treatment of
those who they consider different – and so it goes in Shakespeare’s The
Merchant of Venice.
spirited production for Bell Shakespeare views the play through a 21st
century lens, with the young Venetians dressed in contemporary garb and
revelling like modern, privileged, narcissistic night-clubbers.
The difference is that
these young people identify as Christians and, as such, they condemn the
Venetian Jews’ practice of lending money at exorbitant interest rates.
The successful, popular
but disconsolate merchant, Antonio (Jo Turner), borrows a large sum from Shylock (Mitchell Butel), a
Jewish moneylender, to assist his friend, Bassanio (Damien Strouthos), to woo the lady, Portia (Jessica
Although Antonio has
abused and spat upon him, Shylock agrees to an interest-free loan but his
contract demands a pound of Antonio’s flesh if he cannot repay the loan within
The beginning of this production
is vivacious and mischievous, with characters delivering good-humoured laughs –
until Shylock’s daughter, Jessica (Felicity McKay), abandons, betrays and steals from her doting father to
elope with Bassanio to Belmont.
Butel is exceptional as
Shylock, giving a sensitive, nuanced performance that balances Shylock’s piety
and moral code with his humour, his vengefulness and, finally, his despair when
he loses his worldly goods, his daughter, his religion and his dignity.
Even when not in scenes,
Butel lingers at the perimeter as a reminder of Shylock’s vendetta and his
cruel suffering, his head lowered, and, at the end, stripped of his religious
The court scene is
compelling (although not as riveting as it could be) when Shylock demands his
pound of flesh until Portia annihilates his argument, but the second half of
the production flags after Shylock’s courtroom failure.
It is hard not to wonder whether Shakespeare condemned or condoned the
Venetians’ abusive treatment of Shylock.These Venetian Christians speak about love but demand money; they prate
about mercy but show none.
Mitchell Butel, photo Prudence Upton
Eugene Gilfedder provides two marvellous cameos as Arragon,
Portia’s supercilious suitor, and as Tubal, Shylock’s temperate, Jewish friend.
Jacob Warner’s Launcelot is a charmingly boyish clown while Damien Strouthos (Bassanio), Fayssal Bazzi (Gratiano) and Shiv Palekar (Lorenzo) make a robust band of playfellows,
although Turner’s Antonio lacks the charisma needed to make Antonio the beloved
centre of this merry gang.
Tovey’s Portia is feisty and Catherine Davies is ebullient as her
The final scenes of the
young Venetians’ merriment, although lively and playful, feel laboured and
overly long, undercutting the dynamic range of earlier scenes.
This production is
diverting and challenging, and it is impossible not to compare the bigotry in
this play with current socio-political situations.
By Kate Herbert
Mitchell Butel (Shylock), Fayssal Bazzi (Gratiano), Catherine
Davies (Nerissa), Eugene Gilfedder (Arragon / Tubal / Duke), Shiv Palekar
(Lorenzo / Morocco), Damien Strouthos (Bassanio), Jessica Tovey (Portia), Jo
Turner (Antonio) and Jacob Warner (Launcelot), Felicity McKay (Jessica).
THEATRE Written by Nick Payne, Red Stitch Actors’
Theatre At Red Stitch Theatre, until Aug 13, 2017 Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 19, 2017 Stars: ***/2 NB: I reviewed a PREVIEW of this production on Wed July 19, 2017, with the permission of Red Stitch Actors' Theatre.
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Thurs July 20, 2017, and in print on Fri July 21, 2017. KH
Jing-Xuan Chan, Ben Prendergast, Kate Cole & Paul Ashcroft_ Photo Teresa Noble
brain is uncharted and incomprehensible territory and Incognito, by UK
playwright Nick Payne, challenges our understanding of the brain, the mind,
memory and our notions of the self.
Payne’s play, which is co-directed sensitively and imaginatively by Ella
Caldwell and Brett Cousins in this production, interweaves three stories, two of which are factual.
In 1955, after
performing Albert Einstein’s autopsy, Princeton pathologist, Thomas Harvey (Ben
Prendergast), steals Einstein’s brain to study it; in the UK in 1953, Henry (Paul
Ashcroft) loses his capacity to create new memories after an operation to cure
his epilepsy; and in the present, Martha (Kate Cole), a recently divorced neuropsychologist,
struggles to treat her patients and to manage her personal and emotional life.
Each of the
four, talented actors plays multiple roles, transitioning frequently and almost
seamlessly between stories with a shift of character, accent, physicality or
has the most poignant and heart-breaking scenes, portraying the gentle Henry who
politely and repeatedly introduces himself, is surprised and delighted by Margaret
(Jing-Xuan Chan), his wife’s arrival, or confused by her absence.
Cole gives a
compelling performance as both Martha, who wrestles with her newfound passion
for feisty solicitor, Patricia (Chan), and as Harvey’s beleaguered wife who
despairs at her husband’s obsession with Einstein’s brain.
balances vulnerability with mania in his depiction of Harvey, and Chan brings
warmth and sadness to Margaret, Henry’s loving, young wife.
Greaves’ design, with its mesh of black threads criss-crossing over the tiny stage,
creates a symbolic representation of the complexity of our cerebral synapses, while
Tom Willis’ dim lighting evokes the brain’s murky depths and a series of
dangling lamps suggests our occasional light bulb moments.
narrative threads are not always fully integrated into a unified whole, but
this play is thought provoking and moving. What more do you want from a play
about the mind?
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Mon July 17, 2017 & later in print. KH
Nauffts’ Tony-nominated script for Next Fall depicts a poignant love story
between two seemingly mismatched men, but the play also uses humour and pathos
to illuminate issues including closeted sexuality, religious bigotry and
Redgate), a 40 year-old, frustrated writer who sells candles in his friend Holly’s
(Sharon Davis) shop, falls in love with 20-something Luke (Mark Davis),
a law school dropout, aspiring actor and conservative Christian whose judgmental
religious views condemn even his own sexuality.
believes that The Rapture will elevate only ‘believers’ like him into heaven
and, to ensure his soul’s safety in the afterlife, he prays for forgiveness
after sex. Meanwhile, Adam worries about phantom illnesses and argues about God
Blackburn’s production requires greater subtlety to express the complex
personal and political issues that arise when Luke is hospitalised and Adam must
share a bedside vigil with Luke’s parents (Kaarin Fairfax, Paul Robertson)
who are ignorant of Luke’s sexuality and his relationship with Adam.
play shifts between past and present, depicting the current circumstances in
which Luke’s loved ones wrestle with grief, and a happier past when odd couple,
Adam and Luke, fell in love and struggled with their differing views.
the staging is awkward in this production, with a wide, green curtain splitting
the performance space into zones that represent a hospital waiting room at the front,
and Adam and Luke’s apartment lurking behind the curtain.
are clumsy, the pace bumpy, the acting uneven and the inconsistent production does
not successfully balance the comedy and tragedy of Naufft’s play.
Davis has a simple charm as Luke, although
it is difficult to accept this apparently educated young man’s stubborn
While Redgate captures the nervy
bluntness of the insecure hypochondriac, Adam, his unfocussed gaze is
distracting and his performance lacks dynamic range and emotional nuance.
sympathetic and credible as Luke’s eccentric and confused mother, Arlene, who
abandoned Luke when he was a child to pursue a life without responsibility.
of the hospital vigil is increased by the presence of Luke’s belligerent
father, played with brutal bluster by Robertson, and Luke’s closeted gay,
Christian friend, Brandon (James Biasetto).
should be achingly emotional, but the tragedy of Luke’s accident and Adam’s
unacknowledged grief and lost love are not fully realised in this production.
MOVIE REVIEW 104 mins, Rated M In cinemas nationally
August 10, 2017 Written & directed
by Roger Goldby Cast: Pauline Collins,
Joan Collins, Franco Nero,Ronald Pickup, Sian Reeves, Joely Richardson, Allene Quincy Reviewed by Kate Herbert Stars: ***
Collins, Pauline Collins, Franco Nero in The Time of Their Lives
The Time of Their
Lives is a charming, diverting and bitter-sweet road-trip movie about two
older women, Priscilla and Helen, an odd couple played by Pauline Collins and Joan
When timid Priscilla Pauline Collins) is a repressed
housewife married to selfish killjoy, Frank (Ronald Pickup) meets Helen (Joan
Collins), a broke, former Hollywood star living in a cheerless retirement home,
Priscilla finds herself reluctantly joining Helen on a jaunt to gate-crash a
funeral in France.
Using Priscilla cash and Helen’s other resources, they
embark on a trek to the ritzy Ile-de-Re, they stumble upon reclusive, famous
and wealthy Italian painter, Alberto (Franco Nero) and this love triangle does
not go the way any of them planned.
Their lives change as each challenges the other's worldview
and a new, more honest friendship is forged.
By Michael Frayn, by Melbourne Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, until August 12, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts Online on Thurs July 13, 207, and later in print. KH
Noises Off_ Nicki Wendt, Louise Siversen- photo Stephen Henry
by Michael Frayn is a rollicking, English farce about a play-within-a-play that
goes completely off the rails both on the stage and behind the scenes.
Noises Off bounced onto the London stage in 1982 with its boisterous
physical comedy and cleverly constructed comic narrative, then Frayn repeatedly
reworked the script for ensuing seasons.
Sam Strong’s production, with its talented ensemble, is partially
successful in delivering Frayn’s verbal and physical comedy, eliciting big
laughs when actors forget lines, get drunk, fall over, drop their trousers or
Each of the three acts of Noises Off contains the first act of a
deplorable, amateurish, bedroom farce called Nothing On.
Firstly, we witness a disastrous dress rehearsal, then backstage mayhem during
a matinee and, finally, a performance near the end of the tour in which
everything that can go wrong does go wrong.
The opening scenes are very funny, particularly with Louise Siversen
hilariously switching accents and physicality as Dotty, the addled star of
Nothing On who in turn plays chatty housekeeper, Mrs. Clackett.
The Act Two antics are another highlight, as characters struggle silently
but frenetically to stop the backstage bedlam of lovers’ tiffs, cruel pranks and
even an axe-attack, bleeding into the onstage performance.
is suitably pompous and sarcastic as Lloyd, the director of Nothing On who is
having it off with despondent Assistant Stage Manager, Poppy (Emily Goddard), and
with ditzy, short-sighted Brooke (Libby
Munro), the barely-clothed ingénue.
Hugh Parker captures the
vibrating anxiety of needy actor, Freddie, and Nicki Wendt has an
entertainingly wry quality as sensible Belinda who unsuccessfully mediates
off-stage conflicts and desperately tries to save the show onstage.
Ray Chong Nee performs a comically
daring slapstick tumble down stairs but is not always credible as Cockney
Garry, while James Saunders captures the frantic edginess of Tim, the over-worked
Stage Manager, and Steven Tandy is effectively daffy as Selsdon, the boozy, elderly
The classic farce elements of Frayn’s play demand tight cueing,
impeccable comic timing and a relentless pace, but this production, despite
having some neatly staged and funny scenes, falters at times and loses its
The timing must be perfect at every moment for all elements of a classic
farce – doors opening, shutting and jamming, actors banging into walls, falling
over furniture, losing clothes and props – for it to be successful.
Despite these issues, the audience is enthusiastic and entertained by
this rowdy, spirited performance of Frayn’s classic farce.
By Sydney Puppet Theatre, Melbourne Festival of Puppetry 2017 At La Mama, Festival runs until July 9, Nella’s Wings runs until July 6, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Fri July 57, 2017. KH
Puppets can do things that humans can’t and Nella’s Wings is a story about
a puppet-child who dreams of flying.
Nella never speaks but she indulges her passion for flight by drawing
creatures that fly and, to the delight of the four to eight year olds, joyfully
conjures the locations where they live.
In this charming, gentle performance directed by Annie Forbes, puppeteer,
Sue Wallace, performs with Nella, a sweet, enigmatic and colourful hand-held
puppet, animating Nella’s chalk drawings and turning her fantasies into flying
creatures and vivid landscapes.
The set design (Lucy Nias) is spare and simple, featuring an old, wooden
school desk in which Nella sleeps and dreams, a white screen on which shadow
puppets magically appear, and a series of painted, embroidered and padded
cloths to provide scenery.
The children participate willingly and vocally, responding to Nella’s
sketches by calling out, ‘It’s a penguin!’ or ‘It’s a balloon!’ or ‘Use the
feathers!’ and commiserating with ‘Poor Nella’ when her dreams of flying seem
Wallace hums, sings and whispers to Nella and enlivens her imaginings,
sending the audience first to an owl’s nest where a mother owl flaps and frets while
feeding her chirping, hungry owlets.
Wallace then transports us to the desert and Uluru where the children giggle
when a goofy camel dumps a huge dropping that then causes a mid-air fight
between brightly hued, flying bugs.
On the shadow screen, a penguin (‘They can’t fly’, a child reminds us)
swims with the fish, dodging greedy sharks, then, in an enchanting vignette, a burbling
baby plays with a gossamer-light butterfly.
This simple tale of dreams and flight engages and entrances the littlies
and, if you miss this one, it is not the only puppetry show on at La Mama this
In the courtyard outside the theatre, a Puppet Picnic takes place where
the children can interact with a tiny monkey, multiple dinosaurs, a slow tortoise
and its foxy friend.
Festival of Puppetry is host to about 20 performances and workshops by
Australian and overseas artists, including Arkipelago 2: A Story of Intima-Sea by
Anino Shadowplay Collective from The Phillippines, a family show about the people’s relationship with the sea.
programme for Melbourne Festival of Puppetry here:
By Sam Moran, Roola Boola Children’s Arts Festival
off Chapel Roola Boola Festival runs until July 14
Performance program runs until July 7,
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Wed July 5, 2017& late in print (Fri 7 July). KH
You may recognise Sam Moran as a former Wiggle but also, more recently,
from his children’s
music show, Play Along With Sam, that runs on Nickelodeon’s sister channel,
As part of
the Roola Boola Children’s Arts Festival, Moran performs his 50-minute stage version
of Play Along With Sam in which he sings his peppy, singable signature tunes for
an enthusiastic audience of under-sixes.
Two youthful dancers (Jayme-Jo
Massoud and Miah Rose Lake) support Moran with perky choreography that is
simple enough for the children to imitate, and they do – they all excitedly dance,
skip, jump and wave their arms around in their seats.
Sporting a white safari
jacket and a pith helmet, Moran performs in front of a huge, colourful banner
that proclaims ‘Play Along With Sam’ and, accompanied by a recorded backing
track, sings his songs that include bouncy tunes, cheerful singalongs, a Caribbean
rhythm and even a rock number.
He starts the
show with one of his most popular tunes called Best. Day. Ever! and, after some
warm-ups of finger-wagging and toe-wiggling, the kids eagerly join Moran in
playing mime instruments to create a band in his song, San Sereni.
They gleefully jump,
march and skip to Dance to the Beat, then practice their counting in Count With
Me (1, 2, 3) and also in Cuckoo when they count to twelve as the cuckoo clock
counts through the hours.
Play Along with Sam -L-R Miah Rose Lake, Sam Moran, Jayme-Jo Massoud
Moran hits keep coming, including Building It Up, the beachside playtime about
building sand castles, the multi-lingual All Around The World, and Taalee, a
title that means ‘clap’ in Hindi.
delivers a couple of songs about food, the first being I’m So Hungry and, after
the kids declare their favourite foods, he sings and dances a song called Spaghetti,
during which the children wiggle and squirm like spaghetti noodles.
The show finishes with a
finale of Up Down Turn Around that has the pint-sized audience – and some
parents – merrily reaching up, dropping down and spinning around.
Play Along With Sam has
only two performances but, if you are keen to get to a show or a workshop,
visit the Roola Boola Programme here:
Music & lyrics by
Stephen Sondheim, book by George Furth
Based on the play by George F. Kaufman
& Moss Hart
Production by Watch This
Southbank Theatre, The Lawler, until July 15, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 30, 2017
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Mon July 3, 2017, and later in print. KH
Nelson Gardner, Nicole Melloy & Lyall Brooks - photo by Jodie Hutchinson
Roll Along features an admirable score by Stephen Sondheim, but it flopped when
it opened on Broadway in 1981 and, even after more recent rewrites and awards,
it continues to be problematic to stage.
The narrative (book by
George Furth) travels in reverse from 1976 to 1957, telling the story of
Franklin (Frank) Shepard (Lyall Brooks), a gifted composer who becomes a successful
movie producer by pursuing money and fame at the expense of his musical
vocation, his friendships and his marriage.
In the first scene in
1976, Frank’s dear friend, Mary (Nicole Melloy), a published novelist who is now
a jaded, resentful and booze-addled drama critic, criticises Frank’s life
choices and reminds him about his ex-friend and co-writer of successful
musicals, Charley Kringas (Nelson Gardner), now a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright.
Despite the distinction
of Sondheim’s singable tunes and witty lyrics, the reverse chronological
structure can be confusing for an audience, and in this production the flaws
are amplified by the uneven quality of the singing, some melodramatic acting
and intermittently clunky direction (Sara Grenfell) and choreography (David
Furth’s script does not create fully rounded characters and Frank is not
a sympathetic character so, although Brooks is engaging as the younger Frank,
he sometimes pushes too hard to make the older Frank funny or charming, making
the character look like a buffoon.
Charley’s earnestness, commitment and moral code and delivers with skill and
passion Charley’s song, Franklin Shepard Inc., a scathing, rapid-fire attack on
Frank’s relentless ambition, although Gardner’s later songs lack some vocal control.
vocal skill does justice to Sondheim’s music and she successfully expresses a
range of emotion as the insecure and lovelorn Mary, who tries for two decades to
hide her unrequited love for Frank.
With solo piano providing
accompaniment (Cameron Thomas), the musical highlights include Brooks, Gardner
and Melloy singing Old Friends, as well as the trio’s hopeful and excited song,
Opening Doors, about their attempts to make it in their chosen artistic
pursuits in 1959.
Weiss brings vocal warmth and control to the role of Beth, Frank’s first wife, and
her rendition of Not A Day Goes By is moving, while the number, Bobbie and
Jackie and Jack, her trio with Gardner and Brooks, is a clownish highlight.
pay-off is the final song, Our Time, in which the younger incarnations of Frank,
Charley and their newfound friend, Mary, dream of their bright futures while
watching Sputnik fly overhead in 1957.
song acts as a clever scene transition to indicate time passing and youth
fading, with lyrics such as, ‘Time goes by and hopes go dry / But you can still
try for your dream’.
chorus of the title song lacks impact due to the vocal weaknesses in the eight-person
ensemble, however, that same ensemble delivers with pizzazz The Blob, a snappy
song that slams smug socialites who act as social critics and arbiters of
Despite the bumpy
production, Merrily We Roll Along is worth seeing if only to enjoy Sondheim’s
accomplished music and lyrics.