Thursday, 31 August 2017

The Way Out, Aug 30, 2017 ***

Written by Josephine Collins, by Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre
At Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre, until Sept 24, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 30, 2017 
This review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Thurs Aug 31 2017, and later in print (probably Fri Sept 1 2017). KH
Brigid Gallacher, Dion Mills_photo by Teresa Nobile Photography

From the perspective of a contemporary world threatened by conflict, tainted by pollution and mismanaged by corrupt governments or powerful corporations, it is not impossible to imagine the grim, dystopian future depicted in Josephine Collins’ play, The Way Out.

Helen (Brigid Gallacher) runs a bar with her father, Stewart (Dion Mills), in a north-western Victorian country town some time in the near future after a civil war has decimated the region’s food production and air quality and damaged the residents’ health.

Since ‘pacification’ 14 years earlier, a government body called ARC has controlled citizens’ lives with a style reminiscent of Orwell’s Big Brother, and Stewart, Helen and their friends Claire (Olga Makeeva) and Ryan (Kevin Hofbauer) quietly resist such oppression.

When a smiling, youthful but insidious government inspector (Rory Kelly) arrives to monitor Stewart and Helen’s business, his visit overlaps with that of a black marketeer (Sahil Saluja) and the locals’ illegal activities and resistance to the government risk being unmasked.

Although the narrative is sometimes confusing, Penny Harpham’s production is effectively unsettling with its menacing world of spies, rationing, hazard masks, totalitarian government, privileged groups and quarantine zones.

Charlotte Lane’s realistic set design conjures a dank, dingy bar with grimy, glass doors that look out on a perilously smoky and impenetrable world, while blaring sirens, flashing hazard lights and intrusive public announcements intensify the alarming atmosphere.

Gallacher is warm and sympathetic as young Helen who hopes for a better world and secretly grows one tiny seedling that could change their lives.

Mills is suitably tough but damaged as Stewart, the angry, old warrior who makes and sells illegal booze and craves the freedom of the pre-war years.

The characters’ desire for a safer and more equitable world is tinged with a sense of danger and hopelessness that is magnified by an undercurrent of seething resentment and rage.

The Way Out provides a disturbing glimpse into a plausible, not-too-distant future that we desperately need to avoid.

By Kate Herbert
Brigid Gallacher, Kevin Hofbauer__photo by Teresa Nobile Photography
Kevin Hofbauer - Ryan
Rory Kelly - Fyfe
Brigid Gallacher - Helen
Dion Mills - Stewart
Olga Makeeva - Claire
Sahil Saluja - Harry
Khrisraw Jones-Shukoor – Ryan (alternate)

Director - Penny Harpham
Dramaturg -Jane Bodie
Set and Costume Design -Charlotte Lane
Lighting Design -Clare Springett & Michael Robinson
Sound Design Daniel Nixon
Stage Manager- Liberty Gilbert
Assistant Stage Manager -Natalie Lim
Dion Mills, Brigid Gallacher, Kevin Hofbauer, Olga Makeeva_photo by Teresa Nobile Photography

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The Bodyguard (The Musical), Aug 29, 2017 ***1/2

Book by Alexander Dinelaris; based on Warner Bros film & screenplay by Lawrence Kasden
Produced by John Frost, Michael Harrison & David Lynn (with others)
At Regent Theatre, Melbourne, until October 29, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ***1/2
This review is NOT published in Herald Sun Arts & was not commissioned by Herald Sun. It is published only here on this blog. KH

Paulini Curuenavuli certainly has the powerhouse voice capable of delivering Whitney Houston’s distinctive and wildly successful hits but, disappointingly, The Bodyguard remains a series of great songs in search of a musical.

Fans of Houston will not be disappointed by Curuenavuli’s performance of the power ballads, catchy dance tunes and bold anthems. The repertoire of songs is extensive, including How Will I Know, Queen of the Night, One Moment in Time, Run to You, I’m Every Woman, Greatest Love of All and Saving All My Love.

In this musical with book by Alexander Dinelaris (based on the 1992 movie starring Houston and Kevin Costner), Curuenavuli plays Rachel Marron, a pop diva whose life is threatened by a Stalker (Brendan Irving) thereby forcing her manager, Bill (Patrick Williams), to employ bodyguard, Frank Farmer (Kip Gamblin), to protect her.

The show doesn’t take off until the end of Act One when three goofy, tipsy gals perform a hilarious karaoke version of Where Do Broken Hearts Go that is followed by Curuenavuli’s bold and moving delivery of the power ballad, I Have Nothing.

The highlight in this production is the finale of I Will Always Love You followed by a kicker encore of I Wanna Dance With Somebody during which Curuenavuli comes to life as herself and urges the opening night audience to stand and dance in their seats.

At this final point in the show, after the curtain call, Curuenavuli morphs into a pop singer effectively working the crowd in a way that she cannot do while in the character of Rachel, inside a story, in a musical.

The problem with this show is that the adaptation from screen does not work for the stage.

Yes, this is a jukebox musical, but the scene structure is bumpy, the songs are not contextualised, they do not advance the story and do not illuminate the characters’ journeys as they should or can do in a musical, so the tunes seem to be strung together as if on a musical washing line.

This show, directed by Thea Sharrock, focuses on one character, Rachel, and is a vehicle for the lead performer. It therefore relies almost totally on only one singing voice and, although Curuenavuli’s voice is often thrilling, the show cries out for some dynamic range, a few duets or a layering or variety of voices.

Another issue is that Curuenavuli is a singer but not a skilled actor and dancer, so the character of Rachel lacks the charisma required for such a role, and the choreography (Karen Bruce) generally masks her limited dance skill by surrounding her with a sassy and talented dance ensemble.

The songs eclipse the paper-thin story about Rachel’s quest for an Oscar, her pursuit by a menacing Stalker and the side-plot about Rachel’s sister’s jealousy (Prinnie Stevens).

The Bodyguard is really a concert with a bit of a story between songs, but it is a fine tribute to Houston’s stellar but too-short career.

By Kate Herbert

Director – Thea Sharrock
Choreographer – Karen Bruce
Set & Costume Design ­– Tim Hatley
Lighting Design - Mark Henderson

Paulini Curuenavuli -Rachel Marron
Kip Gamblin- Frank Farmer
Prinnie Stevens- Nicki Marron
Glaston Toft -Ray Court
Andrew Hazzard -Sy Spector
Brendan Irving- The Stalker
Patrick Williams -Bill Devaney
Damien Bermingham -Tony
Aston Droomer - Fletcher (on opening night)

Saturday, 26 August 2017

The Guru of Chai, Aug 22, 2017 ****

Written by Jacob Rajan & Justin Lewis, Indian Ink (NZ)
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, until Aug 27, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 22, 2017
Stars: ****

 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Wed Aug 23, 2017, and later in print. (probably Fri Aug 25, 2017)
Jacob Rajan

Jacob Rajan weaves a spell over the audience with his masterful storytelling, impeccable comic timing and charismatic performance in the funny and moving production, The Guru of Chai.

In this one-man performance inspired by the Indian fairy tale, Punchkin, Rajan plays narrator, Kutisar, an impoverished, cheerfully philosophical chai-seller, but he also populates the stage with a parade of 16 other beautifully and simply wrought characters.

When the buck-toothed Kutisar encounters seven, parentless sisters in the bustling Bangalore railway station, he encourages them to sing for their keep and enlists Punchkin, the rotund and benevolent policeman, to protect the girls.

With consummate skill and minimal props, Rajan transforms himself with the flick of a scarf, the tilt of his head or a lilt in his voice, and transports us to Bangalore station and the lanes of New Delhi, conjuring the colours of India and the aroma of chai and fumes.

Rajan balances broad comedy with poignant, romantic storytelling and pathos tinged with Kutisar’s gentle cynicism and yearning for a better life.

By addressing the audience directly, Rajan flirts, teases and gently draws individual audience members into Kutisar’s vivid world and responds with lightning speed to surprises and interruptions, including a rogue, ringing mobile phone.

The production, directed and co-written by Julian Lewis, blends Western and Indian theatrical traditions, and the live music, played by Adam Ogle and composed by David Ward, echoes Indian sitar and chants.

Kutisar assures us at the start that he will improve our sad, little lives with his tale of romantic heroes and dangerous villains, but his story has the same mix of romance and tragedy that is evident in Western fairy tales.

It is a delight to witness the theatrical enchantment and accomplished performance of Rajan as The Guru of Chai.

By Kate Herbert

 Writers Jacob Rajan & Justin Lewis
Director Justin Lewis
Dramaturg Murray Edmond
Lighting Designer Cathy Knowsley
Composer & Sound Designer David Ward
Set & Costume Design Concept John Verryt
Musician Adam Ogle

Friday, 18 August 2017

Di and Viv and Rose, Aug 17, 2017 ***1/2

Written by Amelia Bullmore, Melbourne Theatre Company
At Southbank Theatre, The Sumner, until Sept 16, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 17, 2017
Stars: ***1/2
 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Friday, Aug 18, 2017 & in print on Tues Aug 22.
  Mandy McElhinney, Nadine Garner, Belinda McClory -photo-Jeff-Busby

It is a joy to witness such entertaining, nuanced and credible performances as those of the three women playing the mismatched trio in Di and Viv and Rose by UK writer and actor, Amelia Bullmore.

Bullmore’s play depicts the evolution of a quirky but enduring friendship that begins in the 1980s when three seemingly incompatible first year university students, Di (Nadine Garner), Viv (Belinda McClory) and Rose (Mandy McElhinney), share a flat, negotiate their many differences, support each other in crises and form a lasting bond.

This portrayal of their early years is the most successful part of Bullmore’s play and Marion Potts’ production, with its witty dialogue, playful performances and dramatic action that focuses exclusively on the characters’ relationships.

The later snapshots of this odd trio’s meetings are less satisfying, lacking the detailed character and relationship development and energy of the earlier years.

  Mandy McElhinney, Nadine Garner, Belinda McClory -photo-Jeff-Busby
As Rose, the sweet natured and promiscuous art history student, McElhinney portrays a spirited bounciness in her early years that transforms into resilience when Rose faces disappointment in later life.

Garner brings vivacity and vulnerability to Di, the sporty lesbian who studies Business and still hides her sexuality from her parents.

McClory gives sensitivity and emotional complexity to Viv, the bolshy, pompous academic who shakes off her working class roots, studies the sociology of women’s fashion and achieves her career ambitions.

The trio’s comfortable intimacy is hilariously evident in an unforgettable scene when they dance with drunken abandon to 99 Luftballons by German artist, Nena.

This exuberant energy excuses some script and production problems, such as two sudden and arbitrary plot turning points and some rather clunky scene changes that involve opening and closing of enormous sliding panels.

This play will resonate with audiences, particularly women, and it boasts three of Australia’s best actors so perhaps we can forgive its flaws and the frustratingly unsatisfying plot development.

By Kate Herbert

Marion Potts - director
Paul Jackson - lighting
Dale Ferguson - design
Kelly Ryall - composer/sound
  Mandy McElhinney, Nadine Garner, Belinda McClory -photo-Jeff-Busby

Thursday, 10 August 2017

The Real & Imagined History of the Elephant Man, Aug 9, 2017 ***1/2

Written by Tom Wright
Produced by Malthouse Theatre
At Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, until Aug 27, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts on Friday Aug 10, 2017, and later in print. KH
Daniel Monks & Julia Forsyth - photo Pia Johnson
 During his short life in the late 19th century, Joseph Merrick suffered an unnamed and profoundly disfiguring condition that led to him suffering the indignity of being dubbed the Elephant Man in a London freak show.

This haunting production of The Real and Imagined History of the Elephant Man, written by Tom Wright and directed by Matthew Lutton, re-imagines Merrick’s life in a series of atmospheric snapshots.

Daniel Monks’ impressive depiction of Merrick is key in this production and his sympathetic, feisty and, at times, deeply moving portrayal is made more compelling because Monks, in addition to being a fine actor, has a physical disability that affects the right side of his body.

Wright’s poetic dialogue lends the play an other-worldliness that Lutton amplifies by evoking the smoggy, mysterious and dangerous streets of Leicester and London where Monks’ Merrick faces abuse, assault, pursuit, ridicule and fear – both his own and that of others.

With its sparse stage design (Marg Horwell), jarring soundscape (Jethro Woodward), and forbidding
lighting (Paul Jackson), the stage looks and sounds like an industrial tornado until Merrick reaches the safety of London Hospital where he spent his last days. 

The first half of the production is the stronger, with poignant vignettes of the child Merrick with his mother (Julie Forsyth), followed by alarming scenes of a world redolent with the stench of London streets that are populated by a parade of eccentrics, scruffy thugs and gentlefolk played by a versatile cast (Forsyth, Sophie Ross, Paula Arundell, Emma J Hawkins).

When the relative peace of the hospital replaces the horrors of the streets, the production loses some power, although the scene in which doctors catalogue Merrick’s deformities is disturbingly and the scenes between Monks’ Merrick and Forsyth’s cheeky nurse, Agnes, are witty and charming.

Despite the loss of momentum in the second half, Wright and Lutton’s evocative interpretation and Monks’ distinctive performance focus the play on Merrick’s desire to be treated as a man, not a monster, and highlight the melancholy half-life that he lives, lurking on the murky boundary between normal life and the world of the ‘other’.

By Kate Herbert 

Cast: Daniel Monks, Julie Forsyth, Sophie Ross, Paula Arundell, Emma J Hawkins

Matthew Lutton - director
Marg Horwell - stage design
Jethro Woodward – sound /composition
Paul Jackson - lighting

Daniel Monks -  photo Pia Johnson
Sophie Ross, Daniel Monks, Julia Forsyth, Paula Arundell & Emma j Hawkins -  photo Pia Johnson

Friday, 4 August 2017

The Perfume Garden, Aug 3, 2017 **1/2

Written by Rajendra Moodley, 
Presented by Australian Bollywood Productions with What’s On Production Company, Ignite Bollywood & Victorian State Ballet
At Chapel off Chapel, until Aug 13, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 3, 2017 
Stars: **1/2 
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Fri Aug 4, 2017, and later in print. KH
Bollywood movies are a hoot when characters burst spontaneously and hilariously into elaborate song and dance and, in this revival of The Perfume Garden, colourful, live Bollywood numbers pepper Rajendra Moodley’s narrative about an Indian-Australian family.

Anand (Moodley) is a disenchanted, 40-ish, Indian-Australian who still lives with his struggling but ambitious parents (Vishwajeet Pradhan, Laura Lattuada) who run a failing spice shop and care for Ayah (Khema de Silva), an elderly, wheelchair-bound stroke victim and distant relative.

Meanwhile, Anand, an aspiring romantic fiction novelist with writer’s block, half-heartedly courts Devi (Sacha Joseph), a traditional India girl who wants Australian residency.

Paul Watson’s production suddenly comes to life when, 45 minutes into act one, Anand stumbles upon a mysterious Hindu spell that temporarily resurrects Ayah who leaps from her wheelchair to make suggestive comments and join the dancers.

Unfortunately, despite de Silva’s entertaining antics as Ayah, the production is lacklustre with its slow cueing, awkward scenes changes, cluttered staging, and Bollywood segments that are not effectively integrated with the narrative.

Khema de Silva, Rajendra Moodley
Moodley’s script has elements of ‘magical realism’ when Ayah wakes from her comatose state, and the play does make some funny observations about traditional Indian family attitudes and unrealistic expectations about employment and marriage.

However, the dialogue overall is flabby, repetitive and in desperate need of editing.

De Silva is mischievous as the revitalised Ayah and her scenes are certainly the most engaging, while Lattuada provides a riotously saucy Bollywood routine as Chitra when she is affected by Ayah’s sexy charm.

Moodley obviously draws on personal experience for this play, but his performance is unconvincing.

With their vivid costumes and eccentric choreographic blend of sassy, contemporary gestures with classical Indian dance, the Bollywood routines are diverting and several dancers are exceptional, although some of the men forget their moves.

The Perfume Garden is a cheerfully playful show but, ultimately, it does not make a cohesive, theatrical whole.

By Kate Herbert

Anand - Rajendra Moodley
Satya  Vishwajeet Pradhan
Chitra - Laura Lattuada
Ayah - Khema de Silva
Devi  - Sacha Joseph
Khema de Silva, Sacha Joseph, Vishwajeet Pradhan, Laura Lattuada, Rajendra Moodley
 L-R Vishwajeet Pradhan, Laura Lattuada, Rajendra Moodley

Thursday, 3 August 2017

You’re Not Alone, Aug 2, 2017 ****

Written & performed by Kim Noble, by In Between Time (UK)
in association with Soho Theatre

At Beckett Theatre, Malthouse, until Aug 13, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 2, 2017 
This review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Thurs Aug 3, 2017, and later in print. I'm still thinking and talking about this show, disturbing as it may be! KH
Kim Noble in You're Not Alone
You’re Not Alone by Kim Noble is a thought-provoking theatre documentary about loneliness and disconnection in the modern world cunningly disguised as an offensive show about risqué behaviour and anonymous, online, sexual liaisons.

Be warned! If you are offended by lurid imagery, explicit sexual behaviours, crude language or bodily functions, this show is your worst nightmare.

This is a visceral, provocative, audacious and profoundly unsettling work that straddles the boundaries between performance art, exhibitionism, social documentary and pornography.

Noble is alarming, repellent, confusing and grotesque while simultaneously being compelling, charming, generous, creative and challenging.

He is also a creepy stalker and a ‘catfish’ – catfishing involves falsely representing oneself online to seduce and dupe respondents into sexual liaisons – although a few of his online targets are horribly and hilariously shocked when they meet Noble in his weirdly unattractive, transvestite persona.

Noble presents his video material in a deadpan style resembling that of a newsreader and, although there is no overt parody, the entire piece is strangely parodic.

I spent the first half gaping open-mouthed at the outrageousness of Noble’s cheek (or is that ‘cheeks’?) and bold mischief-making, but the final 15 minutes poignantly clarify the true intent of You’re Not Alone. He made me cry.

Noble portrays a 21st century world in which people crave connection with another human but,, despite valiant efforts (e.g. resorting to online lunacy to connect), they remain isolated and desperately lonely.

He gently and politely invites an audience member to join him on stage – on opening night it was Geoff – then whispers instructions to the guest who obediently responds.

Through his complex videography, we meet Nobles’ neighbours, Keith the supermarket checkout guy, Noble’s ailing father, John the lorry driver, and a bevy of others, many of whom may never know that they are in this show.

You’re Not Alone may offend you, but it will certainly keep you talking about how we communicate – or do not communicate – in our soulless world. It’s a wild ride!

By Kate Herbert 

Co-direction - Gary Reich
Technical management- Miki Bekesi
Lighting design -Martin Lengthorne

Credentials, Aug 1, 2017 ***

Written by David Williamson, La Mama 
At La Mama Courthouse, until Aug 13, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 1, 2017
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Thurs Aug 3, 2017 and in print on Fri 4 Aug 2017. KH
Geoff Paine, Kayla Hamill. Pic Rachel Edward
Credentials marks the momentous return of renowned playwright, David Williamson, to La Mama to celebrate La Mama’s 50th birthday just 47 years after his first play, The Coming of Stork, premiered at the tiny Carlton theatre in 1970.

Williamson’s new play, directed with a light hand by Tom Gutteridge, relates the story of Chrissie (Kayla Hamill), a young woman who has a chequered past but now works successfully as a paramedic – although, in the first scene, her boss, Mr. Shore (Geoff Paine), discovers that all Chrissie’s qualifications are falsified. Yeah, really!

With Williamson’s usual combination of drama with social satire, Credentials challenges our views on social issues including drug addiction, violence and prostitution, while entertaining us with depictions of absurd but familiar missteps related to parenting, spoilt adult offspring, work and relationships.

The structure is episodic and shifts between the present, when Shore confronts Chrissie about her fake credentials, and Chrissie’s past when, as a 15-year old tearaway living in a dull, country town with her dominating father (Paine), she takes off to Sydney with her drug-dealing boyfriend, Rick (Zak Giles-Pidd), where she ends up in poverty and addiction.

Williamson peppers the compelling ethical issues with uncomfortable, dark comedy that often elicits laughs but sometimes falls flat.

Gutteridge focuses on character and story while keeping the staging uncomplicated, with actors watching the action from the edges of the space when they are not in scenes, and moving props during transitions.

Although the acting is uneven in the minor roles, Paine is a highlight playing the two contrasting, but equally confused fathers: Shore, the successful, middle-class, well-meaning parent, and Chrissie’s rough-edged, working class dad who can’t understand his daughter.

Giles-Pidd is entertaining and credible as Rick, playing him with a gritty, vibrating physicality and vulnerability, while Hamill gives feisty Chrissie an edgy and indomitable spirit that helps her overcome adversity.

Audiences will be split over whether they believe Chrissie should be allowed to continue to work as a paramedic despite her sham credentials, but Williamson certainly leaves us arguing about the ethical issues.

By Kate Herbert
Kayla Hamill. Pic Rachel Edward

Zak Giles-Pidd, Kayla Hamill. Pic Rachel Edward
Kayla Hamill - Chrissie
Geoff Paine - Shore & Bruce
Zak Giles-Pidd  -Rick
Paul Bongiorno - Mack
Nell Feeney- Rosy
Matt Furlani - Lenn
Yvette Turner-Jessica

Sound & Composition-Zak Giles-Pidd
Set costume-  Anastassia Poppenberg
Lighting -Jason Crick