Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Apocalypse Meow: Crisis is Born, Nov 8, 2019 ****

Created & performed by Meow Meow, by Malthouse Theatre 
At Malthouse Theatre, until Dec 1, 2019 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ****
Meow Meow

Meow Meow straddles a line between exotic, glamorous, European diva, and trashy, demented, pill-popping lush, in her Christmas cabaret, Apocalypse Meow: Crisis is Born.

The show, performed a month before the silly season, is Meow Meow’s Christmas offering: a frothy cocktail of cabaret songs and Christmas tunes with lashings of maudlin disappointment and recrimination.

This dysfunctional diva arrives as a hilarious, albeit irreverent parody of Mary, en route to Bethlehem (the pun’s in the title: Crisis is Born). She’s dressed in a shabby, lamè gown, sporting a pregnant belly (filled with nativity goodies), tatty halo and blow-up donkey, only to find no room at the inn – or at any reputable concert hall – for her show.

Meow Meow is a startlingly versatile singer/actor/dancer, and her effortless voice is rich, silky and dark like a brandy-soaked fruitcake.

The show starts with the confident chanteuse delivering her anti-Christmas show, staggers into a chaotic middle that is like the dreams of an addled mind, then finishes with the foggy, morning-after memories of Christmases past.

Her celebrity guests are no-shows, children keep singing at the door, it’s snowing and blowing a gale, and Santa brings useless, out-of-date gifts, so she steals her presents from audience members.

Her songs range from the Spanish love song, Un Año D’amor, to Weill/Brecht’s atmospheric Ballad of the Soldier’s Wife, 1960s ballad, I (Who Have Nothing), tunes by Nick Cave and Rogers and Hammerstein, traditional songs, plus original tunes by Meow Meow and others.

After the slightly messy middle section, we witness the most affecting moment: she sits alone, beside her band (Iain Grandage, Jethro Woodward, Dan Witton), bathed in moody, blue light (Paul Jackson), singing the achingly painful, tender Would I Feel (by Meow Meow/Iain Grandage), a song of yearning for a child.

Meow Meow is exhilarating, hilarious, provocative and shambolic, and this combination cannot be explained. She needs to be seen to be believed.

by Kate Herbert

DIRECTOR / Michael Kantor
CAST / Michaela Burger, Annie Jones, Dusty Bursill, Charlotte Barnard, Riya Mandrawa
MUSICIANS / Mark Jones, Dan Witton
Meow Meow and band

Monday, 4 November 2019

Ragtime, The Musical, Nov 2, 2019 ****

Book by Terrence McNally, Music by Stephen Flaherty, Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens; based on E.L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel 
at State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne, until November 10, 2019  
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Chloe Zuel and Kurt Kansley, pic Jeff Busby

Ragtime, set in the first decade of the 20th century, is a joyful and poignant musical about three families in America, and issues of race, class, immigration and injustice that, sadly, are still relevant today.

The privileged, white family (Mother, Georgina Hopson; Father, Adam Murphy) lives in New Rochelle, the African-American ragtime musician, Coalhouse Walker Jr (Kurt Kansley), lives in New York, the city to which destitute but hopeful, Jewish refugee, Tateh (Alexander Lewis), brings his daughter.

In Terrence McNally’s adaptation, based on E.L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel, here deftly directed by Roger Hodgman, the differences and inequities between these families are glaring against the background of social upheaval facing America. This is expounded in short, factual interjections by historical figures, including Henry Ford, Houdini and workers’ rights activist, Emma Goldman.

The difficulty in adapting a sprawling novel is that some scenes are unnecessary or do not serve the central narrative, and this becomes evident in the second half of McNally’s book.

Stephen Flaherty’s music (Musical Director, Guy Noble) covers various styles, but the bouncing ragtime brings the stage to life in the opening tune, Ragtime, and Gettin’ Ready Rag, that both feature the entire company and Dana Jolly’s vivacious choreography.

Journey On is an exhilarating trio between Lewis, Murphy and Hopson, about Father’s departure on an Arctic expedition, Mother’s sadness at their parting and Tateh’s optimistic arrival.

Hopson’s bright, clear soprano and warm presence are perfect for the role of Mother, while Chloé Zuel, as Sarah, Coalhouse’s lost love and mother of his newborn son, brings gasps and tears from the audience with her thrilling voice and rendition of the soaring lament, Your Daddy’s Son.

Kansley has a fine voice and effectively portrays Coalhouse’s evolution from cheerfully successful, New York musician, to stubborn, racial activist, who risks all in his quest for justice.

Despite the tragedies that befall several characters, Ragtime ends on a celebratory and aspirational note with the rousing Epilogue: Ragtime.

by Kate Herbert

John May, Anton Berezin, Finn Alexander, Kempton Maloney, Georgina Hopson, Adam Murphy, John McTernan, Kaya Byrne-pic Jeff Busb

Director - Roger Hodgman
Musical Director - Guy Noble
Choreographer - Dana Jolly
Costumes- Isaac Lummis 
Set - Christina Smith 
Lighting- Nigel Levings

Kurt Kansley -Coalhouse Walker Jnr
Georgina Hopson- Mother
Alexander Lewis -Tateh
Chloe Zuel -Sarah
Adam Murphy -Father
Emma Goldman -Sage Douglas
Evelyn Nesbit -Mackenzie Dunn

Monday, 7 October 2019

What Girls Are Made Of, Oct 3, 2019 ***1/2

By Raw Material, Traverse Theatre & Regular Music, Melbourne Festival 
At The Famous Spiegeltent, Forecourt Arts Centre Melbourne, until Oct 13, 2019 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ***1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun in print & online on Monday Oct 7, 2019. KH
L-R- Simon Donaldson, Cora Bissett, Emma Smith (Drums rear)  Harry Ward- photo_Mihaela Bodlovic
If your teenagers want to be pop stars, take them to What Girls Are Made Of for a reality check on the chaos and pain of the blighted success that usually follows short-lived glory.

In her musical bio-drama, Cora Bissett explores the real-life story of her own adolescent launch into minor pop stardom in the UK in the early 1990s after she responded to a local newspaper ad: ‘Band Seeks Singer’.

Wearing a Pixies band t-shirt and jeans, Bissett narrates her life, building word pictures of her teenage world that starts in a small, Scottish town then rockets her band, Darlingheart, into a record deal and tours with Radiohead and Blur – until it all goes terribly wrong soon after.

Bissett’s vivacious energy is contagious as she weaves her tale, and she is accompanied by drummer, Emma Smith, and versatile actor-guitarists, Simon Donaldson and Harry Ward, both of whom populate the stage with eccentric, hilarious characters that bring the story to life with theatrical detail.

Each character is rapidly drawn with accent, gesture, attitude and posture: Bissett’s Mum’s crossed arms and optimism, her Dad’s lilting Irish brogue, the broad Scots accent and aggressive posture of their dodgy manager, and the posh English enunciation of the boys from Blur.

Interspersed amongst Bissett’s direct audience address storytelling, the live music references the bands with which Darlingheart toured, and some of Bissett’s idols, particularly Patti Smith.

Bissett wrote the script based on her own teenage diaries and news clippings, and Orla O’Loughlin’s production sets a dynamic pace for the first hour, although the rhythm and focus falter in the last 30 minutes.

A person’s life rarely has a natural dramatic arc, so a bio-drama generally needs to focus on a discrete, dramatic and vibrant period, in this instance, the band’s meteoric rise and fall.

However, the production overshoots its obvious ending by trying to encapsulate Bissett’s entire life to date, which leaves some questions unanswered and does not provide a satisfying ending to that crucial, most interesting episode in Bissett’s life.

by Kate Herbert

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Roots by 1927, Melbourne Festival- no review, but...

I didn't end up reviewing or seeing Roots in Melbourne Festival, last night but it sounds really fascinating. 

It is little-known folk tales that are brief, dark, magical and universal. All are told with actors, animation and music.

They are taken from the Aarne Index of obscure folk tales, many of which are found in multiple cultures, demonstrating the universality of folk stories, myths an fairy tales. 

The company is 1927 from UK.

From Media Release:

‘English theatre company 1927 is renowned for fusing handcrafted animation, live music, cinema whilst playfully drawing on the fantastic, weird and darkly hilarious. The company’s latest production, roots, builds upon a series of rarely told folktales that offer a glimpse into imaginations from a pre- industrialised age. 

‘In this Australian premiere, ogres, magical birds and very, very fat cats are brought to life with the company’s signature style, set to a live score involved Peruvian prayer boxes, donkey jaws, violins and musical saws. This special performance considers the narratives of our forebears and how they might shape the stories of our future.‘

Photos by Leigh Webber
 ee photos below.

Friday, 4 October 2019

What Girls are Made Of review coming soon!

What Girls are Made Of review coming as soon as it appears in Herald Sun in print or online. KH

Update: looks like review will run in print on Monday so will appear here then, too. K

Cora Bissett
Simon Donaldson (guitarist / actor)
Harry Ward (guitarist / actor)
Emma Smith (drummer/ actor)

Directed by Orla O'Loughlin

WGAMO_L-R- Simon Donaldson, Cora Bissett,  Harry Ward- CR_Mihaela Bodlovic

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Marooned, Sept 19, 2019 ***

Written by Michael Gray Griffith; by The Wolves Theatre Company
At The Lawler, Southbank Theatre until Sept 28, 2019 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert (on Sept 19)
This review also online at Herald Sun Arts (Tues Sept 24) & in print (Fri Sept 27).

Christopher Jay, Greg Caine, Darcy Smith, pic Michael  G Griffith
Michael Gray Griffith’s play, Marooned, has a creeping, disturbing atmosphere, which is not surprising in a play about suicide.

What may be surprising is the quietly increasing sense of hope that the four characters, three men and one woman, feel as they wait, marooned, in an anonymous waiting room after being informed by an inaudible voice that their ‘attempts have failed’.

The existential pain is palpable in each character as they slowly and uncomfortably reveal their suicide stories, helping each other to understand their predicaments, and realising that they want to live. But in order to return to their lives, they must be permitted to leave the waiting room.

Darcy Smith is vulnerable as the sensitive, young, gay man; Christopher Jay is brash and gruff as the tough-guy tradie with tattoos; Rohana Hayes is brittle and reserved as the older professional woman; while Gregory Caine thoughtfully portrays the profoundly disillusioned businessmen whose relationship with his wife and children is irreparably damaged.

Each of the characters’ stories represents a different group in our community, but all reveal how delicate is the human psyche, how fragile is our mental health and how tenuous our grip on this life.

Performances are intense, committed and credible, although the pace of the production is slow and could benefit from tighter cueing and greater variation in rhythm and dynamic range to increase the dramatic tension.

This production needs a trigger warning for audiences who may find this topic distressing, but the play has the support of suicide prevention adviser, Malcolm Guy, who spoke briefly before the play about how best to communicate with a suicidal colleague, friend or family member.

Just one moment of intervention, a kind word, or a listening ear could prevent a tragedy. Marooned may be upsetting for the audience, but our new awareness may help save a life.

by Kate Herbert

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Marooned Review coming after weekend

I'm reviewing MAROONED tonight for Herald Sun. I'll post it here as soon as it hits print - probably Tuesday. KATE

MAROONED by Michael Gray Griffith
The Wolves Theatre Company
At Southbank Theatre The Lawler 140 Southbank Blvd
18th-28th September 

From Media Release:

'Written in two days of furious writing, half of it in a lonely hut in the bush, this Melbourne play, that was rehearsed in a living room is kicking extraordinary goals. After writing for years in obscurity Michael Gray Griffith is emerging as the bravest and one of the most powerful playwrights of his generation. 

'Four souls, one woman and three men are Marooned in a waiting room in the afterlife. They have no connection other than they have all tried but apparently failed to take their own lives. Because they are strangers they are able to talk about their suicides in a remarkably frank way. But as time slowly passes, in a series of vignettes, some of them not only begin to yearn to go home but fear that they haven’t survived. This fear and this want manifests into an ever- growing hunger to live. But despite this hunger they are still Marooned. Finally, one of them believes that their only way out, is for them to come together and explore the silence of why they are here.'

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

The Beautiful Game, Sept 14, 2019 ***1/2

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Book & Lyrics by Ben Elton; by Manilla Street Productions
At Chapel off Chapel, Prahran, until Sept 29, 2019 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ***1/2 
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts (in print) on Tues Sept 17, 2019. KH

Stephen May (centre) & cast
For a soccer team of Catholic lads, winning the 1969 final of the ‘beautiful game’ – as soccer is known – cannot shield them from the ugliness of the bigotry and sectarian violence in their home of Belfast.  

Taking place from 1969 to 1971 in Northern Ireland, Ben Elton’s book for The Beautiful Game provides a challenging and thought-provoking glimpse into the corrosive impact of The Troubles on these young lives.

Stephen Mahy is charmingly gawky, naïve and hopeful as talented soccer player, John Kelly, who falls for and marries his teenage sweetheart, Mary (Stephanie Wall), and plans to leave Belfast to play for Everton in Liverpool.

Mahy and Wall’s budding teenage romance is credible, and Mahy’s warm, powerful voice is well-matched by Wall’s bright, clear tone in their love ballads and the quirky duet, Don’t Like You.

An ensemble of capable singers supports Mahy and Wall in Karen Jemison’s swiftly paced production. The gaggle of Catholic girls, who are a like a team cheer squad, includes engaging performances from Nicola Bowman as virginal Bernadette and Ellie Nunan as naughty Christine.

A tight, skilful band, under musical director, Daniele Buatti, does justice to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music that incorporates Irish rhythms and instruments into poignant ballads such as Let Us Love in Peace and stirring anthems including the title song and God’s Own Country.

Elton’s lyrics are sometimes a little heavy-handed and his dialogue preachy or obvious. The narrative loses momentum at the beginning of Act Two, which starts with a wedding, rather than ploughing on into the crisis facing John and Mary as The Troubles touch their lives when a friend is killed, another knee-capped, one joins the IRA, and an innocent is imprisoned.

It’s difficult to distill into two hours the impact of the hundreds of years of Irish conflict, but The Beautiful Game has a fair crack at doing just that.

by Kate Herbert
Stephen Mahy, pic Jodie Hutchinson

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

The Rapture Chapter II: Art vs Extinction, Sept 7 2019 ***

By Finucane and Smith
At fortyfivedownstairs, until Sept 29, 2019 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Review also published in print in Herald Sun on Tues Sept 10, 2019 (TBC).  KH

 Moira Finucane pic Jodie Hutchinson
The Rapture Chapter II: Art vs Extinction, may seem totally bonkers, but this new production by Finucane and Smith is also intellectually challenging, visually stimulating and socially responsible.

In this tempestuous show described as ‘apocalyptic cabaret’, the ‘eye’ of the storm is Moira Finucane (more like Moira ‘Hurricane’), who rails and rants about social, political and personal ‘truths’ while parading in and out of eye-popping costumes along a raised catwalk.

Finucane visited the Antarctic and returned with a fearsome, new character, an Ice Queen who weaves ominous tales of melting ice flows and disappearing species that foreshadow further climatic degradation and woe for our planet.

She transports her ardent audience and transforms herself, shifting costumes, characters and topics for almost two hours – much of which is compelling but some of which is cryptic or confusing. The production could benefit from a neat trim.

A highlight, in addition to the Ice Queen, is Finucane’s cleverly written, rhyming, poetic saga, The Krill, that feels like a merging of The Ancient Mariner and Moby Dick, although its hilarious and shrill Krill chorus (Mama Alto, Piera Dennerstein) is unique.

There is a topless ranting punk; a character draped in plastic, ocean fishing net while bemoaning the horrors of ocean drag-nets; the weird woman wrapped in fur and feathers, hailing from a theatre near a forest in Denmark and railing about violence against women; and Finucane’s final, naked, vulnerable and panic-stricken creature, dripping with inky, black fluid.

Rachel Lewindon underscores the show on grand piano, with pop diva, Mama Alto, and classical soprano, Piera Dennerstein, providing soaring vocals, although, occasionally, Dennerstein’s tremulous vibrato and Mama Alto’s rock-pop stylings do not always blend well.

Ray Dimakarri Dixon, a Mudburra artist from Marlinja, NT, sings plaintiff and enchanting songs in his aboriginal language that is spoken by only 50 people, and his presence is the pure, still point in this show. He is truly ‘a keeper and protector of the land’.

Sometimes Finucane’s chanting, sonorous, stylised vocalising becomes repetitive, but its intention echoes the Ancient Greek Chorus that announced impending events and were often doomsayers.

But the show ends on a positive note, with Finucane, at the final bow, announcing that the entire audience will receive her ‘Roadmap to Hope’ that is printed on recycled paper in a brown bag filled with treats. It is worth a read and the krill lollipop is very cute!

by Kate Herbert

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Theatre Program, Melbourne Festival 2-20 Oct 2019

Here's what I'm planning to see in the Theatre Program at Melbourne Festival this year. I'm not seeing everything and not reviewing all that I see. Will review three shows for Herald Sun, but I'll post reviews of most on blog. There may be changes.
Stand by. KATE
Cora Bissett  in What Girls Are Made Of
Thurs 3 Oct 7.30pm What Girls Are Made Of - Traverse Theatre UK, Arts Centre - Spiegeltent, 1hr 30mins no interval  REVIEWING - H-SUN
Fri 4 Oct  7.30pm Roots, Malthouse, 1hr 10mins no interval  REVIEWING - H-SUN

Sun 6 Oct 5.00pm Anthem, Arts Centre  - Playhouse, Approx. 3hrs with interval

Wed 9 Oct 7.00pm A Brimful of Asha,  Malthouse-Beckett, 1hr 30mins no interval REVIEWING - H-SUN

Thurs 10 Oct  7.30pm Grey Rock, Malthouse-Merlyn Theatre, 1hr 30mins no interval

Sun 13 Oct 2.30pm The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes, Arts Centre-Fairfax  1 hr no interval

Thurs 17 Oct 7.30pm The Nico Project, Arts Centre -Playhouse, 1hr 10mins no interval

Sun 20 October  3.00pm The End of Eddy, Malthouse - Merlyn , 1hr 30mins

Monday, 2 September 2019

Longhouse: Melbourne for Asian-Australian artists, Sep 5, 2019

Longhouse: Melbourne
Panel discussion presented by  Melbourne Theatre Company and Contemporary Asian Australian Performance 
Thur 5 Sep, 6pm – 8pm
Southbank Theatre, The Law
This panel discussion may be of interest to some of you. KATE
From Media Release:

'Contemporary Asian Australian Performance returns to Southbank Theatre on Thursday 5 September for a panel discussion with key creatives from MTC’s production of Golden Shield by Anchuli Felicia King.
'Panelists include Golden Shield Director Sarah Goodes, Assistant Director Alice Qin, and Associate Designer Kat Chan, with an introduction by CAAP’s Executive Producer Annette Shun Wah. Writer-performer Diana Nguyen will facilitate the discussion.
'The event will be live-streamed on CAAP’s Facebook page, including audio of questions and comments from the audience.
'Following the discussion will be networking opportunities intended to facilitate connections within the Asian-Australian professional performance community.'

The Rapture II - Review coming after Sat Sept 7 2019

The Rapture Chapter II: Art vs Extinction
By Finucane & Smith
At fortyfivedownstairs
4-29 Sept 2019 (opening night Sat  Sept)
Moira Finucane
From Media Release:
'The sequel to their 2017 award-winning art event, The Rapture.  

'From the icebergs of Antarctica deep in the snow in silk couture amongst scientists, penguins and distant avalanches; from the red centre of Australia in rich cultural exchange with First Nation genius artists; forests in Denmark, silent movie houses in Berlin, and Rapture’s exhibit at Prague Quadrennial; Moira Finucane lands back into Melbourne to unleash The Rapture Chapter II: Art vs Extinction. 

'Welcome to the lair of the Ice Queen; a spike-crowned, jewel-encrusted human glacier dressed in cascading silk, surrounded by porcelain icicles, sculptures of extinct birds, dripping icebergs trapped in ghost nets, she rumbles into life.  

'In this apocalyptic cabaret, artists beyond gender and genre sing up an ice storm – torch singer Mama Alto, operatic wonder Piera Dennerstein, 85 year old angel of song Shirley Cattunar and from Marlinja NT, Mudburra artist of profound cultural power, Ray Dimakarri Dixon with songs of standing strong direct from the heart of our country. '