Monday, 17 June 2019

Rudy & Cuthbert, June 15, 2019 ***1/2

by Toby Blome and Zelman Cressey-Gladwin 
Southbank Theatre, The Lawler, until June 22, 2019 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: 3&1/2
L-R_Toby Blome and Zelman Cressey-Gladwin_Pic by Phil Erbacher
The two bumbling clowns in Rudy & Cuthbert blunder about in wide-eyed, childlike incompetence like children trying to be grown-ups.

In the classic clown tradition, they never achieve their goal, which, in this case, is to stage a production of the dramatic courtroom drama, Twelve Angry Men, an absurd and inevitably doomed ambition for only two actors.

Rudy (Toby Blome) and Cuthbert (Zelman Cressey-Gladwin) are startled to discover their audience already seated and waiting for the play to start, despite the performers not having finished rehearsing (or even started?) and having no set. Every actor’s nightmare!

Using mostly silent, physical comedy and parody, peppered with rudimentary dialogue, the hapless Rudy and Cuthbert embark on a series of ill-fated tasks, including constructing a tiny table (without an allen key!), carefully positioning toddlers’ pink chairs, auditioning audience members, and playing gung-ho, He-Man stage technicians. Even changing costumes causes chaos.

Directed by Ellen Cressey, Blome and Cressey-Gladwin are a warm and charming duo as they collaborate and compete, support and undermine, make mistakes and apologise, and engage directly but gently with their audience through gesture and comic facial expressions.

Undaunted, they continue to muddle through with the bewildered attitude and misplaced confidence of kids unwilling to admit they are way out of their depth.

This duo follows the clown heritage of Chaplin, Keaton and Australia’s own Lano and Woodley and Los Trios Ringbarkus. (Note the family resemblance to Neill Gladwin from Los Trios.)

The production could benefit from greater exaggeration or heightening of some comic business and perhaps more intense complicity between the characters and with their audience.

Ultimately, Rudy & Cuthbert is an engaging, sometimes enchanting short show that highlights the joyful idiocy of clowns. This duo thrives on audience reaction so a full house is optimum. Bring your friends.

by Kate Herbert

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

THEM, until June 9, 2019 ***1/2

By Samah Sabawi, presented by La Mama Theatre
At La Mama Courthouse, until June 9, 2019 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ***1/2
THEM Priscilla Doueihy & Abdulrahman Hammoud by Justyn Koh
THEM, Samah Sabawi’s warm, moving play set in an unnamed Middle Eastern country, is a welcome antidote to common images of the Middle East as a region beset with terrorism and violence.

In these troubled times, portrayals of the Middle East and its refugees are often ill-informed at best, and negative, or even hostile, at worst.

Sabawi’s intimate story emphasises her characters’ humanity and vulnerability as they negotiate life-changing decisions of whether to stay or leave their war-torn city and risk their lives to reach a safer place.

Abdulrahman Hammoud brings playful naiveté and hopefulness to Omar, who uses gallows humour to make light of the daily bombs that devastate his family’s life.

As Omar’s wife, Leila, Priscilla Doueihy embodies a mother’s desperate need to seek safety for her infant son, no matter the risks.

Sabawi challenges the audience with moral issues facing Leila, Omar, his sister, Salma (Claudia Greenstone), and their friends, Mohamad (Reece Vella) and Majid (Khisraw Jones-Shukoor), both of whom prepare to escape using the U.N. ‘safe corridor’.

War breeds ethical dilemmas, and Omar’s choice to adhere to his moral code and not accept his sister’s ‘tainted’ money, may prove to be his downfall.

The characters’ humour, despite their dire circumstances, reminds us they are just like us – but trapped in a war zone. There but for the grace of God...

With a capable cast, Bagryana Popov directs this production with sensitivity and commitment, depicting Sabawi’s characters with compassion and occasional light humour.

Popov injects music – a signature of her directorial style – with a full-throated chorus by the male actors, and a pianist (Nahed Elrayes) who provides musical scene links.

The sense of urgency in scene changes, while initially interesting, eventually interrupts the narrative flow and could be streamlined.

THEM is a play with heart that compels us to sit up and listen, suspend prejudices and feel the anguish of these characters fighting to survive in a city shattered by senseless war.

by Kate Herbert
Abdulrahman Hammoud, Khisraw Jones-Shukoor & Reece Vella pic by Justyn Koh

Written by Samah Sabawi
Directed by Bagryana Popov
Set and costume design by Lara Week

Abdulrahman Hammoud -Omar
Priscilla Doueihy Leila
Claudia Greenstone, Salma
Khisraw Jones-Shukoor, Majid
Reece Vella Mohmad  
Nahed Elrayes Piano

Friday, 17 May 2019

Pinocchio, May 16, 2019 ***1/2

By Make A Scene, produced by La Mama 
At La Mama Courthouse, until May 26, 2019 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ***1/2
 This review also published in Herald Sun online on Fri 17 May 2019 and in print on Tues 21 May. KH
Jasper Foley in Pinocchio picby Lisa Businovski
Pinocchio, a solo performance by Jasper Foley, delightfully blends direct-to-audience narration with hand-held puppets and the physical comedy and masked characters of the Italian Commedia dell’Arte.

In fact, Foley’s Pinocchio resembles the mischievous, impulsive and playful Arlecchino (Harlequin) from the Commedia stable of stock characters.

Created by Foley with Christian Bagin (director) and Rosa Campagnaro (assistant director), the play is based on Carlo Collodi’s original story of the wooden puppet that dreams of being a real boy.

Performing on a space empty except for a box-style puppet theatre in the style of Punch and Judy (design: Eloise Kent), Foley tumbles, prances and poses clownishly, incorporating slapstick routines known as ‘lazzi’ in the Commedia.

Using expressive, leather masks (by A. G. Newman), several puppets, and simple costume changes, Foley populates the stage with a parade of characters, transforming from cheeky, child-like Pinocchio, to ancient Geppetto, or the villainous Phineus Fox.

The exuberant audience of VCE students cheers and participates avidly when Foley invites individuals on stage to don a mask or a peaked cap to play characters in Pinocchio‘s fraught journey, or to create a soundscape for the dark forest.

A few slow scene changes could be tightened, and some narrative moments need clarification, but Foley’s joyful energy rebalances the show.

Although the production is often performed for primary school children, this version includes satirical, topical references to politics, popular music and even Pinocchio’s existential question, “Should I have done Maths Methods instead of Drama?’, a line that elicits a wild cheer from the full house of Drama students.

The sparkly-eyed Foley exudes warmth and charm as he addresses his audience directly and they, in turn, excitedly and willingly suspend their disbelief as Pinocchio’s quirky story unfolds and resolves with a surprise ending.

by Kate Herbert

Show created by Christian Bagin, Rose Capagnaro, Jasper Foley.
Directed by Christian Bagin
Performed by Jasper Foley

Masks AG Newman
Set Eloise Kent

Monday, 6 May 2019

Barnum: The Circus Musical, Sun May 5, 2019, ***1/2


Music by Cy Coleman; book by Mark Bramble; lyrics by Michael Stewart
At Comedy Theatre, until Sunday June 2, 2019  (at present) 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert  
Stars: 3& 1/2
 This review NOT published in Herald Sun. KH

BARNUM-Rachael Beck, Todd McKenney pic Jeff Busby

Todd McKenney plays 19th century show promoter, Phineus Taylor (P.T.) Barnum with flamboyant pizzazz as he sings, dances, quips and even tightrope walks his way through Barnum’s chequered show biz career and personal life.
In Barnum: The Circus Musical, directed stylishly here by Tyran Parke, Barnum is depicted as an audacious ideas man, a frivolous, self-absorbed dreamer whose fantastic ideas sometimes came to fruition on the stage or under a big top, and sometimes turned to ashes – literally, in one case.

However, although the subtitle is ‘The story behind the world’s greatest showman’, the truth about this ambitious and driven man may be darker, his character crueller, more flawed and totally self-obsessed.

Or was he just a great PR merchant born before his time? Social media would have been his best friend now.

The book and score boast big names: Music by Cy Coleman (Sweet Charity), book by Mark Bramble (42nd Street) and lyrics by Michael Stewart (Hello Dolly!) and Musical Director Stephen Gray leads a tight, on stage band.

The songs in Barnum may not be as memorable as other musicals but There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute, One Brick At a Time and Bigger Isn’t Better, amongst others, are all ebullient and singable tunes.

McKenney is mischievously engaging as Barnum, directly addressing the audience and slipping topical references into the dialogue, while Rachael Beck is dignified and fine-voiced as his long-suffering wife, Charity.

The support cast of circus performers ((Circus Direction, Zebastian Hunter; Choreography, Kelly Aykers) provides a remarkable range of daring and dangerous acrobatic feats, balances, lifts and flips, while Kirby Burgess wrangles and shepherds the show as a sassy Ringmaster.

Suzie Mathers is perfectly cast as the pet and sweet-voiced soprano, Jenny Lind, AKA the Swedish Nightingale who Barnum promotes in his later shows with varying success. Barnum’s other acts are mostly freaks and oddities, such as The Oldest Woman in the World (Akina Edmonds) and tiny Tom Thumb (Joshua Reckless).

Barnum is a playful entertainment for the family, although it may be a bit too dark and adult for some of the tiny tots who were in the audience at this opening weekend matinee.

by Kate Herbert

 Todd McKenney  Phineus Taylor (P.T.) Barnum
Rachael Beck  Charity Barnum
Suzie Mathers Jenny Lind Swedish Nightingale
Kirby Burgess Ringmaster
Akina Edmonds Joice Heth Oldest Woman in the World
Joshua Reckless Tom Thumb

Creative Team
Director Tyran Parke
Choreographer Kelly Aykers
Musical Director Stephen Gray
Circus Direction Zebastian Hunter.
Dann Barber Set and Costume Design
 Todd McKenney pic Jeff Busby
Jumbo & Tom Thumb pic Jeff Busby
Ensemble Barnum pic Jeff Busby

Monday, 29 April 2019

The Miser, Bell Shakespeare, 28 April 2019 ***1/2


By Moliere with English translation by Justin Fleming 
Produced by Bell Shakespeare
At  Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, until May 12, 2019 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
This review is NOT published in, or written for, the Herald Sun. KH
The Miser Damien Strouthos, John Bell, Harriet Gordon-Anderson pic Prudence Upton
John Bell is spider-like as the mean-spirited, stingy Harpagon, a wealthy, Scrooge-like skinflint and moneylender who spends his time hiding his cache of cash in his weird, little garden.

The Miser, by French playwright Moliere, was first performed in 1668 and is a comedy that relies on chaotic stage action, social satire, missed opportunities, power plays and caricature rather than social commentary or psychological insight.

Justin Fleming’s English translation, with playful direction by Peter Evans, captures the spirit of Moliere’s rhyming verse in a rhythmic, smart, modernised text.

Sean O’Shea is louche and ingratiating as Harpagon’s servant, La Flèche, while Jessica Tovey is a seductive and dignified Valère.
L-R Sean O'Shea, Harriet Gordon Anderson, Jessica Tovey, John Bell, Elizabeth Nabben, Michelle Doake, Russell Smith pic Prudence Upton
Bell, in his welcome return to the stage, is a compelling presence, playing Harpagon as an obnoxious, grasping, scruffy, grotesque old geezer who lusts after a much too young wife, Mariane, (Elizabeth Nabben) and uses his stash of money as weapon to control his son, Cléante (Damien Strouthos), and daughter, Élise (Harriet Gordon-Anderson).
Some of the other performances feel laboured or even a bit hysterical at times as thy try to make the characters come to life with the very wordy play.

They rely on sometimes laboured delivery of dialogue, overwrought physicality or awkward slapstick, instead of allowing the characters - or caricatures as most are - to play the comedy.

Anna Tregloan’s sleek, stylish set design provides an open space with multiple doors that allow for those predictable, comic exits and entrances that are a signature of the French farce.

This is a suitably frivolous and intentionally camp production of Moliere’s farce that, despite some flaws, is entertaining and true to its origins as a light, social satire.

by Kate Herbert
John Bell
Director Peter Evans
Designer Anna Tregloan
Lighting Designer Matt Cox
Composer & Sound Designer Max Lyandvert
Movement & Fight Director Nigel Poulton
Voice & Text Coach Jess Chambers

 ohn Bell - Harpagon

Michelle Doake – Frosine
Harriet Gordon-Anderson – Elise 
Elizabeth Nabben - Mariane
Sean O’Shea - La Fleche / Signor Anselm
Jamie Oxenbould – Master Jacques
Russell Smith – Master Simon/Commissioner of Police
Damien Strouthos – Cleante son
Jessica Tovey - Valere

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Single Asian Female, April 6, 2019 ***

By Michelle Law, production by La Boite, Brisbane
At Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne until April 21, 2019 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert (reviewed on Sun 7 April 2019)
This review also published in Herald Sun in print on Tues 9 April 2019, & online at H-Sun Comedy Festival Reviews on Mon 8 April, 2019. KH
Courtney Stewart, Hsiao-Ling Tang, Jing-Xuan-Chan_Photo Dylan Evans

Michelle Law’s comedy-drama, Single Asian Female, may be about an Asian-Australian family named Wong, but other Aussie families of all backgrounds share many of the socio-cultural issues and expectations confronting the Wongs.  

Pearl (Hsiao-Ling Tang), over-protective matriarch of the Wong family, struggles to keep her Chinese restaurant afloat after her messy divorce, while wrangling her Australian-born daughters, Zoe (Jing-Xuan Chan) and Mei (Courtney Stewart).

Zoe, a 29-year old concert violinist, faces moving home to live with mum on the Sunshine Coast while dabbling in disastrous online dating. Meanwhile, 17-year old Mei, desperate to be accepted by the mean girls at school, tries to deny, or even delete, her Asian heritage.

Law’s play deals with stereotyping of Asian immigrants and objectification of Asian women, as well as the often hilarious consequences of living in a mixed cultural family landscape.

Littered amongst the many laughs are more telling moments concerning racism, sexism, bullying, anxiety and political bias as well as internal issues arising in Asian-Australian families.

The play is most successful when it stops playing stereotypes – both Asian and Aussie bogan – and allows characters to inhabit their story and expand the narrative. This happens in the final 20 minutes of the play, which is a bit late.

The characters are under-developed and remain two-dimensional until the latter part of the play, but the problem is that early scenes often reference the Australia of 40 years ago.

The dialogue – both comic and dramatic – often feels laboured, particularly when it shoehorns information about characters or social issues into scenes.

Claire Christian’s direction pushes the comic elements of Law’s script by aiming for slapstick and a situation comedy style, but the performances do not always reach the requisite comic heights.

Single Asian Female may be no masterpiece, but it is identification theatre that allows Asian-Australians to laugh at themselves – and this Melbourne audience certainly laughed.

by Kate Herbert

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Feb 23, 2019 ****1/2

Story by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, script by Jack Thorne
At Princess Theatre, Melbourne, closing date TBC
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ****1/2

This review is NOT published in Herald Sun. KH
Sean Rees-Wemyss & William McKenna 
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a sparkling, visual feast filled with tasty, Hogwarts  treats for the Potter aficionado.

The excitable and very vocal crowd cheers and gasps at the remarkable, jaw-dropping special effects of John Tiffany’s production that combines magical illusion, black theatre puppetry, startling appearances and disappearances, and whirling choreographic scenes - oh, and familiar characters as well as new ones.

Tiffany keeps the action swift and vivacious in Parts One and Two that are an endurance test of over five hours for the audience - but nobody seems to mind.

Based on an original new story by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, this new play, written by Jack Thorne, which hurls us back into the world of Hogwarts when Harry (Gareth Reeves) and Ginny’s (Lucy Goleby) son Albus (Sean Rees-Wemyss) begins his less than stellar school years at Hogwarts Academy. 

A cunning twist is that Albus's best friend is the goofy and incompetent Scorpius Malfoy (William McKenna), son of Draco, Harry’s childhood nemesis.

The signs at the theatre say, ‘Keep the secrets’, so this we will do. You will not hear anything of the cursed child, the changing fate of young Albus, Scorpius, Harry and his cronies, Ron Weasley (Gyrton Grantley) and Hermione (Paula Arundell) or the current headmistress Professor McGonagall (Debra Lawrance).

If you loved the Potter books and movies, this is a must-see for you. There are working magic wands, magical creatures, moving staircases, terrifying dementors, villains and heroes, battles for life and death, broken familial relationships and all your favourite characters.

The heroes of this production are the invisible people who manipulate human bodies, puppets, staircases, wands and other paraphernalia to create this fantastic world before our eyes.

As Scorpius, McKenna delights the crowd from start to finish, and Rees-Wemyss, as Albus, is a suitably disenchanted, rebellious teenager.

Appearances by  Severus Snape (David Ross Patterson), Professor Dumbledore (George Henare), Lily and James Potter, Dolores Umbridge (Hannah Waterman), and a delicious bathroom cameo from Moaning Myrtle (Gillian Cosgriff) send the crowd into paroxysms of delight.

Occasionally, some dialogue feels a bit cheesy and uncomfortable, a few characters are a bit shouty and lacking vocal control, and the story is extremely convoluted.

But, ultimately, there is plenty of spectacle to keep the audience cheering and clapping as we witness the continuation of the fight between good and evil that is at the heart of the Harry Potter series. Everyone goes home tired and happy.

by Kate Herbert