Tuesday 22 January 2008

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Dec5-22, 2007

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
The Preferred Play Company
When & Where: Theatreworks, Dec 5-8, Dec 16-22 until Dec 22, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Shakespeare’s romantic comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is a perennial favourite with its fairies and love potions, rough clowns and aristocratic lovers. 

The roles of the Fairy King and Queen are in the capable hands of experienced actors, Andrew Blackman and Danielle Carter, but all other roles feature recent graduates of the Victorian College of the Arts. Director Glenda Linscott remounts her 2006 VCA student production here.

The play is most often performed in an edited version with actors playing multiple roles but this version is near full length. Blackman is magnetic and imposing as Oberon, his commanding presence, statuesque physicality and= resonant voice testament to his experience performing Shakespeare. Every image in Oberon’s lyrical dialogue is clear and he inhabits the character fully relishing the Fairy King’s power and passion, his wit and playfulness.

Danielle Carter is stately and elegant as his airy consort Titania, shifting effortlessly from regal to lovelorn and from raging to seductive. The rivalry and lust between this fairy couple is palpable.

The younger performers, although they are energetic and committed, are less secure in the classical text. There is a little too much shouting and running about and too little connection to the meaning and imagery of Shakespeare’s poetry.

Nonetheless the cast hurls itself with vigour into the playful roles of the fairies. Two actors share the role of Puck (Stuart Bowden, Katherine Harris) thus allowing the sprite to appear in two places at once and to thrown his
voice magically.

Several performers double as the Mechanicals and their final amateur tragedy performed for the Duke (Benedict Hardie) and Hippolyta his bride (Meredith Penman) has some funny slapstick moments.

One issue is that there seems to be little distinction between some of the characters. The male lovers Demetrius (Carl Nilsson-Polias) and Lysander (Tim Ross) are indistinguishable from each other except by their dialogue and, apart from their physical characteristics, Hermia (Anne-Louise Sarks) and Helena (Celia Mitchell) could be interchangeable.

The fairies purposely mirror each other as a chorus but this does not allow for any distinctive characterisation and all of the tradesmen except the swaggering Bottom (Gerard Lane) are timid and terrified.

Perhaps the extremely short rehearsal period has not allowed the cast to explore greater subtlety and variety that could give more range and colour to the production.

Kate Herbert

Saturday 19 January 2008

Vagina Decliner, Jan 19, 2008

Vagina Decliner  by Anthony Menchetti
Midsumma Festival
Dantes Fitzroy, Jan 19 to Feb 3, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Anthony Menchetti jokes that he prefers to be called a “vagina decliner” rather than simply “gay”.

It certainly supplies a high visibility title for his new stand-up comedy show that incorporates some untried material with some good older jokes.

One of his funniest sight gags is his origami chickens fashioned from bar towels. Every time a new gag falls flat he conjures another uncannily real-looking towelling chook. There are four by the end of the show. A few jokes flop but he recovers with a self-deprecating remark - or a chicken.

Menchetti’s comic delivery and material lack polish and he is certainly not a belly laugh comic but he is cheerful and boyish which makes him engaging. He opens with a full-size cut-out of himself – a pirated copy – then proceeds to mourn the passing of a friend who took up pyramid Tupperware selling. It’s a funny routine presented on film with echoes of White Lady Funerals adverts.

As he achieves his comic goals, he ticks them off on a wall chart: “be original”, “relate to audience”, “flawlessly move from topic to topic”. His use of suspense involves smacking an egg with a golf club – right at me.

He is the only comic to use a fuzzy felt chart as a visual aid to explain dating and ways of escaping the next morning.  He has plenty of material about coming out, being sent by his parents to a Christian gay conversion camp, failed romances and crazy gay clubs. His description of Captain ClichĂ©, his disastrous date who wore his white fishnets and cape, is a hoot.

His experiences working in a Call Centre selling unsellable goods to unwilling customers provide some laughs and the lunatics who work there with him also receive some jibes, including the socially inappropriate woman with her sexual innuendo.

Menchetti has a cute song to explain gay relationships to children. It begins with, “Dad’s like dads and mums like mums,” and includes some acerbic commentary on social prejudices.

All that said one of the funniest sight gags in the show is Menchetti’s new haircut. It’s like a confused cockatoo crest. Was his hairdresser having him on?

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 17 January 2008

Vaudeville X, Jan 17, 2008

Vaudeville X 
by Michael Dalley, High Performance Company
Black Box, Arts Centre, Jan 17until Feb 2, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Fluff  up your feather boa, don your fishnet stockings and a sultry pout and prepare to have a cracking good time at Vaudeville X.  The sixteen original songs are by Michael Dalley who is a wizard with wicked satirical lyrics.

Three haughty bourgeois characters (Dalley, Daniel Fletcher, Grant Cartwright) wearing dinner suits - and an occasional pink boa - perform the collection of songs incorporating intelligent and well-observed lyrics, barbed social commentary and acerbic wit.

From their middle-class ivory tower, these characters pine for the glorious Keating-inspired years and mourn the death of elitism. Each tune is another biting comment on the comfortable middle-class urban set that despairs of the upward mobility of unsophisticated suburbanites in Things Aren’t Going Well When Girls Called Narelle Drink CafĂ© Latte – and boys called Troy and Kyle.

Every aspiration of the middle classes is a target. In Backpacking, smug young travellers blithely ignore poverty while trekking through the Third World. Middle Class Welfare celebrates tax avoidance, share portfolios and negative gearing and the choral Spirit Song praises supporting “art approved by bureaucrats”.

The modern phenomenon of educated, corporate, artsy women hooking up with rough trade is analysed in Upmarket Woman, Downmarket Man. Men who marry and hide their homosexuality are exposed in Double Life and those appalling pseudo-feminist seducers and charlatans of the New Age are damned in He’s A Masseur. I Love Reading Freud With My Mother is about – well ­­– a troubling relationship between mother and son.

If you’ve ever stumbled unwittingly upon the drivel on morning FM radio, Morons on Breakfast Radio will tickle you. If you love Kurt Weill The Sewers of Berlin is a scream. If you loath indulgent post-modernism you’ll love The Ghost of The Post-Modern Dancer and Your Queer Performance Art and music theatre lovies gets a slapping in I’ve Got Something To Say.

The trio is slick, funny and playful and is accompanied on piano by the unobtrusive but sterling pianist, John Thorn. Vaudeville X is a deliciously naughty and provocative cabaret.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 10 January 2008

Shout! The Legend of the Wild One, Jan 10, 2008

 Shout! The Legend of the Wild One
by John-Michael Howson, David Mitchell & Melvyn Morrow
State Theatre, Jan 10 until Feb 10, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

If you were a fan of Australian rocker Johnny O’Keefe, The Wild One, you’ll be rocking along in Shout, a biographical musical about his short life. His life was peaks and troughs, the peaks being in his earliest years before his shocking injuries in a car accident.

JO’K was an ambitious, self-absorbed show-off when he touted himself to American concert promoter Lee Gordon (Mark Holden) in1959. His behaviour rapidly deteriorated into substance addiction, manic-depression and schizophrenia.

In biographical shows the facts are massaged to create a dramatic structure. Three writers (John-Michael Howson, David Mitchell & Melvyn Morrow) take highlights of JO’K’s life and glue them together with songs from his repertoire.

The show, directed by Stuart Maunder,  opens with an awkward scene portraying O’Keefe in the 1970s reminiscing at the Stadium where he wowed the audience. What follows is a narrative constructed from selected episodes in his life.

We see his rebellious school days at a Catholic college, his obsessive bid for the Stadium gig, his hounding of Gordon, live gigs, the tragic car accident that interrupted his career, his television shows, reckless lifestyle and careless treatment of his wife Marianne (Alexis Fishman) and his disastrous quest for fame in America and England.

The songs are the heart of the show because the dialogue is often trite and the structure of the narrative clumsy. You’d have to be tone deaf to think Johnny O’Keefe was a great singer but, in his early days, he was a terrific showman who sold a rock song hard.

The return season of Shout! has a change of cast with Tim Campbell as O’Keefe. He is certainly not a look-alike for JO’K (lucky for him) but his voice is definitely better so the songs do not have that rough, slightly tuneless quality of O’Keefe. The crowd were delighted with his versions of Wild One, What’d I Say, Move Baby Move, Six O’Clock Rock, She’s My Baby and Shout!

Colleen Hewett is a feature as Johnny’s Mum and her duet of On A Slow Boat to China with Glenn Shorrock and the family singing Mockingbird were a treat. Fishman is moving as Marianne and Holden is brazen as Gordon. The Delltones (Steve Judkins, Nicholas McMahon, Paul Ross, Kurt Sneddon) Get a Job was a delicious vocal blend. The beatnik scene, Shimmy Shimmy Koko Pop, was a highlight with sultry choreography by Ross Coleman.

Shout! is a crowd pleaser because of its songs and O’Keefe’s place in our rock history but it lacks the dramatic coherence needed for great music theatre.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 9 January 2008

Romeo and Juliet, Jan 9, 2008

Romeo and Juliet 
by William Shakespeare, Australian Shakespeare Company
Where and When: Botanical Gardens, Melbourne, Jan 9 until March 15, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The most significant element of Glenn Elston’s Shakespeare in the Gardens is that hundreds of people, many of whom never see Shakespeare inside a theatre, enjoy a night under the stars with Shakespeare, wine and crackers and a picnic blanket.

In such a vast, uncontrolled environment (birds, bats, passing traffic) it is impossible to stage a traditional production. The interaction with audience, amplified voices and casual seating make Shakespeare’s comedies, such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night, the most effective choices. The lounging crowd is willing to accept the licence taken by the actors who add modern references, additional dialogue and roam amongst the picnickers.

Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s great tragedies about two warring families, Capulets (Juliet) and Montagues (Romeo). In this environment the intimate romance and deep tragedy cannot be communicated so Elston concentrates mostly on engaging the audience with comedy, fight scenes and characters. The intense moments, such as the death scenes of the young lovers, are dealt with swiftly.

The casting of indigenous actors brings a new dimension to the play but perhaps the entire Capulet clan needs to be indigenous to make this interpretation of warring tribes work.

This production is not as successful as previous shows partly because it is a tragedy but mostly because young or inexperienced actors perform the lead roles. Performing Shakespeare requires a significant amount of skill and outdoor theatre is always a challenge.

Glenn van Oosterom is a boyish Romeo. He is most effective in the playful scenes when Romeo rollicks with his mates or in the lighter scenes with Juliet but he is less successful with the more complex and poetic dialogues. Farmer could be delightful in a contemporary work but struggles with Shakespeare’s language, never penetrating text or character.

The more experienced actors inhabit their characters and bring the text to life. Adrian Dart is a mischievous Mercutio and Anthony Rive is a dignified Prince. Shakespeare veteran, Ross Williams, is commanding as Lord Montague but appears too briefly while Greg Ulfan is sympathetic as the obliging Friar.

Brendan O’Connor and Syd Brisbane are experienced, engaging performers who play small roles in the story but entertain the audience as Masters of Ceremonies and it is this component of the outdoor shows that makes them such a successful annual event.

By Kate Herbert

Don Juan in Soho , Jan 9/ 2008

Don Juan in Soho 
by Patrick Marber, Melbourne Theatre Company
Where and When: Fairfax Studio, Jan 9 until Feb 10, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Updating the legendary libertine Don Juan is difficult because of the prevalence of promiscuity in our modern world. 

Historically Don Juan is represented as a totally heartless, immoral, lying womaniser or, alternatively, as a man who genuinely sees beauty in and loves every woman. Patrick Marber’s Don Juan (Dan Wyllie) is the former nasty type.

Marber’s Don Juan is based on Moliere’s version, Dom Juan or The Feast With the Statue. Don Juan is a dissolute son of an English earl (Bob Hornery). We meet him just after his abandonment of his wife of two weeks, Elvira (Katie-Jane Harding), a virginal aid worker with two hot-blooded brothers (Angus Cerini, Craig Annis) who want vengeance on Don Juan for his abuse of their sister.

Central to the story is the Don’s relationship with his servant Stan, the moral compass that is ignored by the ruthless Don. Daniel Frederiksen almost steals the show playing Stan with gentle, understated wit. Stan is the only character that touches us and his confusion and distress at his boss’s cruelty are palpable.

Wyllie is a quirky actor who explores some hilarious elements in the character of the Don but seems miscast as the captivating rogue. He is genuinely funny in such outrageous scenes as seducing two women simultaneously in a hospital waiting room. But he is uncomfortable playing the stylish elegance and grace that must sit effortlessly on Don Juan and he pushes vocally to find the toff’s speech patterns.

Harding brings to Elvira a delicate beauty, a classical style and a great sense of comic melodrama. Hornery is dignified and impassioned as Don Juan’s outraged father and Christen O’Leary is compelling and funny as the brassy girl in the hospital and as a bunny-suited, Slavic hooker. The remaining cast (Cerini, Annis, Bert Labonte, Kate Jenkinson, James Saunders) provide strong supporting roles.

Marber’s comic and melodramatic script, directed by Peter Evans, is wildly funny in parts but patchy in others. The supernatural scenes dealing with the statue of Charles II that pursues Don Juan to Hell are not as successful as the comic business because the statue bears no relationship to the characters. In other versions, the statue is of a father murdered by Don Juan in pursuit of his seductions. However, Don Juan in Soho is outrageous and funny despite its flaws.

By Kate Herbert