Wednesday 30 July 2008

The Ballad of Backbone Joe, June 30, 2008 *1/2

The Ballad of Backbone Joe
By The Suitcase Royale, Puppets@Fed Square
Fed Square Carpark Level 3, June 30 to July 6, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 1 & ½ stars

The Ballad of Backbone Joe is not what one expects in a children’s puppet festival

For one thing, it is not a puppet show – well, it has a few projections, shadow images and a skeletal rod puppet. For another, it is a Film Noir take-off that the kids just don’t get and it incorporates some pretty violent, albeit comical, scenes.

It is difficult to say what age it targets. It seems to be more of a show for groovy, inner urban grunge-heads in bars. The Suitcase Royale is a small, touring company that indeed does shows for that crowd at Comedy Festivals in Melbourne and Edinburgh. Backbone Joe is a new show and it is not quite cooked yet. It will get better over the week it performs at Fed Square.

The three performers are scruffy. Their style is chaotic and breaks all theatrical rules. The actors frequently break out of character or, rather, never really enter character. There are enormous gaps as they change costumes, pick up props or musical instruments, turn on lights on stage, or move from music to acting. The story is confusing for the first 20 minutes and comes to an abrupt halt 50 minutes later.

Suitcase calls its work Junkyard Theatre and the design and location suits the description. It is performed in the Fed Square underground car park and the set looks like a junk shop. It is a mess. But somehow, the mad trio makes all this chaos engaging.

The narrative owes a great deal to Raymond Chandler. Elijah is a private detective engaged to solve a crime that has something to do with Denise, a woman in a red dress who is married to Dan, a bloke who fixes boxing matches. Backbone Joe is a punch-drunk boxer who loves Denise but is paid to kill her by her husband. The dialogue is riddled with gags and Film Noir references that fly right over the heads of the kids.

The slightly country-rock songs fill in the gaps in the story. Trouble’s Never Far Behind a Red Dress illuminates the story of Denise, the off-stage femme fatale. There on the Bridge at Three In The Morning explains the ending.

My advice is don’t take any child under 10. There is plenty more to see in the Festival.


.com/Unity?! July 30, 2008 **

By Kommisar Kabaret & KGB
 Carlton Courthouse, Wed to Sat until Aug 2
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 2

Read “.com/Unity” aloud – it says “Dot Community”. 

This community cabaret show is songs and sketches about our failing sense of community. A highlight is Erin Tasmania’s rich passionate voice that suits Ella Filar’s original German Cabaret songs.  Sketches, devised and performed by 11 youthful community members, are patchy, but two songs about real estate development in inner Melbourne are clever and funny.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 29 July 2008

Fake Porno,July 29, 2008 ***1/2

Fake Porno
By Milena Bogavac, Jelena Bogavac  & Filip Vujosevic, adapted by Bojana Novakovic
 Lupa Art, Northcote until Aug 9, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 3 &1/2

Fake Porno peeks behind a grimy curtain at the gritty street life of post-war Belgrade. It is brazen, confrontational and the six compelling performers are in your face  - often literally. 

Characters reveal their secrets: a pole dancer, a thief, a teen who discovered sex, a lovelorn transvestite, a lonely cabbie and a brassy celebrity designer. Fake Porno is alternately sexy, funny, bold or poignant.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 23 July 2008

Three Oaks, Aug 23, 2008 **1/2

Three Oaks
By Monica Raszewski
Where and When: La Mama, Aug 27 to Aug 10, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 2 & 1/2

Three Oaks, by Monica Raszewski, depicts a Polish immigrant family in Australia and their cultural heritage. It is also about memory and how members of the same family reframe their pasts to suit their own needs and insecurities.

Raszewski’s script is expressionistic and is sometimes more like prose than theatrical writing. In this abstract form, times and places overlap and characters speak simultaneously from differing perspectives, locations and periods in their lives. Although this is sometimes confusing, it creates a tapestry of past images and allows the past to resonate in the present.

The focus is on Janek (Adam Pierzchalski OK) the father of the family and a landscape painter. His older daughter, Margaret (Zoe Ellerton-Ashley) becomes obsessed with finding any remnants of Janek’s life. In particular, she seeks a painting depicting three oak trees in a forest in Poland which she visited as a child with her sister, Alex (Emily Taylor), Janek and his lover, Alice (Fiona Macys).

 Director, Kimberley Grigg, creates an evocative and intimate landscape in the tiny La Mama space. The floor is strewn with pine needles and old wooden ladders climb to the ceiling creating a frame for the space (design: Marc Raszewski). The ladders serve multiple purposes. They are used as chairs, windows or picture frames and characters perch high on them, observing the action below, giving the impression of a watchful chorus or intrusive ancestors.

There is a strong sense of ensemble but the quality of the acting is uneven and some characters sound awkward speaking the abstract language. Olga Makeeva gives a potent and restrained performance as Krystyna (OK) the mother of the two girls and abandoned wife of Janek.  Her portrayal has intensity and complexity and she handles the poetic form with ease.

The action is underscored by accordion music played by Pierzchalski. Polish songs give context to the history of the family and the drone of the accordion also evokes a mysterious atmosphere.

Lengthy blackouts seem to be used to cover entrances and exits of actors but they reduce the dramatic impact of scenes and interrupt the rhythm of the show.

The issues arising about family, memory and heritage provide some challenging issues for the VCE students who are studying this splay in Theatre Studies.


Wednesday 16 July 2008

Follies, July 16, 2008 ****

Music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by James Goldman, The Production Company
 State Theatre, July 16 to  20, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 16, 2008
Stars: 4

This concert production of Sondheim’s Follies stars some big guns of musical theatre giving memorable performances.

Follies depicts a reunion of ex-showgirls 30 years after the close of the Follies. Judi Connelli almost steals the show with I’m Still Here. 

Anne Wood shines as the jaded Phyllis and Debra Byrne, as her anxious former pal, Sally, delivers with passion the beautiful and melancholy tune, Losing My Mind.

Kate Herbert

Tuesday 15 July 2008

Holiday, July 15, 2008 ****1/2

Holiday By Raimondo Cortese, Ranters Theatre
Malthouse Theatre, July 15 to Aug 2, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 4 &1/2
Holiday by Ranters Theatre won two Green Room awards in 2007 and it is a happy, almost meditative time in the theatre.
We are voyeurs on two men (Patrick Moffatt, Paul Lum) who seek the perfect state of relaxation as they muse on unrelated topics - love, travel, religion, history - in a mutual stream of consciousness or spontaneously sing a Baroque love song. 
It is beautifully performed and deliciously, deceptively simple.
By Kate Herbert

Saturday 12 July 2008

Wicked, July 12, 2008 ****

Music & Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz,   Book by Winnie Holzman, based on novel by Gregory Maguire

Regent Theatre,  Melbourne, from July 12, 2008

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 12, 2008

Stars: 4

The Land of Oz has finally arrived – in Oz. Wicked opened to a blaze of green glory and a standing ovation at the Regent Theatre on Saturday. The trees in Collins Street glowed emerald and there were more smiling celebrities on the green carpet outside than there were on stage.

In case you’re locked in a cupboard and missing the hype, Wicked depicts the secret girlhood friendship between the two witches from The Wizard of Oz. Elphaba (Amanda Harrison), the outcast, green-tinged child, becomes the Wicked Witch of the West, while her pretty, popular rival, Galinda  (Lucy Durack), grows up to be Glinda the Good.

This unlikely relationship provides a firm, compelling core to the story and Harrison and Durack are the vivid jewels in this production, directed by Lisa Leguillou.

Harrison’s huge voice is rich and resonant. Her feisty, awkward and rebellious Elphaba elicits sympathy and solidarity as she fights for the rights of the marginalised in the bigoted Land of Oz. She sings The Wizard and I with youthful hope, I’m Not That Girl with unrequited teenage love, and her passionate rendition of Defying Gravity will takes your breath away.

Durack, with her warm, bright voice, is adorably and annoyingly perky as Galinda, the squealing, flirting teen witch. Galinda’s signature song, Popular, is hilarious while she brings a poignant note to I’m Not That Girl.

The show is spectacle as only Broadway can create it. Stephen Schwartz’s music, impeccably interpreted by the orchestra, adheres to all conventions of the modern musical without breaking any new ground. It is enjoyable but derivative. You will not remember the tunes when you leave, however, the witty lyrics serve the story and the music underscores Elphaba’s emotional journey from shy child to young rebel to terrifying and powerful witch.

Winnie Holzman’s story strips away the complexities of Gregory Maguire’s original fantasy novel, but the narrative remains convoluted. In the second half, numerous threads must be resolved, some less satisfactorily than others. Contemporary themes permeate the story:  bigotry, unjustified fear, political manipulation and the persecution of those who are different.

Wicked could not succeed without its creative team. It is a visual masterpiece with a stage set (Eugene Lee) boasting a monstrous, animated dragon, giant cogs, wheels and clock face. Kenneth Posner’s evocative lighting is spectacular and Susan Hilferty’s costumes are simply magnificent.

A versatile chorus play the witch-hunting citizens of Oz, students, guards, flying monkeys and denizens of the Wizard’s Emerald City. The opening song, No One Mourns The Wicked, is rousing. Their vibrant choreography (James Lynn Abbot) is all pulses, twists and lifts.

Australian Idol stars, Rob Mills and Anthony Callea, make a commendable transition to musical theatre. Rob Guest enjoys the Wizard, a charlatan hiding behind a frightening, mechanical visage. Penny McNamee, Rodney Dobson and Maggie Kirkpatrick, are strong supporting principals.

But it is the consummate performances of Harrison and Durack that make this show a winner.

By Kate Herbert

The Late Henry Moss, July 12, 2008 ***1/2

The Late Henry Moss 
By Sam Shepard, Human Sacrifice Theatre
Chapel off Chapel, until July 27, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 3 &1/2

Although not one of his masterpieces, this recent play incorporates many of Sam Shepard’s trademarks: gritty realism, violence, mystical elements, volatile brothers and a drunken father.

Two brothers (Mark Diaco, Lee Mason) are reunited in New Mexico over the body of their violent, estranged, alcoholic father (Bruce Kerr) and they must confront their past.

This fast-moving and compelling production is intelligently directed by David Myles and passionately performed. 

By Kate Herbert

All My Sleep and Waking, July 12, 2008 ***

All My Sleep and Waking
By Mary Rachel Brown
La Mama,  until July 20, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 3

Mary Rachel Brown’s intense, often funny play about three siblings coping with their dying father, is unusual, well written and capably performed. 

The older, control freak sister (Andrea Close) and her anxious, compulsive brother (Andrew Gray) recall a negligent, drunken father. 

However, the youngest daughter (Sharon Davies), who nurses him to his death, knew him as a kinder, sober dad. 

By Kate Herbert

Sunday 6 July 2008

Impro Cave, July 6, 2008 ***

Impro Cave
By Impro Melbourne
 Don’t Tell Tom Café, Brunswick, 7.30pm Sundays, July 6 until Aug 31, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 3

The Impro Cave is clever, improvised comedy and every Sunday is a different format.   

This week’s Bingo Board of Doom used the audience suggestion, “Ice”, as a catalyst for stories. Two old geezers travel to Antarctica, an ice sculptor faces execution, a teenager escapes dad’s rigid rules and New York awaits a tidal wave.  

 Bingo numbers dictate the style so you might see a scene in opera, gibberish and even Shakespeare. There were some big laughs.

By Kate Herbert

Impro Cave, July 6, 2008 ***

Impro Cave
By Impro Melbourne

 Don’t Tell Tom Café, Brunswick, 7.30pm Sundays, July 6 until Aug 31, 2008

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Stars: 3

The Impro Cave is clever, improvised comedy and every Sunday is a different format.   

This week’s Bingo Board of Doom used the audience suggestion, “Ice”, as a catalyst for stories. Two old geezers travel to Antarctica, an ice sculptor faces execution, a teenager escapes dad’s rigid rules and New York awaits a tidal wave.  

 Bingo numbers dictate the style so you might see a scene in opera, gibberish and even Shakespeare. There were some big laughs.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 3 July 2008

Helbourne, July 3, 2008 *1/2

What: Helbourne by David Gill, Dave Smith & Brett Hamm
When & Where: McCulloch Gallery, Rankins Lane, Melbourne until July 13
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 1 ½ stars
By David Gill, Dave Smith & Brett Hamm 
McCulloch Gallery, Rankins Lane, Melbourne until July 13, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 1 ½ stars

Helbourne has plenty of unfulfilled potential. 

The installation promises to “break down the walls of the gallery” by placing art in 12 CBD bars and shops. The hub is an art exhibition (David Gill, Dave Smith) based on characters and locations from a story (Brett Hamm). 

You can visit the hub, traipse around the 12 venues, or download a pod cast from the net. If Helbourne added a recorded journey on a headset, a clear map and some theatricality, it might be more compelling.

The Thing About Men, July 3, 2008 ***

The Thing About Men
By Jimmy Roberts & Joe DiPietro
Produced by Magnormos
Theatreworks, July 3 to 12, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 3

Remember the madly popular American musical, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change? The writers, Joe DiPietro (libretto) Jimmy Roberts (music), also wrote The Thing About Men, another successful Off-Broadway musical about screwed up, modern romance.

The show, directed by Aaron Joyner for Magnormos, shares much with the duo’s previous show. The songs are typical of the contemporary American musical style, including ballads and upbeat tunes with witty lyrics and complex rhymes. The story is like a French farce set in New York, with broken hearts, disguised lovers, secret trysts, romantic deceptions and plenty of laughs. Strangely, it is based on a 1986 movie called Men made by East Germans – not known for their jokes.

Chris Parker has a compelling voice and plays Tom the advertising executive with a brittle charm. Tom is “a bread-winning, ass-kicking, Porsche-driving, home-owning, lawn-mowing man” (Oh, What a Man) who leaves his wife, Lucy (Laura Fitzpatrick) when he discovers she is having an affair with bohemian artist, Sebastian (Liam Pedersen). Tom’s moral outrage is ironic because he is also having an affair.

Tom embarks on a bizarre form of retribution by changing his name and moving into his rival’s grungy New York loft to spy on his wife’s affair. But his plans go awry when he and Sebastian become best buddies. (The Greatest Friend).

Joyner maintains a cracking pace throughout, keeping the focus on the lunacy of the story and its messy relationships. Much of the comedy around Tom is built on the collision of his rigid corporate style with his undignified deceptions. He disguises himself as a gorilla in one scene to avoid being caught.

Fitzpatrick plays Lucy fairly straight and her voice is bright and engaging. As Sebastian, her lover, Pedersen
is playful as a puppy. The three voices blend extremely well and the ensemble singing Downtown Bohemian Slum is a treat. Lyall Brooks and Nicolette Minster make a versatile support pair, providing innumerable comic cameos including the palm reading hippy and a smug French waiter.

The songs are a little predictable and not all memorable and the set design is unimaginative, but The Thing About Men is a cheerful, funny and contemporary musical.

By Kate Herbert