Thursday 28 August 2008

Skin, Aug 28, 2008 ***

By Humphrey Bower, La Mama
 La Mama Wed to Sun until Sept 13, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

In Skin, Humphrey bower adapts two of his own short stories into an intimate, atmospheric and spare solo storytelling performance. 

Jess Ipkendanz accompanies him with the haunting strains of original acoustic music for piano and voice. Her paintings line the walls and are eerily lit by Gwendolyna Holmberg-Gilchrist providing an unusual design.

Both stories have an edge of menace although Tony the hairdresser’s visit to Saigon is lighter and more comical. Tony is a stranger to Vietnam when he stays in a friend’s apartment. In order not to look out of place by the pool, he visits a tacky tanning salon that leaves him with orange skin and an allergic reaction.

The more threatening tale is about a white man’s encounter with an aboriginal spirit. He stays in an outback Western Australian town where he buys an aboriginal painting of a serpent. Almost hidden in cool dim blue light, he is visited in his cabin by the spirit of the woman who painted the serpent. Bower’s description of walking on the crystalline salt lake is chilling.

Skin begins as casual narration but becomes progressively more sinister.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 27 August 2008

Ninety, Aug 27, 2008 ***1/2

by Joanna Murray-Smith, Melbourne Theatre Company
 Fairfax Studio, Vic Arts Centre, until October 4, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: *** 1/2

There are tears and laughter in Joanna Murray-Smith’s play, Ninety. You might need to sneakily dab your eyes with a tissue in the final blackout. When William (Kim Gyngell) and Isabel (Melinda Butel), a divorced couple, meet for the last time before William flies off to Paris to marry a young German actress, their separated “Now” collides with their volatile “Then”.

William grants Isabel’s request for ninety minutes of his time. What she wants is not immediately evident. Perhaps it is to remind him of the exceptional love they had, to rekindle the passion, to stop him marrying the German bimbo - or is it to remind him of the unbearable, unspoken grief that tore them apart and forced him to leave?

Murray-Smith writes plenty of whip-smart dialogue for these two accomplished actors, employing her signature interrupted, clipped dialogue and myriad allusions to literature, politics and popular culture.

The characters are middle-class, privileged artists. She is an art conservator restoring a 16th century Flemish painting that is, rather too obviously, of a married couple. He is a “shallow and vain actor” who recently won a Golden Globe. They are articulate and almost too clever with words as they snipe and taunt each other.

Simon Phillips casts not glamorous actors, but two idiosyncratic and insightful performers who penetrate both the ordinary and extraordinary in this broken relationship. Gyngell is compelling as William, making this self-centred, ambitious man sympathetic and funny. His rattling recollection of being a sleep-deprived dad wrangling a vomiting, crying baby is hilarious. Later, he touches our hearts with his grief-wracked sobs.

Butel as Isabel is a fiery siren in tracky-dacks. She challenges and confronts William, making no obvious effort to charm or seduce him but she reels him in with her wily and manipulative storytelling.

The present bleeds into the past as they reminisce about their past love. If we were wondering why this seemingly mismatched and combative couple were ever together, their memories explain it. He was her Drama lecturer and she his annoying, show-off student who seduced him shamelessly. Their connection was playful, wild and sensual but their love was shattered by grief.

Phillips sustains a cantering pace without losing the rhythm. With the slowly revolving set (Andrew Bellchambers) Phillips allows us to view the couple from all sides, both literally and metaphorically. Ninety taps into all our fears and pain about losing love.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 26 August 2008

Check Out! Aug 26, 2008 ***

Check Out! 
By Polyglot Theatre, touring Victoria schools
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The five to 9 year olds who watched Check Out! were entertained and engaged by this cute little show with two actors and more puppets. When Baby, a chubby hand and rod puppet, visits the supermarket with her Daddy, she kicks up a fuss because she wants the chocolate bunny. 

She gets separated from Dad when she goes in pursuit of the elusive bunny. She meets Speedy, a scruffy sugar crazed kid who lives amongst the snack shelves, encounters the lively shelf products and finally finds her frantic dad.

The set comprising black and white photographic panels, provide a simple background that evokes the supermarket. Woven mongst Baby’s story is that of two young shelf stackers who are paid a pittance and who must offload unsellable quantities of soap.

Their is slapstick tickles the children’s funny bone making them squeal with laughter as the actors fall over or and puppets fly through the air. Check Out is a portable and engaging play for primary schools.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 21 August 2008

Bat Boy The Musical, Aug 20, 2008 **

Bat Boy The Musical
Music & lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe, story & book by Keythe (OK) Farley & Brian Flemming by Octave Theatre
Chapel off Chapel, Aug 20 to 24, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

When a tabloid rag broke the insane story and photo of a half-boy, half-bat found living in a cave, three writers leapt at the idea to turn it into a musical. In 1997, Bat Boy The Musical was born and subsequently won myriad awards.

Bat Boy became a cult hit. It combines the schlock horror notion of a cross- breed bat-boy with cartoon humour and witty lyrics in a rock musical. This production is by Octave Theatre, a non-professional musical theatre company of young performers.

Scott Mackenzie works hard as the Bat Boy who is found scuttling and grunting in a cave near an isolated American town that is populated by redneck cattle farmers. Laura Marcucci gives a strong performance as the woman who teaches Bat Boy and is, we discover hilariously, his birth mother.

 Although the quality of acting and singing is limited in this production directed by Rebecca Holcdorf (OK), this gang of young’ns has a great time belting out tunes with titles such as Hold Me Bat Boy, Ugly Boy and Another Dead Cow.

Kate Herbert

Zhang Da Li and the Village of Big Eaters, Aug 21, 2008 **

Zhang Da Li and the Village of Big Eaters
By Yu Jihui
When & Where: La Mama Wed to Sun until Aug 24, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Yu Jihui immigrated from China in 2001, wrote a novel in English, part of which was adapted into this play by director, Frank Moore. 

It portrays one young man’s attempt to undermine Communist Party ideology and its blatant ignoring of starvation through his fantasy about a “village of big eaters”.

It is unusual to see an entirely Asian cast and, because most are inexperienced actors, the quality of acting is uneven. However their enthusiasm and authenticity and  Yu Jihui’s scathing, satirical observations about Communist officials carry the show.

Kate Herbert

Rod Quantock, First Man Standing, Aug 21, 2008 ****

Rod Quantock First Man Standing
Trades Hall, Carlton, until Sept 6, 2008

Reviewer: Kate Herbert


When I see Rod Quantock I laugh a lot and I think a lot – about our lot. This fortieth anniversary of his first comedy appearance is no disappointment.  He is a lone social-political commentator in the live comedy scene and neither side of the political game escapes his scathing opinions. 

He dumps on Howard and Garrett, Brumby and Kennett with equal vehemence and remembers Kennett cheerfully for the comic material he provided.

He started comedy in 1968 in the Melbourne Uni Architecture Revue and three audience members assist him in recreating that first goofy sight gag. In this show he uses technology, not just a whiteboard and marker. We are treated to data projection websites, flow charts and even our own houses appear on Google Earth.  His montage of the major events of 1968 is accompanied by a rapid fire and hilarious commentary on asassinations, wars, bombs and mini-skirts.

Rod’s reminiscences about his infamous Bus tours when he invaded weddings, homes and even a police graduation are funny enough to make an entire show and his endless permutations of the singing fish joke are a riot.

What is fascinating is how he can make us laugh at things that are deadly serious – climate change, oil depletion, weapons, war and lack of water. Yes, I am still a card-carrying Quantock fan.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 20 August 2008

Hamlet, Bell Shakespeare, July 20, 2008 ***

By William Shakespeare, Bell Shakespeare
Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre, July 20 to Aug 2, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 20, 2008
Stars: 3

Brendan Cowell’s Hamlet is certainly an unexpected, but not always successful, interpretation of Shakespeare’s young prince, whose mind is addled by grief and revenge. There is no choice but to compare former, famous Hamlets with this contemporary young man.

The grieving young Hamlet is shocked when, just two months after his father’s death, his mother, Gertrude (Heather Mitchell), marries Claudius (Colin Moody), the dead King Hamlet’s brother. Hamlet is driven to distraction when the Ghost of his father (Russell Kiefel) reveals that Claudius murdered him to gain the crown – and his wife.

Cowell’s Hamlet is scruffy, obnoxious, rowdy, sullen and impulsive, looking as if he has taken recreational drugs and been awake for a week. He is most effective and compelling when his Hamlet is in his extroverted moments, rollicking with his university pals, Rosencrantz (Tim Richards) and Guildenstern (Matthew Whittet),  ranting at his mother or Ophelia (Laura Brent) and fencing with Laertes (Chris Ryan).

This Hamlet is disrespectful, confused, privileged and lacking in impulse control. He has a wicked sense of humour and an attractive, bad-boy persona that is recognisable as a modern young man with scattered energy and too much time on his hands. This Hamlet will appeal to a younger audience that is new to the play.

The weaknesses are in Cowell’s interpretation of Hamlet’s introspective soliloquys. His mood shifts are not convincing, he seems disconnected from the text, his voice is uncontrolled and lacking resonance. Much of Hamlet’s philosophising is lost in the whirlwind performance.

Barry Otto, as old Polonius, steals the show without overplaying the role. He finds humour and truth in the loyal, doddering, over-talking Polonius who tries to please everyone.  Mitchell’s Gertrude is dignified and layered. Cowell’s scene with her is strong and passionate.

The crucial Players’ scene has no dramatic impact because it is sung rather than enacted, and Claudius’s reaction to it - “Give me some air” - is totally lost.

The sparse design (Fiona Crombie) of stony walls is broken only by a narrow moat on one side through which the gaping ghost splashes and, on the other, a spiral staircase upon which Hamlet muses.

Colin Moody is a smug and dangerous Claudius while Richards and Whittet play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as clowns. Jo Manning is composed and capable as Horatio.

Marion Potts’ production is an unusual and entertaining ride but it lacks the balance of passion, poetry and subtlety that can make a truly great Hamlet.

By Kate Herbert

Damn Yankees, Aug 20, 2008 ****

Damn Yankees
Words & music by Richard Adler & Jerry Ross, book by George Abbott & Douglass Wallop by The Production Company
 State Theatre Aug 20 to Aug 24, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 20, 2008

Don’t be fooled. A musical about baseball might sound just a bit too All-American and irrelevant to an Australian audience, but Damn Yankees is a damned good show. And when I say “damned”, take that literally because the devil takes centre stage.

When baseball fanatic and couch potato, Joe Boyd (David Whitney), vows that he would sell his soul if his precious Washington Senators could win the series, he sets in motion an uncontrollable chain of events. Mr. Appleby (Matt Hetherington) appears in a puff of smoke to grant Joe his wish. Dumpy, middle-aged Joe is magically transformed into baseball star, Joe Hardy (David Harris). The only problem is that, having sold his soul to achieve his goal, he must leave behind his loving wife, Meg (Anne Wood).

Director, Terence O’Connell, with choreographer Alana Scanlan, musical director Vanessa Scammell and Orchestra Victoria, creates a polished and charming production with a talented cast.  As the show’s hit song says, Damn Yankees has heart.

Heart (You’ve gotta have heart”) sung by the chorus of cheerful, try-hard baseball players, is not the only memorable song by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. Pia Morley vamps it up with the sultry tune, Whatever Lola Wants (Lola Gets) and she finds a balance between devilish seductress and sympathetic admirer of Joe.

Harris is the perfect, muscular golden boy as baseball star, Joe Hardy. He blends naivete, honesty and ambition in the American idol and his voice has warmth and an emotional quality. Morley and Harris sing Lost Souls, a sexy, peppy duet, with passion.

Hetherington, as the devil in the guise of Mr. Applegate, almost steals the show.  He revels in the role, playing him as a sneering, manipulative misogynist rather than as a sleazy seducer. His wickedness is cheeky and comical and he uses magic to colour his wickedness with fire tricks and sleight of hand. With the impish chorus, he hams it up singing The Good Old Days.

Wood and Whitney are relaxed and amiable as Meg and old Joe. Near To You, their trio with Harris, has warmth, poignancy and fine harmonies. Melissa Langton, Wendy Stapleton and Sally Bourne create appealing comic characters.

Although the show has only two big hit songs and the story is gossamer-light, Damn Yankees is a fun night out.

By Kate Herbert

Monday 11 August 2008

Altar Boyz, Aug 11, 2008 ****

Altar Boyz
Conceived by Ken Davenport & Marc Kessler
Music & lyrics by Garry Adler & Patrick Walker
Athenaeum Theatre, Tues to Sun Aug 11 to Sept 13, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 11, 2008

Cross the Hill Song Church with Human Nature and you have Altar Boyz, a musical parody of a Christian boy band. The five Boyz are Matthew, Mark, Luke and Juan (the Mexican). Oh, and then there’s Abraham, the Jewish boy and master lyricist who happened along on the day the others decided to sing for God.

The Boyz perform the final show of its Raise the Praise tour and their task is to sing saccharine sweet songs to save tortured, sinful souls. Every night, the Sony Soul Sensor records on a digital screen the number of sinners in the audience. As the night progresses the number decreases and the Boyz celebrate their success.

Vivacious, versatile and charming singer-dancers, combined with peppy choreography and cleverly written, up-tempo tunes, make this an energetic, effervescent show.

Cameron MacDonald is Matthew, the clean-cut, charismatic leader of the Altar Boyz. His adoring sidekick, Mark, is played by Dion Bilios who prances hilariously as this closeted but oh-so-obviously gay boy. Tim Maddren (OK) is Luke, the thug who drives the truck and was saved after doing rehab for “exhaustion” – and alcohol.

Jeremy Brennan plays Juan, the Mexican Lothario whose latin song, la Vida Eternal, is a cunning parody of Ricky Martin. Andrew Koblar is Abraham, the Jewish boy who begins as the outsider but turns out to be the most loyal to this Christian band.

Garry Adler and Patrick Walker’s songs replicate the sugary style of boy band pop music and the lyrics are gently satirical. They turn the raunchy pop lyrics on their heads. “Something about you makes me want to wait,” sings Matthew to his girlfriend, parodying the popularity of sexual abstinence amongst young Christians.

The on-stage band under musical director, Robert Gavin, is accomplished and gives the gossamer-light lyrics some weight. Kate Gaul directs the show at a cracking pace and keeps the laughs coming.

The characters that are clearly written for American culture so some dialogue does not work in an Australian accent. The comic sketches are cheesy but they work because the intention of the show is to be ultra-daggy.
Altar Boyz is really entertaining and the music is toe-tappin’. It is unlikely that devout Christians will be offended – but you never know. Good satire takes no prisoners.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 7 August 2008

Massacre at Paris, Aug 7, 2008 **

Massacre at Paris
By Christopher Marlowe, by Doorslam Productions
Where and When: Theatreworks,  Aug 7 to 17, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Only a short version survives of Marlowe’s final play about the battle for the French throne and the gruesome massacre of Catholic Hugenots in 1972. 

This production is courageous and is successful in part. The acting is uneven from this new company. 

However, Jenny Lovell revels in the role of the sneering, conniving Catherine de Medici and Joel Davey is comically whiney as Henry III. The costume design is delectable.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 6 August 2008

Chrysalis, Aug 6, 2008 ***

By Dina Ross by Soul Theatre & La Mama
Where and When: Courthouse Theatre, Wed to Sun until Aug 23
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

There is tragedy in the death of any infant but the trauma escalates with multiple deaths and the mother is under suspicion. Dina Ross's play, Chrysalis, investigates the manslaughter trial of a woman whose three babies died suddenly.

The story is based on real trials. In England, Professor Meadow, an expert on cot death, devised an infamous rule that damned innocent women: “One death is a tragedy, two is suspicious and three is murder.”

The accused is Annie (Sarah Borg), a surly, angry, under-educated young woman of 23 who had three babies by three different fathers. Assumptions of guilt are made about her based on prejudice and inaccurate evidence. Annie was an abused child. She is religious and believes that her babies’ deaths are a punishment from God.

Ross’s script is stark and almost documentary in style, constructed around court testimony, legal meetings and police interrogations.  The writing is most effective when characters express passionately personal experiences. More often the dialogue is didactic and expository. David Myles clinical direction matches the reserve of the script.

There are broader issues of parenting and loss. Annie’s lawyer, Steffie (Imat Akelo-Opio), was adopted at birth and cannot have children while the pathologist (Bruce Kerr) is traumatised by his son’s death.

Borg is credible as Annie, playing her with adolescent defiance. Kerr is dignified as Lawrence and Akelo-Opio warms to her role when expressing strong emotion.

Peter Mumford’s innovative design uses projections to create locations on an austere stage. The opening image of butterflies is startlingly beautiful. Dim, atmospheric lighting (Bronwyn Pringle) emphasises the grim mood.

Chrysalis is a compelling argument for the legal notion of “reasonable doubt”.


Tuesday 5 August 2008

Cinderella on Ice, Aug 5, 2008 ****

Cinderella on Ice
By The Imperial Ice Stars
State Theatre, Aug 5 to 10, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

If you have never seen it, ice dance looks like a cross between classical ballet and Olympic gymnastics. It has all the grace and elegance of dance that appeals to the little ballet girls in the audience, but it has plenty of high-octane, muscular tricks to appeal to wriggling boys. 

My companion, an 8 year-old boy, kept whispering, “How did they do that? Strings?” Of course, it is designed for adults as well.

In Cinderella on Ice there is a plethora of complex and sustained pirouettes, over the head power lifts and extraordinary body balances in twos, threes or even fours. The amazing part is that this is all done at speed, on an icy surface while balancing on a thin metal blade.

This is a colourful, athletic and exhilarating show with a fairy tale set and exceptional ice dancers. The Imperial Ice Stars is the brainchild of Producer, James Cundall and Director/Choreographer, Tony Mercer but the entire cast and most of the production team are Russian. Tim. A. Duncan and Edward Barnwell composed the original score.

Olga Sharutenko (OK) brings grace and delicacy to the young Cinderella. Playing her father, the watchmaker, is the charismatic Vadim Yarkov (OK), past winner of 20 gold medals. His strength, dignity and passion are compelling. Olena Pyatash (OK) manages to make Cinders wicked stepmother look deliciously haughty and sexy while Svetlana Fadeeva (OK) and Olga Boguslavska (OK) combine the comedy with intentional awkwardness as the ambitious but clumsy stepsisters.

Andrei Penkine (OK) has exceptional technical skill playing the lithe and boyish prince although, in this version of the story, he is actually the Mayor’s son. Supporting the principals is an ensemble of ice dancers who all perform skating wizardry. The percussive, robotic clock dance is striking.

The narrative of this new version of Cinderella is sometimes difficult to follow without program notes but it is a novel view of Cinderella. She comes to the attention of the Mayor (Stanislav Voituk OK) and his son when she dances the lead in Swan Lake. Her gypsy fortune teller /fairy godmother (Viktoria Zhukovstova OK)
Sends her to the Mayor’s Ball is a truly scintillating carriage and, of course, she wins the son’s heart despite the interference of her step-family and all ends happily.

Despite being kept waiting for 40 minutes on opening night (was the ice melting?) the show is a whimsical and often enchanting show for the family.

By Kate Herbert

Friday 1 August 2008

Cosentino: Threshold, Aug 1, 2008 **1/2

Cosentino: Threshold
By Cosentino
 Clocktower, Moonee Ponds,  Aug 1 & 2, 2008 then touring
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 2 &1/2
By Kate Herbert
Cosentino is an ambitious, 22 year old Australian magician whose show is a peculiar mix of professional and amateur. 
His illusions and card tricks are polished, his escapes from a straightjacket and a water tank are terrifying, but his too-frequent patter is repetitive, lacklustre and interrupts the magic and spectacle. The show could be half the length without it.
Kate Herbert