Thursday 31 December 2009

A Midsummer Night’s Dream ***

By William Shakespeare, Australian Shakespeare Company
Where and When: Botanical Gardens, Observatory Gate, until March 13
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Will Shakespeare used bawdy language and characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and in other plays. Glenn Elston’s production ratchets up the innuendo a notch to give this Shakespeare under the stars production an even more raunchy edge. Nothing nasty – just good fun.

This the 21st year of Shakespeare in the Botanical Gardens and this entertaining production once more brings Shakespeare to an audience that might not ever see it in the theatre. The Dream is the perfect choice for outdoors. It is a romantic comedy – known as Rom-Coms in Hollywood. It is a delicious blend of love, slapstick and magic all embedded in toffy Shakespeare language with contemporary references tossed into the mix to make you feel at home.

There are doting and jealous lovers, macho rivalry and even a girl fight. Then come the mad, slapstick tradesmen-clowns doing hilariously bad, amateur theatre for the Duke (Hugh Sexton) and his wife (Josephine Bloom). Throw in some acrobatic fairies, a sexy Titania, Queen of the Fairies (Shireen Morris) and her bellowing, muscular hubby, Oberon (Kevin Hopkins) and you have a recipe for a slightly arty picnic on a warm night.

The highlight, as usual, is the amateur dramatics and Brendan O’Connor, as Bottom the Weaver, is a hit. O’Connor’s Bottom (no pun intended) is athletic, conceited, incompetent and deluded about his talent. His character grabs the limelight and delivers every line with pompous histrionics but the peak is O’Connor’s interminable death scene that had the crowd cheering. Have a bottle of wine first. It will be even funnier.

He is ably accompanied by the ensemble of clowns, all of them being double cast in other roles. Andrew Bongiorno plays Lysander as a showy rap artist and Anthony Rive makes Demetrius a poncy boy scout. Olivia Simone is a sassy Hermia and Terri Brabon has fun playing Helena as a plain Jane with appalling dress sense. Adam Pedicini is an acrobatic and perky Puck although he is more comfortable physically than vocally.

Pick a warm, dry evening, pack a bottle of wine and some sangers and enjoy a night with the Bard under the stars. The Gardens look spectacular under theatre lights – and so do the possums.

By Kate Herbert

Sunday 27 December 2009

2009 Theatre Wrap, Melbourne, Dec 27, 2009

2009 Theatre Wrap, Melbourne
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Published in Herald Sun, Melbourne

There were myriad shows that I missed in 2009 however, the Brits won my points for fine script writing this year and many were low-budget productions. Lobby Hero was a complex, intimate, English play about moral dilemmas while Cold Comfort grabbed me round the neck and shook me hard with its gritty portrayal of a prodigal son returning to his father’s wake in Belfast.

The Melbourne Festival provided two compelling and innovative productions: Pornography, a riveting English play produced by a German company, and Terminus, with its grim but comical, other-worldly tale about death, loss and love in an Irish urban landscape.

Independent Australian plays scored well too. Ash Flanders was gaspingly good reprising the disturbed and disturbing Manchester boy in I Love You Bro. Denis Moore and Margaret Mills shone in the distressing play, And No More Shall We Part while Finucane and Smith produced two sublimely joyful, eccentric shows: Salon de Dance and The Feast of Argentina Gina Catalina.

Big shows took my fancy too. I laughed like a drain at Pamela Rabe and Hugo Weaving in Yasmina Reza’s God Of Carnage at MTC. Neil Pigot’s opening scene in When the Rain Stops Falling was inspired although the rest of the play was less successful.

Musicals won hearts this year with Billy Elliot being the stand out followed by Jersey Boys and the acerbic, naughty Avenue Q. However, Chicago looked tired when it reached Melbourne.

At the MTC, August Osage County boasted a marvellous cast but its iconic status as the new “American family drama” was unwarranted. Poor Boy did not integrate songs and story well and Rockabye started comical but became didactic. The Malthouse had a mixed year with Lally Katz’s script for Goodbye Vaudeville Charlie Mudd being chaotic and Woyzeck favouring style over content.

Keep going to the theatre in 2010. There is always a gem to be found for a few dollars in a tiny, out-of-the-way theatre.

by Kate Herbert

Friday 11 December 2009

Godzone by Max Gillies ***

 By Max Gillies & Guy Rundle, Melbourne Theatre Company
Where and When: Sumner Theatre, MTC, December 11, 2009 January 17, 2010
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Max Gillies and writer, Guy Rundle, rejigged some characters in their political satire, Godzone, prior to opening. A week is a long time in politics and, recently, we saw the Federal Liberal Party eat its own liver (or leader). The changes perhaps took Gillies and Rundle by surprise but they optimised their connectivity paradigm – to coin a Ruddism – and slotted the political innovations into the show.

Godzone (sounds like “God’s Own”) resembles Kevin Rudd’s 2020 vision conference. Gillies impersonates a parade of smarty-pants, public personalities. His version of Rudd is squeaky clean, combed and pressed as he tortures the English language, combining incomprehensible management speak with Aussie clichés. Godzone is “an Australian thoughtgather dreamcatch maximising possibility and connectivity” – and it’s also “really bonza”.

Gillies, directed by Aidan Fennessy, performs solo so his characterisations rely heavily on extraordinary wigs (Jurga Celikiene OK), make-up design (Nik Dorning) and video sketches to cover costume changes. His Rudd is uncannily accurate in speech and appearance while others are more caricatures.

Gillies’ Tony Abbott, with wing-nut ears, stammers his conference address which comprises mostly Rudd bashing (“Goody-two-shoes”), lamenting the dark day in 2007 when Australians made a huge error voting for Labour, and informing us that he is God’s choice for PM. Malcolm Turnbull also makes a brief appearance looking bemused.

English-American columnist and self-styled intellectual, Christopher Hitchens, appears as a slightly sozzled, pompous ass from the “Socialist Workers’ Party, Wimbledon branch”, explaining his neo-conservative take on Iraq.

Gillies does a fair version of Gillard treating us like kids at the opening of a School of the Future although he misses her nasal twang. Several video sketches are hilarious parodies. Joe Hockey appears jolly and confused, clutching a snack and babbling distractedly. Barnaby Joyce is a riot in a shouting TV ad selling petrol-guzzling cars.

A certain conservative columnist from this paper pops up too. (Initials AB. Can you guess?)  bullishly attacking the brunch-eating, caffe-latte-sipping, inner-city mob that is so out of touch with his enormous readership.

Huge laughs accompany the bogus conference sponsors’ ads. Singh’s Tandoori Takeaway and Training Institute gets big hoots as does the obscure, corporate sponsor, Omnicorp, that produces…um…well, we have no idea.

There is plenty of new material in this tight parody of our political landscape. No one escapes the wrath of Gillies and Rundle.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 19 November 2009

Life is a Dream at Storeroom ***

 Adapted from Pedro Calderon de la Barca
 Storeroom, November 19 to  29, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Expect violence, chaos and filth in Daniel Schlusser’s version of Calderon’s 17th century Spanish play, Life is a Dream.  In this interpretation, life is a nightmare. If you want a classical production you will not get it here. Schlusser uses some of Calderon’s language, translated by Beatrix Christian, but he deconstructs the original play until it is almost unrecognisable.

His production interweaves scenes involving the actors as themselves, with speeches from Calderon’s play that is set in the royal court of Poland. The power struggles, brutal acts of vengeance and unprovoked violence of Calderon’s characters are echoed in the actors’ unpredictable interactions, status games, imaginative play, story-telling and verbal and physical abuse.

It is a potentially compelling mix. The parallels in the relationships between the actors themselves and their characters create another theatrical layer. Of course, the intention is to deconstruct and create a new piece of theatre but this device does not always illuminate the themes and characters, and causes the narrative to lose clarity.

The stage is a dangerous place in this production. The actors’ violence is very close to the audience and feels very real. They torment each other and it is uncomfortable for us, as if we are witnessing the persecution and abuse first-hand, and are unable to take action to stop it. The actors crawl and fight in what looks like a filthy squat (design by Marg Horwell) scattered with the detritus of years of unwholesome living.

The deconstructed form almost entirely obscures the interesting complexities of the original plot and its characters. There is also a conflict between the two styles of language: the contemporary-casual versus the classical-poetic. About half way through the show, Calderon’s characters start to take over from the workshop experimentation of the actors.

The original mythical story goes: King Basilio (Andrew Dunn) imprisoned his baby son, Segismundo (Johnny Carr), because his horoscope predicted that he would bring dishonour on Poland.  Years later, Basilio releases his son and convinces him that it was all a dream. Segismundo falls in love with his cousin, Estrella (Sophie Mathisen) but his years of incarceration made him vengeful and he attacks the king.

There is certainly something gripping in this production. However, it feels busy and sometimes lacks cohesion of all its disparate elements.

By Kate Herbert

Friday 13 November 2009

David Strassman: Teddy’s Farewell Tour ***

Atheneaum Theatre, Nov 13 to Dec 6, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

David Strassman, American comic ventriloquist, has a fiercely loyal fan base in Melbourne for his characters, Ted E. Bare and Chuck Wood. He brings his show to the Athenaeum Theatre almost annually and his followers carry teddies and wear his T-shirts with the ardent commitment of AFL fans.

The sentimental audience favourite of Strassman’s characters is the charming Ted E. Bare who is a naïve, slow-talking, goofy and over-sized teddy. Strassman manages to give the inanimate puppet soulful eyes and a cuteness factor of 100.  This show is billed as “Ted E’s Farewell Tour” and Ted milks the audience’s empathy for all he is worth.

Ted E’s primary antagonist, and the audience’s other favourite, is Chuck Wood, the puppet world’s answer to villains. He is cunning, lying, conceited, foul-mouthed, sexist and intolerant of everyone and everything. He taunts Ted E, Strassman and us – and we love him for it. Chuck is the classic ventriloquist doll with a cheeky, wooden head. (Anyone remember Gerry Gee and Ron Blaskett?)

When Ted E. announces he is leaving the show, it draws gasps and howls of “Don’t go, Ted E!” from the crowd and “Good riddance” from Chuck and the other characters. Strassman’s cast includes Sid the Beaver, a crass stand-up comedian, Grandpa Fred, a forgetful old teddy with a penchant for hookers, and Kevin, the kooky Alien.

Strassman’s technique is impeccable and, when ventriloquism errors occur, he makes them into gags. His comedy relies on classic, verbal and often vulgar stand-up routines as well as his cleverly created puppet characters.

Strassman’s newest creations are electronic puppets that he calls puppetronics. These include some marvellous inventions such as a very talented and acrobatic 20cm robot that almost steals the show and an electronic chorus of dinosaurs that sing Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody in perfect harmony. The remote electronic controls trigger a head-scratching, how-did-he-do-that reaction from the audience.

All that being said, the show feels a little tired, too long, and the style, at times, feels a bit dated. The fans, however, seemed to be delighted to witness the reprise of all their old favourite gags and characters.

By Kate Herbert

Saturday 24 October 2009

Faces in the Crowd by Leo Butler ***

 By Leo Butler, Red Stitch Actors Theatre
At Red Stitch Actors' Theatre, Oct 24 to Nov 7, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

With nearly half of our married population facing divorce in their lives, Leo Butler’s Faces in the Crowd may hit a nerve in many people. This two-hander depicts an intense, uncomfortable, warts-and-all insight into the weird reunion of a couple ten years after separation.

Their meeting is emotionally bloody. Dave (David Whiteley), after five years of marriage to Joanne (Sarah Sutherland), disappeared ten years ago, leaving Joanne in the north of England with huge debts, unanswered questions and a deep incomprehension of why she was left without a word. Dave was never heard of again – until now.

And the pain gets worse. Joanne, after recent contact from Dave, arrives at his fancy London studio flat. She is bitter, angry and sniping at him. He is contrite initially, conciliatory, inviting her to walk by the Thames.

Whiteley and Sutherland capture the awful discomfort and awkwardness of this couple that now have nothing in common. We wonder whether they ever did when he describes how he felt trapped, dead and needed to escape when their marriage was at an end.

We also wonder why the heck he invited her to his home and why she came. They snipe and bicker, defend themselves and attack with cruel words and even physical violence. And why is Joanne slowly and surreptitiously and with what appears to be almost shame, peeling her clothes off ? And why is Dave not commenting?

But all becomes clear when we realise that she is taking her pound of flesh or, rather his seed. Joanne is closing 40 and wants a baby – and Dave owes it to her.

The acting is skilful. Whiteley captures the slick, smug tone and demeanour of this evidently successful corporate player and middle-aged womaniser. He has an edge of violence balanced with his smooth talking and courtesy. Sutherland gives Joanne the brittle, shattered look of the abandoned wife and her petite frame makes Joanne vulnerable and childlike. Her Northern accent gives her an alien quality that she accentuates to highlight the changes that time has wrought on her estranged husband.

Sam Strong’s production is claustrophobic, containing the actors in a set (Dayna Morrissey) that gives them barely room to dodge each other’s blows and verbal attacks. Strong keeps the pair jammed up against each other which accentuates their lack of intimacy by their desperate and dangerous proximity.

This play will leave you with clenched fists and holding your breath.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 13 October 2009

When The Rain Stops Falling, MTC ****

by Andrew Bovell, Melbourne Theatre Company with Brink Productions
 Sumner Theatre, MTC, October 13 to November 22, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Rain falls, rivers flood and lives are changed during the eight decades of When The Rain Stops Falling. This family epic tale is about the human condition. What else? It allows us to view, through the foggy glass of time, the evolution of a family over four generations as the bloodlines of two families collide.

It is a melancholy tale about fraught people who cannot express their emotions so they clam up and cut off their loved ones, leaving them alone and broken. There is a sense of hollowness and quiet despair in every person.

The play begins in 2039 in Alice Springs, returns to London in 1959 and continues in South Australia in 1988 and 2013. It covers an expansive physical, psychological and emotional landscape but also zooms in on minute character details. We witness the echoes of traits that jump generations. Everybody suffers a tragedy, is abandoned and feels the absence of a person, of love or of purpose.

Parallel to the human story is the devastation of the land and the climate. There is drought and flooding rain. What begins as a turn of phrase – “People are drowning in Bangladesh” – becomes fact.

It rains on stage. Gabriel York (Neil Pigot) stands under an umbrella. A fish falls out of the sky. It is a miracle, like manna from heaven. Fish are now a delicacy near extinction. The man, addressing us directly, explains the phone call and impending visit from the son (Yalin Ozucelik OK) he abandoned when the boy was a child. By sending the fish, the heavens provide lunch for the son.

Pigot is magnetic and poignant as both Gabriel and his own grandfather, Henry. His opening scene is compelling and the highlight of the show. There are fine performances from Ozucelik, Anna Lise Phillips, Kris McQuade, Carmel Johnson, Paul Blackwell and Michaela Cantwell. Quentin Grant provides evocative live music.

Bovell’s script was developed in collaboration with director, Chris Drummond, designer, Hossein Valamanesh, (OK) and actors. However, the spare style, complex dramatic structure, interlocking narrative threads and reincorporation of dialogue and themes are signatures of Bovell’s writing.

The audience must work to draw together the elements. Not until the final scene are we certain where this story is heading. The production is quirky and interesting but the repetitive, almost rippling rhythm slows it down, reducing a little the impact of such resonant themes.

By Kate Herbert

Sunday 11 October 2009

Terminus by Mark O’Rowe ****

By Abbey Theatre, Melbourne International Arts Festival
Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse,  until Oct 13, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Be prepared for stark staging and grim, poetic, contemporary Irish language in Terminus, written and directed by Mark O’Rowe. The play is comprised of three lyrical but gritty monologues that begin in a realistic style then transmute into grotesque and violent fantasy, becoming mythical and otherworldly. 

Each character is desperate and alienated and all paint a verbal picture of a bleak world peopled with dangerous, crazy characters. It is like a Grimm’s fairytale set in contemporary Ireland.

Three actors (Kate Brennan, Andrea Irvine, Karl Shiels) are dotted across the empty stage, picked out by dramatic lighting (Philip Gladwell) and reflected in barely visible shards of glass (design by Jon Bausor). Their separate stories are by turns shocking or tender and their journeys seem unconnected until we catch the threads that weave them together.

Character A (Irvine), a mother and a phone counsellor, embarks on an odyssey through grimy Dublin dives. By trying to save a pregnant girl from a vicious attack, she seeks atonement for her own betrayal of her daughter’s trust.  B (Shiels) is a serial killer, a profoundly shy loner who sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for a beautiful singing voice. (Wouldn’t you?) His damned soul now returns to take its revenge.

The naïve, lonely young woman, known as C (Brennan), looks for love after being betrayed by her mother who seduced her boyfriend. She is lured up onto a huge crane and falls to – well surely it must be to her death.

The acting is gripping with all three actors finding a pulsating, musical rhythm in their monologues. The direction focuses on the richness and vocal quality of the spoken language as well as the vibrant characterisations. 

O’Rowe’s style has much in common with Thomas’s Under Milkwood or Joyce’s Ulysses. It is littered with irregular rhyming and rhythmic, bubbling language that creates a vivid, verbal landscape. The violence and violation is exhausting and almost unbearable by the end, but the word pictures are powerful.

Terminus is about death and violence and love and loss. It is a battle for life with demons and angels, mothers and daughters, lovers and killers, ugly murders and gory accidents. The three lives converge in several horrible accidents. No one is safe, nothing is sacred and lives are disposable.

By Kate Herbert

Friday 2 October 2009

And No More Shall We Part ***1/2

By Tom Holloway, by A Bit of Argy Bargy
Black Box, Arts Centre, Oct 2 to 10, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2

Take a box of tissues for this poignant play. And No More Shall We Part, by Tom Holloway, is 80 minutes of despair, loss, grief and love. With unsentimental truth and sensitivity, Margaret Mills and Denis Moore portray the grim, quiet normality of a married couple at a crisis point.

Within minutes of seeing Pam (Mills) lying under the pale covers of her single bed and Don (Moore) perched on a chair beside her we know that Pam is waiting to die – and very soon.

Holloway, with director, Martin White, depicts an ordinary, domestic world in which a couple, after 30 years of marriage, faces their final conflict. Pam suffers a terminal illness that will soon rob her of any quality of life and leave in crippling pain. She chooses voluntary euthanasia – a process that remains a criminal act here for anyone assisting the suicide.

As Pam lies at home in her child-sized bed they share recollections from their shared life: a camping trip, their first night in a double bed, their children. The scenes shift between this final night and other recent, painful moments. We see Pam inform Don of her decision to end her life. On a later occasion Don, in rage and confusion, calls her decision “selfish” and demands they go to Switzerland where euthanasia is legal. Their final silent meal together is achingly painful.

Moore grabs our sympathy with his compassionate portrayal of this awkward, mercurial and desperate man whose moods swing from distraction to panic and anger as he struggles to accept that his wife is leaving him forever. Mills brings dignity, stoicism and decisiveness to Pam who takes control of her own death while Don grapples with his impending aloneness. She calmly reminds him of happy times and bluntly demands he comply with her last wishes.

White finds some dynamic range within the ordinariness although he employs too many silent, dimly lit scene changes that seem unnecessarily and excruciatingly slow. The ending is not what we expect and in some ways this makes it even more distressing. You are not in for a happy time in this show but it is compelling.

By Kate Herbert

The Suicide Show ***

by A Bit of Argy Bargy, Full Tilt
Black Box, Victorian Arts Centre,  Oct 2 to 10, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

If you call a production The Suicide Show, the nature of the content is self-evident. You might not expect a cabaret-style show with songs – mostly by famous artists – and monologues that all relate to depression or suicide. The dark theme is depicted in diverse forms; some perversely comical, others grim.

The 16 songs and vignettes directly address the audience in a typically confronting cabaret manner. Some dialogue material is by Tom Holloway and the cast devised the remainder. (Mark Jones, Fernando Gallardo, Duncan McBride, Adam Pierzchalski (OK), Gabriel Piras, Kaelis Zaid (OK)).  The inimitable Mark Jones arranged the songs and music and his rich vocal tones, powerful physical presence and riveting gaze make him the most compelling performer.

The show opens with the trumpeting strains of Fanfare For The Common Man (Aaron Copland).  Of the songs that follow, some are spoken in a recitative style while others are sung. The styles and arrangements are diverse including a capella, power ballad, latin, choral harmonies and love ballad. Director, Martin White, plays with the staging and and adds inventive lighting and projection (Adam Hardy, Kim Kwa, Stewart Haines).

The titles tell the story: People Equals Shit by the suicidally named Slipknot; Lithium by Nirvana whose leader was a famous suicide; Something Is Not Right With Me (Coldwar Kids): Better Off Dead, a quirky song about unrequited love by Randy Newman; and Hurt (Nine Inch Nails) that is about inflicting and experiencing pain.

Holloway wrote original lyrics to Mates, a wry song depicting a suicidal man whose friends try to cheer him up. What A Day, performed with a brittle, dark humour by Jones, is a monologue about a drunk who decides today is the day he will step onto railway tracks and wait for a train.

A show about suicide would not be complete without Lou Reed, whose songs are like life through the bottom of an empty vodka glass at four in the morning. Good Night Ladies is sung with ironic cheer by five voices.

So take a valium or two or pop the top off a beer and get out there and groove to the black beat of The Suicide Show.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 30 September 2009

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels ***1/2

Book by Jeffrey Lane, Music & Lyrics by David Yazbek, (after the movie by Dale Launer, Stanley Shapiro & Paul Henning) by The Production Company
Where and When: State Theatre, September 30 to  October 4, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 3 & a half

You’ve got to love the long con. The sheer inventiveness and bravado that allows a con artist to follow his colourful plot through to its bitter, lucrative – albeit criminal – end is deliciously entertaining

And so it goes in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels a musical that is the descendant of the 1964 film starring David Niven with Brando in a rare comic turn and a 1988 version with Michael Caine and nutty Steve Martin.

Bille Brown, who wowed audiences as King Arthur in Spamalot, is hilarious as the supremely arrogant and suave poseur, Lawrence Jameson, whose long con involves playing the prince of a non-existent European country suffering a non-existent revolution. “Give them what they want,” he sings. And he does.

On the French Riviera, assisted by the tres-French Chief of Police (Grant Piro), Jameson, with faux-European charm, seduces and fleeces rich women including lonely American heiress, Muriel Eubanks (Marina Prior).

Jameson’s complex game almost collapses with the arrival of low-rent con artist, Freddy Benson, played with relish, slapstick and comical vulgarity by Matt Hetherington. Freddy’s cheap, short cons involve heroic tales of a sick grandmother. All he wants, as he sings greedily, is Great Big Stuff.

The pair is compelled to join forces to con the supposedly rich, small-town Soap Queen, Christine Colgate (Amy Lehpamer). But this cheerful, clumsy gal is not as ingenuous as she appears. Lehpamer’s voice is rich and powerful and her character matches the vigour of the two con artists.

Roger Hodgman sets a rollicking pace, letting Hetherington and Brown off their leads as this odd couple. They find a rhythmic energy and balance with Hetherington as the crass, physical, boyish con and Brown as the sleek, slightly camp aristocrat.

Piro has impeccable comic timing as the gauche, greedy French gendarme while Prior’s bright vocal tones and comic skill bring the passionate Muriel to life. Chelsea Plumley is bold, big-voiced and brassy as loud, Oklahoma oil heiress, Jolene.

In addition to the goofy antics of the leads, huge laughs are found in David Yazbek’s cunning, often insane lyrics and Jeffery Lane’s brazen, comic dialogue. The tight, on-stage band, lead by John Foreman, does justice to Yazbek’s perky and memorable songs that range from funky to latin beats and love ballads. The vivacious chorus dances up a storm, choreographed by Dana Jolly.

“Breeding is important”, quips Jameson, “but lighting is everything.” It’s a very funny night.

By Kate Herbert

Monday 28 September 2009

Tale of the Golden Lease by Vigilantelope ***

Melbourne Fringe Festival
Lithuanian Club, Nth Melbourne,  Sept 27 to Oct 10, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Has anyone noticed that the Fringe Festival is turning by stealth into another comedy festival? Vigilantelope’s comedy show, Tale of the Golden Lease, has the feel and style of sketch comedy but – wonder of wonders – it has a narrative on which to hang all the gags.

The four men who write and perform the show (Tim McDonald, Pat Miller, Vachel Spirason, Joel Tito) are funny, irreverent and pretty smart. It appears that they may be escapees from the Law Revue (and perhaps the Law Faculty) at Monash.

The story is about two blokes, Dwayne and Rupert, who run a fish and chip shop. Jim Courier, Jehovah’s  galactic envoy, enlists them to find the lost golden lease for the earth. Courier left it on the site of the chip shop 600,000 years ago - give or take a millennium. 

Check your religious-purist self at the door. In Heaven, Jehovah, a smug celebrity with a smarmy, marketing executive turn of phrase, convenes the God Convention. Lucifer is a daggy loser trying hard to win the favour of the other gods. When Lucifer returns to his underworld, his irksome and obsequious imps suggest he hunts down the golden lease so he sends his slavering and stupid Hounds of Hell and Filet, his Master of Disguise (Pronounced “Dis-gweez”).

Meanwhile, Dwayne and Rupert go back in time through wormholes, and encounter some Kiwi Oracles (one is a “little person”), a furry Yowie with a romantic needs and Crows’ footballer, Tony Modra, as a sidekick.

Of course, all this is just an excuse for a comical parade of silly characters, endless ridiculous voices, convulsive jazz dance and absurd songs about gods, love and the rest. One hilarious idea is time travel through interpretive dance. The galloping Hounds of Hell are entertaining, dim-witted servants of Lucifer. Other highlights are the devilish Filet, the Kiwi Oracles and the lisping demon who loves Lucifer.

The show is performed inventively with little or no props or set. The four performers wear black jeans and shirts and changed characters swiftly with the addition of a hat, coat or an accent. There are no dull spots and the 60 minutes provide plenty of laughs for an audience craving comedy.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 24 September 2009

A Black Joy by Declan Greene ***

45downstairs, Sept 24 to Oct 4, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

A Black Joy, Declan Greene’s new dark comedy, has plenty in common with Greene’s previous productions with colleague, Ash Flanders, in their wacko company, Sisters Grimm.  This play, directed by Susie Dee, has the same grotesque but comic flavour, vivid style and references to movies and popular culture. It appeals to a young and funky audience – but not exclusively.

The play depicts the collision of the lives of seven self-absorbed individuals all of whom have famous, movie star names and are members of outrageously dysfunctional families. Bette Davis, played with grim relish by Carole Patullo, acts as “feeder” for her morbidly obese and compliant partner, John Candy, played by Tom Considine. He lies in a bed, like a beached whale, being fed cold baked beans, enormous pies and disgusting gruel.

The repellent images continue. Bette Davis’s daughter, Dakota Fanning (Miriam Glaser), is an abrasive, suicidal, child-star brat who has leukaemia (as did the real Fanning in ER), a foul temper and a craving to be a musical theatre star. She meets and falls in teen love with Corey Haim (Ash Flanders), a 14 year-old Neo-Nazi who makes threatening phone calls to his own mother, Diane Keaton (Anne Browning). Browning plays mum’s anxiety disorder and burgeoning fitness obsession with demented delight, popping pills, hoisting barbells and running in frenzied circles around the stage.

Just when you think things can’t get more bizarre, Diane Keaton’s husband, Senator Joseph Cotton (Chris Bunworth), reveals that his desperate quest to save the whales runs parallel to his psychopathic abduction and slow, sadistic starvation and murder of – well – it looks uncannily like Paris Hilton (Megan Twycross).

Greene’s style owes much to high camp, 1960s, schlock-horror and sexploitation movies. He enjoys grossing out his audience with his “trash theatre”. The results are often hilarious and crazy.

Dee directs the play with a deft hand, maintaining the grotesque, comic style and drawing the sometimes scattered threads of Greene’s narrative into a cohesive whole. The script, although not particularly well crafted, is entertaining and the cast give gutsy, credible performances in this flagrantly offensive and absurd play. If you’re not interested, send your kids.

By Kate Herbert

Saturday 19 September 2009

Attract/Repel by Melbourne Town Players ***1/2

Store Room, Nth. Fitzroy, Sept 19 to Oct 10, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2

The four actors in Attract/Repel have all experienced racism in their lives. We hear their very personal stories in this performance devised with director, Ming-Zhu Hii. They reveal some painful and some hilarious moments and their interaction is warm, honest and natural. The outcome is a charming, moving and challenging show.

The backgrounds of the four are diverse. Jing-Xuan Chan came to live in Australia from Hong Kong as a baby. She does not use an anglicised name but identifies much of the time as an “ABC”, what she calls “Australian Born Chinese”. Terry Yeboah is a tall, elegant, young African-Australian man who immigrated from Ghana in his late primary school years.

Fanny Hanusin is a young, Chinese-Indonesian woman who came to Melbourne University to study Economics and stayed. Hanusin quips that sometimes she feels like a FOB, “Fresh off the Boat”. Georgina Naidu, who has one Indian-Malay parent and one Celtic parent, says wryly that she was born in the Frankston Hospital.

They are all Australian but all have tales to tell about surprising, shocking or watershed moments when they confronted mindless racism. “I don’t want a wog touching my food,” said a bigot to Naidu. “There’s a nigger at the door,” shouted a woman about Yeboah when he was collecting for a charity. Chan’s “white” friends sometimes affectionately but thoughtlessly call her “Little Chink” and she feels that she cannot complain.

Director, Ming-Zhu Hii, keeps the staging simple and intimate. Dramatic moments are accented by Damien McLean’s stark, coloured, fluorescent tube lighting. We are close to the actors. They become our friends in such a small space. They enter carrying a suitcase and introduce themselves. Over the hour, using chalk, they carefully fill the entire wall behind them with lists of racist epithets. Each is like a new poisoned barb.

We, the middle-class, ever-so-slightly smug audience, sympathise and groan at the knuckle-headed ignorance of our fellow countrymen and –women, then wriggle uncomfortably, checking our memories for moments when we, too, have used the wrong language, teased someone or reacted inappropriately.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 10 September 2009

COOK: an exploration ***

Adapted by Peter Finlay
La Mama, Carlton  Sept 9- 20, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

If Australian history is your thing, COOK: an exploration is just the ticket. In this solo show, Peter Finlay adapts and dramatises Captain James Cook’s ship’s journal from his 1770 voyage of discovery of the eastern coast.

There is no fiddling with Cook’s words. His journal entries, although edited, are used verbatim. What becomes clear is that exploration is only occasionally exciting and adventurous. Most of the time Cook’s writings concentrate with excruciating detail on the weather, wind direction and sea depth or the safety of The Endeavour.

After months at sea, we meet him in April 1770 travelling along the New South Wales coast, investigating what he called Terra Nullius. Cook charted the coast and, with Joseph Banks and Dr. Solander, investigated the land.

What is shocking is his almost total disregard for the indigenous people. When the few men who approach him at intervals show any signs of aggression, he fires his musket – then wonders why they will not approach him. He is more concerned about their nakedness – especially the women – and their attempts to pilfer his turtles or to light bush fires than about their culture or welfare.

Finlay, with director Laurence Strangio, creates a simple, short performance that highlights the intensity and detail of Cook’s observations and his lack of genuine interest in the people he encounters. Most of the text is presented as a monologue, although some is a voice over.

 Finlay, wearing cream breeches and shirt, stands in front of projections of a barren, pristine coastline where waves crash against a sandy shore, as if watching from his ship’s bridge. Occasionally he dons a captain’s jacket to patrol the shore and attempt contact with the natives or investigate “a smoke”.

The simplicity of the staging is clearly a conscious theatrical choice and it gives us some insight into Cook’s mental processes and concerns. Finlay’s interpretation of Cook is compelling. However, there is room for greater dramatic development. Further dramatisation of the encounters with natives or Finlay shifting character to play Banks or Solander could create another dramatic layer.

The production is the second in Finlay’s trio of monodramas called Australian Global Documents Project. The first, about Ned Kelly, was based on Jerilderee Letter, the third will be The Mabo Judgment.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 3 September 2009

Billy Twinkle – Requiem for a Golden Boy, by Ronnie Burkett

Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre, Sept 3 to 20, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

If you hate puppets, go see Ronnie Burkett. He could cure you. Burkett’s marionettes are raunchy, funny, poignant, modern nut cases – and so, it seems, is he. Like his previous shows, Billy Twinkle – Requiem for a Golden Boy, is designed for adults.

The puppet cast includes a titillating, tiny stripper called Rusty (How do you peel clothes off a marionette?), Biddy Bantam Brewster, a drunken, singing, society dame, and the well-meaning but talentless Doreen Gray who tours an excruciating, Christian hand-puppet act.

The content of Billy Twinkle may be less challenging and the narrative less mesmerising than the earlier shows, but Burkett’s parade of tiny people and his manipulation techniques remain exceptional. He breathes life into his characters, conjuring a world of tiny people who weep and laugh, taunt and sigh, harangue and dream.

Burkett creates the entire production including the script and set design. He may be the only human on stage in full view and full man-size, but he is never alone while he manipulates characters and provides a multitude of voices.

He plays the older version of the central character, Billy, a puppeteer who is bored to sobs with his glitzy, cheeky show on a cheesy cruise ship. Just before Billy leaps to his watery grave, the not-quite-dead spirit of Billy’s mentor, Sid Diamond, appears to haunt and taunt Billy, forcing him to relive his crazy life as a puppeteer.

Billy Twinkle does not transport us into another magical world. Rather it replicates the world of a middle-aged man in a mid-life crisis who must seek solace and help from the older man who taught him everything he knows. Can we assume that Burkett had a crisis of faith about his chosen profession and overcame it by making a show about a character who started to resent his art and his audience to the point of despair?

Burkett has a wicked and camp sense of humour that permeates not only his dialogue but that of the parade of puppets who share the stage. Within this story, Billy snipes at arrogant, precious or tacky show people and audience members who annoy him. He parodies Billy’s Canadian small town parents, the geeks who love puppets and the child Billy who wants to dress up in sparkly costumes and be a puppeteer.

The show – which opened in Geelong – rushes headlong through Billy’s colourful and sometimes mad life until he reaches a moment of realisation and acceptance. Did Ronnie Burkett reach some sort of peace too?

By Kate Herbert

God of Carnage, MTC ****1/2

By Yasmina Reza, Melbourne Theatre Company
Playhouse, Arts Centre, Sep 3 to Oct 3, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars ****1/2

French playwright, Yasmina Reza, is more famous in America and England than in France. She writes clever, contemporary, social satires. The Broadway production of God of Carnage recently won several Tony Awards whereas in Paris her plays are often dismissed as “theatre de boulevard”, a term applied to 18th century vaudeville. Bad form, Paris! Reza is a jewel.

God of Carnage is an hilarious satire riddled with belly laughs, slapstick and acerbic observations at the expense of modern parenting, marriage and the middle classes. Neat, urban order slides into chaos. Peter Evans’ production boasts an exceptional cast and superb acting. The laughs don’t stop, the direction is slick and Dale Ferguson’s set is stylish and contemporary.

Veronique (Pamela Rabe) and Michel Vallon (Geoff Morrell), parents of 11 year-old Bruno, invite to their home Alain (Hugo Weaving) and Annette Reille (Natasha Herbert), whose son, Ferdinand, struck Bruno in the mouth with a stick. What begins as an attempt at a civil discussion about the incident degenerates by increments into an uncontrollable argument.

Their negotiation deteriorates firstly into veiled criticism and sniping and, eventually, into abuse, personal attacks and even flailing fists and thrown objects. These outwardly cultivated professionals lose their civilised masks and transform into frustrated, angry children – the very thing they are there to discuss. The bad behaviour of the children emerges unedited in their parents who are now ruled by the god of carnage.

Rabe is delectable as Veronique, the controlled, morally superior, lefty, bleeding heart, whose carefully maintained respectability crumbles as she morphs into a screaming harpy. Morrell, as her salesman husband, Michel, begins as hen-pecked, repressed and obliging, later changing into a belligerent, boorish reactionary.

Weaving is suitably smug and arrogant as Alain, the self-centred, criminal lawyer who persists in taking crucial legal calls on his mobile at hilariously inappropriate moments. Herbert charts the decline of the initially timid Annette who lives in the shadow of Alain, her overbearing husband. The lubricating effect of alcohol eventually loosens her tongue. Herbert’s unexpected, explosive incident (let’s not spoil the sight gag) is one of the comic highlights.

Not only is Reza’s dialogue cunningly wrought and funny, it is delivered with impeccable timing by the entire cast who appear to be having the time of their lives. This play is a riot. Your face will ache from laughing.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 2 September 2009

En Trance by Yumi Umiumare ****

Malthouse Theatre
Tower Theatre, Malthouse, until Sept 1 to 13, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Yumi Umiumare is a living treasure, being the only Japanese Butoh dancer resident in Australia. Her solo performance, En Trance, both delights and disturbs with its compelling blend of movement, dialogue, projection and contemporary music. There are moments of joy and comedy that are a counterpoint for the grotesque and more traditional Butoh dance.

The six scenes depict a disturbing collision of life and death, safety and danger, surreal and real, animal and human. Umiumare transforms before our eyes from an engaging, chatty, playful woman in a girlish white frock, into a bare, raw, tormented creature, smeared with white, Butoh body paint. In the final moments, both these personae appear simultaneously when her contorted Butoh figure writhes in front of her girlish image on video.

Maze, the opening vignette, is gentle, poetic and verbal. In Cityscape, Umiumare scurries like a frightened child, through crowded, racing, city streets that are projected on the huge wall behind her (video by Bambang Nurcahyadi). The noise, clutter and speed of urban Asian cities are almost palpable (sound by Ian Kitney).

The versatile fabric installation by Naomi Ota begins as stark, simple, narrow columns of fibre but, with a pull of a string, Umiumare is swallowed by a series of curtains like fine waterfalls of thread. She changes costume before our eyes, dressing in layers of black kimono (designed by David Anderson) and transforming into a dark, rat-like woman-creature scuttling through the drapes with gaping mouth and tortured movement.

Punk Medusa is an inventive and compelling image. Umiumare changes costume again with ritualistic reverence, donning a magical jacket that flickers with pin lights in the darkness. She becomes the multi-headed Medusa by dancing with a video screen bearing multiple images of her own head.

The scene called Tears begins with an intimate, direct address to the audience, describing the numerous and different types of tears of the Japanese. There are traditional tears, a single teardrop, howling grief and soap opera tears. A light-hearted song turns suddenly to a more personal show of grief as Umiumare, carrying a paper umbrella, twirls like a slow Dervish.

En Trance is by turns both anguished and delightful but Umiumare is always entrancing.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 27 August 2009

Oedipus – A Poetic Requiem. Liminal Theatre ***

Adapted from Ted Hughes, by Liminal Theatre
 J-Studios, Barkly St Nth Fitzroy, Aug 27 to Sept 14, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Ted Hughes’ version of Oedipus is a visceral text that accentuates the horror of the Ancient Greek legend of Oedipus the king, who unwittingly killed his father and married his mother. Yes, the Greeks beat modern movie-makers when it comes to violence and gore.

Mary Sitarenos’ award-winning production is an adaptation of Hughes’ text performed by four women (Ivanka Sokol, Jo Smith, Georgina Durham, Claire Nicholls) wearing black gowns. This chorus of writhing creatures narrates the tale and speaks as Oedipus, his wife and mother, Jocasta, her brother, Creon, Teiresias, the prophet, and the Oracle of Delphi. Sometimes huge, stark, white masks (designed by James McAllister) represent the characters.

Oedipus is also present in the resonant and haunting, recorded voice of Peter Finlay, which resounds in the tiny theatre. The bodies and voices, combined with a pervasive, throbbing soundscape (Chris Wenn) and evocative lighting (Damian “Mimmo” Lentini) and projections is atmospheric, intense and often gruesome. Sex and death, blood, dirt and “black, bitter gall” are the images created.

We witness the demise of King Oedipus as he slowly and painfully recognises that he has brought the curse upon the city of Thebes, that he is the plague that afflicts his people. “I am not fit for the light”, he cries. The light is fading on him, his city and his family and it finally blinks out as he gouges out his own eyes.

This entire, abstract production has an ominous feeling as we peer into the world of Oedipus. The combination of moving bodies, portentous soundscape, dim lighting and restrained voices intoning the horrific and graphic imagery of Hughes’ poetic words creates a grim and chilling theatrical experience.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 20 August 2009

Chicago ***1/2

Lyrics by Fred Ebb, music by John Kander, book by Fred Ebb & Bob Fosse
Her Majesty’s Theatre, from August 20, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2

Shimmy those shoulders and shake that ass – Chicago is here. It is a lusty, energetic production based on the New York concert version directed by Walter Bobbie. The score echoes the sounds of the razzamatazz, jazz era of the 20s, the band is tight as a drum and the costumes even tighter. The dancing is hot and sexy and the leads, Caroline O’Connor and Sharon Millerchip, are vivacious.

Ann Reinking’s choreography incorporates Bob Fosse-inspired moves: thrusting pelvises, swivelling hips, tilted bowler hats and staccato changes.

The band perches on a huge, tiered area that looks like a courtroom. This focuses attention on the musicians and Vanessa Scammell even conducts from the judge’s box and participates in the narrative occasionally –and awkwardly. The dance and character action is confined to a narrow, downstage apron that is too restrictive and too much black in the set swallows the actors.

O’Connor and Millerchip are physically like matching tiny, impish moppets. So alike are they, that the usual contrast between number one murderess, Velma, and her new competition, Roxie, gets a little lost although this does not detract from either performance.

O’Connor boasts a bold, distinctive voice, superlative dancing and hilarious clowning. Her opening number, All That Jazz, is raunchy and commanding and her comic skills are highlighted in I Can’t Do It Alone.

Millerchip is a pert and cheeky Roxie. In her song, Roxie, she captures the ditzy, murdering bimbo whose ambition to be famous drives her to extremes, and she fires on all cylinders dancing with Roxie’s boys in Me and My Baby.

Class, the duet O’Connor sings with Gina Riley as Mama Moreton, is classy. Their voices blend perfectly and they don’t mess with the song but allow the witty lyrics to do their work. Riley’s rich, resonant voice fills the theatre in When You’re Good to Mama.

Cell Block Tango is a tasty scene featuring Velma and five other murderesses declaring their innocence while singing, “He had it coming”. Damien Bermingham is charming as Amos, Roxie’s simple, loyal husband. Craig McLachlan underplays Billy Flynn, the attractive, oily defence lawyer who lines his pocket while promising innocent verdicts. McLachlan’s vocal style is not a good fit and Razzle Dazzle, Billy’s big number, lacks the spectacle and pizzazz it needs.

This production needs more space for the action and the rhythm of the show falters occasionally, perhaps because it has been running interstate for months. But the music and the two leads carry us on a wild and sassy ride.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 18 August 2009

Rockabye, MTC, August 12, 2011 ***

By Joanna Murray-Smith, Melbourne Theatre Company
Sumner Theatre, MTC, until Sept 20, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 12, 2009
 Published in Herald Sun on Aug 18, 2009

ROCKABYE, by Joanna Murray-Smith, bounds on stage as a broad comedy about a pop diva whose career stalled after her number one album in the 80s. Now she is only a star in Minsk but her new album may relaunch her career.

The laughs come thick and fast in the first half in Simon Phillips’ slick and peppy production. Murray-Smith’s rapid dialogue is peppered with gags, social commentary and pop culture references. She creates vivid, hilarious parodies of Sidney, the insecure, ageing rock star (Nicki Wendt), her trashy, Cockney agent (Richard Piper) and her drug-addled, ex-rocker boyfriend (Daniel Frederiksen).

Sidney harangues her patient, young assistant, Julia (Kate Atkinson). She anxiously meets with Layla, her African adoption agent (Zahra Newman), then faces Tobias (Pacharo Mzembe) a brash, young, successful African-English rock journalist who interviews her on his TV show.

About 75 minutes into her rowdy story, the tone becomes darker after Sidney’s plans to adopt an African baby go awry. This gear change jars. After establishing the rollicking comedy, it is difficult to view these caricatures as fully rounded characters and to sympathise with their emotional challenges in the second half. The jokes undercut the issues.

The narrative feels contrived and the political debate between Zahra and Tobias is didactic although the story and themes are certainly relevant in our world. Sidney’s biological clock is a ticking time bomb. As a public personality, her private life can never be private. Murray-Smith addresses the desperate craving of a 40-something woman for a child but confronts us with the socio-political complexities of foreign adoptions.

What right does the wealthy West have to commandeer a nation’s children and remove them from their culture? On the other hand, will these children have a better life with a loving family and opportunities? The references to Angelina Jolie and Madonna are obvious.

Wendt embodies the vibrating anxiety and self-centredness of Sidney and effectively balances comedy and drama. Atkinson is charming as Julia providing stillness in this stormy world. Piper and Frederiksen create very funny characters and Mzembe and Newman are capable as vehicles for the social argument.

Brian Thomson’s design of massive, Warhol-style images of Sidney’s face creates a dramatic, colourful stage and Philip Lethlean’s lighting is strong and evocative. Peter Farnan’s original music channels Chrissie Amphlett from the 80s.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 12 August 2009

Quartet: The Razor by Heiner Muller, by A Is For Atlas ***

100 Barkly St, Fitzroy, until Aug 12 to 29, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Innovative theatre demands imaginative vision. In Quartet: The Razor director, Xan Coleman, takes risks and pushes theatrical boundaries to create an intimate production that challenges and surprises its audience with the collision of Heiner Muller’s script, Annie Hsieh’s string duet and a fascinating design by Grant Cooper.

 If you are a fan of Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Laclos – or the Malkovich movie version – this script by provocative, German playwright, Heiner Muller, may titillate you.

We perch on a balcony surrounding the small performance space, peering down into a claustrophobic room imprisons the actors, Andrew Gray and Felicity Steel. The pair prowls like caged lions, stalking, taunting and manipulating each other. They play a range of characters, swapping roles and crossing genders and dressed in layers of slightly distressed period costume (by Julie Renton) constructed from brocades and silken fabrics. A layer is removed at each character change.

Gray plays Vicomte de Valmont, the amoral seducer, while Steel is the Marquise de Merteuil, his demanding, vengeful, long-time lover and partner in crimes of passion. The couple’s spiteful taunts and competitive love play provide the landscape for a nasty and ultimately lethal game.

Muller cunningly structures their relationship as a dangerous tournament of resentment, revenge, decadence and unrequited lust. The pair entertains one another by acting out various scenarios of seduction. Valmont plays his major conquest, the chaste and inaccessible Mme. de Tourvel, while the Marquise pretends to be the lusty Valmont who seduces her.  She then plays the naïve schoolgirl, Cecile de Volanges, who succumbs to the Vicomte.

The jangling dissonance of Hsieh’s music on cello (Jonathan Tosio) and violin (Larissa Weller) underscores the barely submerged violence of the couple. Hidden cameras film the characters, projecting their image like portraits onto screens embedded in the walls.

There could be some development of the rhythm of the characters, a balancing of their passion and coolness, more variation in the dynamic and dramatic range, but this is a compelling production.

By Kate Herbert

The Boy Friend, The Production Company, Aug 12, 2009 ***1/2

Book, lyrics and music by Sandy Wilson
Produced by The Production Company
State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre,  Aug 12 to 16, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2
 Published in Herald Sun

THE BOY FRIEND, by Sandy Wilson, is a playful musical set in the 1920s but written in the 1950s, when it was enormously popular in England and Australia. It was called “a disarming mish mash” but continued to enchant audiences. It is much performed these days by amateur companies but rarely receives a professional production.

At a finishing school for young ladies on the French Riviera, Polly Browne (Esther Hannaford), an English heiress, falls for Tony (Alex Rathgeber), who Polly believes to be a messenger boy but is really the runaway son of an English lord. It is the meeting of minds and money. The peculiar structure of the script explains why it was called a mish mash. It would probably work better concentrating on the “on-stage” story of the finishing school and omitting the thin, backstage story.

Gary Young’s production is energetic and fun. It is astonishing how far The Production Company shows can develop in only two weeks of company rehearsal. The inimitable Rhonda Burchmore, who knows how to command the stage, plays the seductive, French finishing school headmistress, Madame Dubonnet. Burchmore’s fruity vocal tones fill the theatre and she brings elegance and pizzazz to the role.

Grant Smith’s rich baritone blends well with Burchmore and he brings both dignity and comedy to the role of millionaire, Percival, who is Madame’s long lost love and Polly’s father. Robert Grubb is hilariously sleazy as Lord Brockhurst and Robyn Arthur embodies his long-suffering wife.

Hannaford has a pretty voice and is suitably naïve and confused as Polly. Rathgeber has a simple charm as Tony and Christie Whelan is perky as Polly’s frisky pal, Maisie. Kellie Rode is deliciously pert and petite as Hortense, the cheeky French maid. She has that magical quality that lights up a stage, can sing and dance and is totally immersed in her comic role. Other principals provide a spirited group of Polly’s friends.

The orchestra executes Wilson’s music beautifully under the direction of David Piper.  The reeds and strings are featured in much of the arrangements and the music echoes the style of the 1920s. There are plenty of singable tunes in The Boy Friend including the chirpy title song and the cheerful duet, I Could Be Happy With You. Andrew Hallsworth’s choreography channels the flappers of the 20s as do Kim Bishop’s costumes while Richard Jeziorny’s design sets the period stylishly and simply.

By Kate Herbert