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 clich├ęs. 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