Wednesday 30 March 2011

Funk It Up About Nothing, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, March 3, 2011

 Funk It Up About Nothing
Based on Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare 
By Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Drum Theatre, Dandenong until April 2, 2011

If your kids (or you) can’t wrap their heads around Shakespeare’s language, Chicago Shakespeare Theater could open the door to a new understanding of the Bard. Funk It Up About Nothing is a funked up, rap version of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

The structure and narrative of Shakespeare’s original, romantic-comedy is recognisable but the poetry is cleverly reconstructed into rhythmic, rap rhymes and set to a percussive, throbbing, electronic, hip-hop beat (DJ Adrienne Sanchez).

The classical characters from 16th century Messina transform into contemporary, urban, American personalities. Don Pedro (Postell Pringle OK) is a hip-hop star on tour with his crew They chill out at old Leonato’s (GQ) mansion where MC Claudio (Jackson Doran OK) falls in love with Leonato’s ditzy daughter, Hero (Jillian Burfete OK).

The strutting playboy, Benedick (JQ), spars verbally with sassy Beatrice, known as MC Lady B (Ericka Ratcliff OK). Despite mischief at the hands of the villainous Don John (GQ), the play ends happily with two marriages.

The rhyming dialogue is clever and funny, the cast versatile, and the stylistic blend of rap, physical clowning and comic wordplay creates an entertaining show to appeal to teenagers.

Although, for the first 20 minutes, the music was so loud that the dialogue was inaudible, this is Shakespeare to make you dance, clap and shout.
Stars: ***1/2

Monday 21 March 2011

The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, 20 March, 2011

The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber at the Regent Theatre****


Produced by Lunchbox, David Atkins & Really Useful Group, Regent Theatre, March 20-27, 2011 then touring nationally.


  • Reviewed by: Kate Herbert
  • Also published at:
  • March 23, 2011 10:39AM (reviewed March 20)

Nobody can argue that Andrew Lloyd Webber is a prolific composer of successful musicals. This tribute concert show travels through his most memorable music theatre repertoire.

Directed with flair and simplicity by Stuart Maunder, eight Australian singers perform hits from Evita, Phantom, Sunset Boulevard, Jesus Christ Superstar, Cats, Love Never Dies and others. Although it does not have all the bells and whistles of a full production, the singers are backed by a superb band lead by Guy Noble, and enormous video projections replacing a set.

It’s worth the price to hear Michael Cormick’s thrilling renditions of The Music of the Night, The Phantom of the Opera and Sunset Boulevard. His voice is hypnotic and rich with an extensive range and exceptional control.

Trisha Crowe’s pure classical tones, impeccable technique and pert appearance are perfect for Christine’s songs from Phantom and Love Never Dies. Alinta Chidzey is a sassy vocal and physical presence while Delia Hannah’s Don’t Cry For Me Argentina and Memory from Cats, are emotional.

Lloyd Webber’s greatest hits have a common dynamic arc, moving from intimacy and control to soaring, emotional, fortissimo high notes at their end.

There is plenty to thrill the senses of fans – and the show is a great prelude to the opening of Love Never Dies in May.


Stars: ****

Friday 18 March 2011

Howie The Rookie , Red Stitch, March 18, 2011

Howie The Rookie  

HOWIE THE ROOKIE, Red Stitch Theatre, until April 16.

  • Kate Herbert
  • From: Herald Sun
  • Published: March 29, 2011 12:00AM 
  • Reviewed March 18, 2011

Award-winning play is dark and dangerous

THE streets of Dublin are dank and dangerous and the characters violent, unpredictable and hilarious in Mark O'Rowe's award-winning play Howie The Rookie. 

 The language is Irish vernacular, lingering between offensive vulgarity, comedy and lyricism. O’Rowe’s writing is thrilling and inspired, using language to conjure a vivid, poverty-stricken, urban landscape and a parade of eccentric characters.

Director, Greg Carroll, and his two actors (Paul Ashcroft, Tim Ross) make this a fine, compelling and challenging production, with muscular, barely-contained physicality and poignant performances.

Two tough, young men, members of Dublin’s underclass, shock, horrify and entertain us with their gritty stories that tilt between comedy and tragedy. Each is alone on stage.

Ashcroft gives a powerfully physical and sympathetic portrayal of The Howie Lee, a street thug in pursuit of a fight, booze and girls. His wild violent rampage turns into a family tragedy.

Ross plays The Rookie Lee, a handsome rogue who finds himself pursued by both Howie and his pals and a Dublin crim. The lives of Howie and the Rookie collide over two nights in perilous ways that neither could predict. The play is intense, brutal and not for the timid – but you must see it.

Stars: * * * * 1/2

Review: Howie The Rookie, Red Stitch Actors Theatre

THE streets of Dublin are dank and dangerous and the characters violent and hilarious in Mark O'Rowe's award-winning play, Howie the Rookie.
O'Rowe's writing is thrilling and inspired, using language to conjure a vivid, poverty-stricken, urban landscape and a parade of eccentric characters.
Director Greg Carroll and his two actors (Paul Ashcroft, Tim Ross) make this a compelling production with muscular, and poignant performances.
Ashcroft plays The Howie Lee, a thug in pursuit of a fight, booze and girls whose wild rampage turns into a family tragedy.
Ross plays The Rookie Lee, a handsome rogue who finds himself pursued by both Howie and his pals and a Dublin crim. Their lives collide over two nights in ways neither can predict.
Intense, brutal and not for the timid, Howie The Rookie is a must-see.
HOWIE THE ROOKIE, Red Stitch Actors Theatre, until April 16
Stars: 4.5

Thursday 17 March 2011

Cantina, by Strut & Fret Production House, March 16, 2011

Cantina ***1/2
by Strut and Fret Production House
Famous Spiegeltent, Arts Centre, March 16 to 27, 2011
Reviewed by: Kate Herbert on March 16, 2011

The stage is a dangerous place in Cantina. This circus-cabaret blurs the line between passion and violence with extraordinary and skilful acts that often verge on the sado-masochistic with their combination of seduction and aggression.

Five physical performers (Chelsea McGuffin, Mozes, David Carberry, Daniel Catlow, Henna Kaikula OK) collide in what could be a late night, 1920s, honky-tonk bar with a musician playing ukulele and pianola. Dance blends with acrobatics; there is a seductive but brutal apache dance duet and a couple of tough and ferocious dance-fights between two men.

A woman tightrope walks in high heels, stands on a man with stilettos and then balances on bottles atop the pianola. A contortionist with terrifyingly elastic bones and pivoting joints, totters about like a rag doll, twists herself into a pretzel and performs handstands balancing on tiny sticks.

A crazy, naked magician pulls a little, red scarf from unlikely places and then later spins by his neck from a rope. Throughout the show, the audience gasps audibly at remarkable and cruel routines, but the final handstand routine on broken glass is possibly the most alarming.

This is not a show for the faint-hearted. It is fierce, unpredictable and treacherous – and incidentally sexy and funny too.

Stars: ***1/2

Saturday 12 March 2011

Smoke and Mirrors, Spiegeltent ****

Smoke and Mirrors
Created by Craig Ilott  and iOTA
Spiegeltent, Victoria Arts Centre, until 25 Feb, 2011
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 12, 2011

Get on this crazy, rollercoaster ride that is Smoke and Mirrors and enjoy the trip. Conceived by director, Craig Ilott, and raunchy singer, iOTA, it is a collage of song, burlesque, vaudeville, circus, illusion and sideshow freaks. Leave your conservatism at the door because bits of this show transgress some boundaries of gentility.

This is the first in an ongoing programme in the Famous Spiegeltent. You can sip a wine, perch on a leather seat in a secretive booth and marvel at its velvet and brocade canopies, mirrored columns and cut-glass windows.

As host, iOTA has a commanding stage presence and powerful singing voice. He introduces a parade of eccentric characters and shifts from seductive to repellent, sexy to grotesque, vicious to melancholy.

Four acrobats perform dazzling feats of balance and strength. The trio, ThisSideUp (James Brown, Casey Douglas, Christian Schooneveldt-Reid), dressed in striped bathing suits as moustachioed, 1920s, musclemen poseurs, perform a hilarious, breath-taking, hand balancing routine. In another sassy, exciting act, they toss their female partner (Kali Retallick) like a piece of flotsam.

Queenie van de Zandt thrills us with her rich, effortless voice and a passionate song – despite being a bearded lady. Wayne Scott Kermond is a quirky, tap-dancing vaudevillian and Timothy Woon astonishes with his illusions.

Director, Ilott, links acts with original songs by iOTA and the antics of dancing bunnies – who are waiting to be pulled out of a hat presumably.

Wednesday 9 March 2011

An Evening With Chekhov, La Mama, March 9, 2011

An Evening With Chekhov ***
The Bear by Anton Chekhov, The Bet adapted from Chekhov by Fiona Macys Marzo
 La Mama, until March 20, 2011
Reviewed by: Kate Herbert on March 9, 2011

Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov, with director, Constantin Stanislavski, changed the face of 20th century theatre with his controversial, naturalistic style described as “scenes from country life”.

Chekhov is renowned for his pithy, short stories and his full-length plays. An Evening With Chekhov, directed by Olga Makeeva, features his short play, The Bear, a comic romance that could be the plot of a Russian sit com. It is paired with an adaptation of his quirky, short story, The Bet.

Daniel Frederiksen is both repulsive and attractive as Smirnov, the boorish, grain salesman who bullies his way into the home of the beautiful, reclusive widow, Popova (Fiona Macys Marzo) to reclaim a debt. Frederiksen brings a cheekily modern edge to Smirnov. His performance is dangerous and magnetic and he addresses the audience directly, breaking the fourth wall in a distinctly non-Chekhovian way.

The Bet has a disturbing premise. A young man (Brett Ludeman) makes a wager with a wealthy banker (Eugene Schlusser). If he spends 15 years in voluntary, solitary confinement, the banker will pay him two million roubles. The story forces the characters and audience to address the value of human contact, or earthly things, possessions, learning, books and money.

The two pieces provide an insight into Chekhov’s exceptional talent.


Tuesday 8 March 2011

Café Scheherezade by Therese Radic, March 8, 2011

Café Scheherezade by Therese Radic
Based on the novel by Arnold Zable
At  fortyfivedownstairs, March 8 to April 3, 2011
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on March 8, 2011

For centuries, European theatre told stories that reflected or informed the experiences of the audience. Some of our most passionate, moving, contemporary theatre is about the tragic or joyful lives of real members of our community.

In Café Scheherezade, a play based on Arnold Zable’s novel, we peer like voyeurs through the windows of the real Café Scheherezade that was established in 1958 in Acland St. St Kilda by Polish immigrants, Avram and Masha Zeleznikow. The Café thrived and was a meeting place for displaced Eastern European Jews.

The characters in the play are based on real people, many of whom sat amongst us on opening night, making the experience more compelling. Director, Bagryana Popov, incorporates evocative Klezmer music (Ernie Gruner, Justin Marshall) and simple staging that recreates something of the atmosphere of the bustling café.

The play is most successful when telling the heart-wrenching tales of escape and loss of the elderly diners and owners. Marta Kaczmarek is luminous and detailed in her portrayal of stoical, cheerful Masha. Jim Daly captures the pain and reserve of the taciturn Avram, and Richard Bligh is riveting as the obstreperous Laizar.

These people changed the face of Melbourne and their stories are now embedded in our local history.

Stars: ***

Saturday 5 March 2011

Dream Life of Butterflies MTC ***1/2

The Dream Life of Butterflies 
By Raimondo Cortese, Melbourne Theatre Company
Sumner Theatre, MTC March 5 to April 2, 2011
Reviewed by: Kate Herbert  on March 5, 2011
Stars: *** 1/2

We cannot live our sisters’ lives or control their choices. In Raimondo Cortese’s The Dream Life of Butterflies, people with siblings may recognise the frustration, repressed conflict, misunderstandings, pain, guilt and the willingness to forgive transgressions.

This two-hander is a gentle, naturalistic portrayal of the reconciliation between two very different, middle-aged sisters. Vanessa (Natasha Herbert), after a long, unexplained absence, visits her older sister, Zelda (Margaret Mills).

Cortese’s spare dialogue is littered with pauses. Heather Bolton’s economical direction emphasises the sisters’ discomfort with frequent, awkward silences, highlighting years of unspoken confusion and betrayal. The two rattle around in a vast, empty space, pacing aimlessly or perching on uncomfortable benches.

Their conversation divides in three parts, punctuated by Baroque harpsichord (Anastasia Russell-Head). It reeks of evasion, intentional and unintentional, as they plough through childhood memories until they reach the unsafe ground of Vanessa’s departure.

Herbert captures the recklessness of Vanessa, giving her a louche, restless, weightless quality that reflects her dislocated, gypsy lifestyle, and balancing Vanessa’s strange secretiveness with her brutal honesty. As Zelda, Mills is eerily contained and still, carefully observing her sister and avoiding confrontation for fear of scaring Vanessa into running.

As they sip vodka and become more certain, this tale of sisterly love, betrayal and abandonment unfolds.

Thursday 3 March 2011

Xanadu the Musical ***

Xanadu the Musical
Book by Douglas Carter Beane, Music & Lyrics by Jeff Lynne & John Farrar
 Xanadu Marquee, Docklands Drive, until April 2, 2011
Reviewed: Kate Herbert on March 3, 2011
Stars: ***

All nine Muses, the Ancient Greek demigods that inspire artists, do their darnedest to inspire Christie Whelan. What else explains the light, colour and charisma escalating 200% when she appears on stage in Xanadu?

Whelan is tall, blonde and gorgeous. She dances, sings, acts and has impeccable comic timing as Clio, the immortal Muse who comes to earth to inspire Sonny (Sam Ludeman), a struggling artist, then falls in love with him as the mortal, Aussie chick, Kira.

Without Whelan, Xanadu would be a forgettable show. There are a few memorable 1980s hits (Magic, Xanadu, Evil Woman) but the others are forgettable with lyrics that offer little to elevate what a thin script, sketchy characterisations and predictable story based on the 1980 movie with Olivia Newton-John.

The direction (Christopher Ashley) is unimaginative, the choreography (Kelley Abbey) repetitive. Jokes are infrequent and mainly directed at 80s bad taste. Whelan provides most of the big laughs with her comic delivery, detailed characterisation and hilarious accent switcheroo. Her ridiculously broad Aussie accent, with its vowels stretched to breaking point, tickled the audience.

Ludeman is well cast and in good voice as Sonny. Luke Alleva’s tap routine is a highlight while Susan-ann Walker and Cherine Peck are a comic double act as Clio’s wicked sisters and the chorus has some funny moments as parodies of a Greek chorus.

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Apologia, MTC ****

 Apologia, Melbourne Theatre Company
  • Kate Herbert
  • From: Herald Sun
  • March 01, 2011 12:00AM

Robyn Nevin is compelling and perfectly cast as the cool, dry-humoured, eminent Art historian, Kristen Miller, in Alexi Kaye Campbell’s family drama, Apologia. Kristen’s son describes her as, “opinionated, didactic, dictatorial”, and Nevin captures all of these – and more.

Beneath Kristen’s very English self-control and leftwing, academic snobbery, Nevin reveals her to be an ambitious woman who remains in secret turmoil about her choice to put her professional life before her children. Kristen’s family avoids the big, emotional issues until the night of her birthday. Now, all the murky, long-buried secrets explode to the surface when her sons challenge her about her apparent abandonment of them decades earlier.

Campbell avoids the play turning into soap opera by inserting an examination of Kristen’s political activism and the repercussions of feminism on women activists. He also includes Kristen’s enlightening analysis of Giotto, the Early Renaissance painter, of Ibsen’s radical play, The Doll’s House, and her view of artists as potential instigators of social change.

Kristen is a complex character: a humanist, academic, socialist. She is the core of the play around whom other characters orbit, accommodating her obsessions but, finally, challenging her worldview and choices so that  Kristen is compelled to present her “apologia”, her formal defence of her opinions and conduct.

She finds support in Hugh, her witty, camp, old comrade (Ron Falk). She abhors Peter (Ian Bliss), her banker son’s financial manipulation of underdeveloped African nations. 

She is shocked by Peter’s relentlessly cheerful fiancée, Trudi’s (Laura Gordon) blindingly simplistic, Christian ramblings and appalled by Claire (Helen Christinson) wasting her acting talent in a television soap opera. 

But worst for Kristen is her second son Simon’s (Patrick Brammall) total mental meltdown.

The performances are consistently strong, Jennifer Flowers’ direction cleverly unobtrusive and Campbell’s dramatic structure and dialogue cunningly wrought. But it is Nevin that is the still, dark pool at the heart of this storm.
Stars: * * * *
APOLOGIA, Melbourne Theatre Company, Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre, Until April 9