Wednesday 30 November 2011

Musical Works, Nov 30, 2011 **

Give My Regards To Broady 
Music, Lyrics & Book by Karin Muiznieks, Music by James Simpson
Housewarming: A New Musical: by Apollo Productions
Theatreworks, St. Kilda, Nov 27 to Dec 10, 2011
Reviewed by: Kate Herbert on Nov 29, 2011

MUSICAL WORKS OFFERS A DOUBLE BILL of short, new Australian musicals, the first of which is Give My Regards to Broady, by Karin Muiznieks and James Simpson, and the second is Housewarming: A New Musical.

The most successful component of Give My Regards to Broady is the range of classic, music theatre songs and it would be best served by ditching everything but the songs and getting a writer to develop a strong story around the catchy tunes.

The self-referential story deals with two wannabees, Karin (Claire Healy) and James (Leigh Jane Booth), trying to write the next big musical.

This shares something with [title of show], the hit, US musical about two guys writing a musical about writing a musical.

However, this production, directed by Scott Gooding, is let down by a sketchy narrative, a lack of dramatic development, thin characters, clumsy dialogue and laboured gags.

The singers work hard to pump energy into cheesy dialogue but are most effective and entertaining when singing.

We’re Gonna Make It, sung by Healy and Booth, is a perky anthem for young hopefuls and, in Melbourne Cup, Healy’s bright tones blend well with Joe Kosky’s rich voice.

Many songs reference local topics. North Vs South, sung by Healy with Lauren Murtagh, is a song-battle about the rivalry between those living north or south of the Yarra, while Suburban Love talks wittily about Melbourne’s suburbs.

The show needs a title song and a clear narrative through-line to give the songs a framework on which to hang.


Friday 25 November 2011

Grey Gardens, Nov 24, 2011 ***

Grey Gardens 
Book by Doug Wright, Music by Scott Frankel, Lyrics by Michael Korie
Produced by The Production Company
Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre, Nov 24 to Dec 4, 2011
Reviewed: Kate Herbert, November 24, 2011
Published in Herald Sun on Monday Nov 28, 2011
Nancye Hayes & Pamela Rabe in Grey Gardens, The Production Company, Melbourne

If you missed the unsettling documentary, Grey Gardens, this Tony award winning musical adaptation captures the essence of the riches to rags story of Jacqueline Kennedy’s eccentric, formerly wealthy cousin, ‘Little’ Edie Bouvier Beale (Pamela Rabe) and aunt, Edith Bouvier Beale (Nancye Hayes).

The musical is set in Grey Gardens, a 28-room mansion in the Hamptons during two time periods: 1941 when it was elegant and luxurious, and 1973 when Edie and Edith were living in squalor in the dilapidated, filthy mansion, overrun with cats and facing a Board of Health action.

By splitting the action into two periods, playwright Doug Wright allows comparison of their privileged, hopeful past with the grim reality of their squalid future.

Grey Gardens has some great songs and delicious characters, but the second half is the more compelling.

Scott Frankel’s music balances peppy show tunes with poignant ballads and Michael Korie’s skilfully crafted, witty and rapid lyrics encapsulate the peculiar behaviour and bizarre quotes from the real women.

Pamela Rabe plays Edith in 1941, but is more effective, entertaining, sympathetic and detailed as Edie in 1973, so we forgive her vocal, upper register limitations.

Rabe is hilarious singing Revolutionary Costume and totally inhabits Edie with her oddball habits, observations and speech patterns and weird costumes constructed from old clothing.

However, Rabe lacks vocal control singing the restrained, emotional ballad, Another World.

Nancye Hayes is suitably demanding, obsessive and irrational as Edie’s mother, Edith, and she sings a fine version of The Girl Who Has Everything.

Liz Stiles is a playful Young Edie with a bright vocal tone, James Millar is comically camp as Gould, while Bert LaBonte, Alex Rathgeber and John O’May are capable in other roles.

Grey Gardens has some great songs and delicious characters, but the second half is the more compelling with its disquieting view of this fractious, co-dependent relationship.

Monday 21 November 2011

Day One. A Hotel, Evening, Nov 18, 2011 **1/2

Day One. A Hotel, Evening 
By Joanna Murray-Smith
Produced by Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre
Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre, November 16 to December 17, 2011
Reviewed by: Kate Herbert on Sunday November 20, 2011
Stars: **1/2
Published in Herald Sun on Nov 23, 2011
 Sarah Sutherland, John Adam, Dion Mills, Kate Cole in Day One. A Hotel, Evening by Joanna Murray-Smith,. Red Stitch
Complicated romantic entanglements provide rich hunting grounds for moviemakers and playwrights, including Shakespeare and Moliere. Joanna-Murray-Smith’s play, Day One. A Hotel, Evening, is a peculiar collision of French farce, screwball comedy and modern rom-coms (romantic-comedies).

However, there are no happy relationships, happy individuals, nor even a happy outcome for the three morally repugnant, dislikeable couples in Murray-Smith’s story.
Madeleine (Kate Cole) and Sam (Dion Mills), Stella (Sarah Sutherland) and Tom (John Adam), and Rose (Anna Samson) and Ray (Ryan Hayward) all live twisted, duplicitous love lives. Tom has an affair with both Madeleine, his best friend’s wife, and with Rose, who is, in turn, involved with Sam. Meanwhile, the two who aren’t cheating, Stella and Ray, plan their violent revenge. Got all that?

Despite some deficiencies in the script and direction, there are some fine performances from a skilful cast, with the standout being Sutherland who captures perfectly the farcical, broad, comic style in her portrayal of hysterical artist, Stella.

Murray-Smith’s writing delivers some smart, witty observations about inner-urban, moneyed couples, but the language is often convoluted, dense and difficult to follow, frequently sounding like commentary rather than theatrical dialogue.

Gary Abrahams’ direction exacerbates the problem with actors’ speeding through lengthy, verbose speeches as if they consumed too many espressos between the 20+-plus, short scenes.

The ethical ambiguity of this play is highlighted when Ray, a professional killer, utters the most intelligent and sincere observations about the nature and importance of love. The intention may be to amuse with satirical commentary on modern life but the production lacks any emotional engagement, which leaves us feeling disconnected and dissatisfied.

By Kate Herbert

Sunday 20 November 2011

Bad Blood Blues, Nov 19, 2011 ***

Bad Blood Blues
By Paul Sirett
Chapel off Chapel , 11 to 26 November, 2011
Reviewed by: Kate Herbert on November 19, 2011
Stars: *** 

Published in Herald Sun on Nov 23, 2011
Glenda Linscott & Blessing Mokgohloa in Bad Blood Blues. Photo by Simon Parris
More than 60 million Africans carry the HIV / AIDS virus and women are a disproportionate percentage of sufferers. Paul Sirett’s Bad Blood Blues is set against this terrifying reality.

Workaholic medical researcher, Clare (Glenda Linscott), is conducting a double-blind, drug trial in an undisclosed African country to test the effectiveness of two anti-retroviral treatments – including AZT – on a group of HIV-infected, African women.

Clare’s marriage to her project is almost derailed by her unexpected sexual relationship with 22-year old Patrice (Blessing Mokgohloa), whose initial, boyish innocence masks a deeper, sinister agenda about his sister who is an AIDS sufferer and participant in Clare’s trial.

Patrice’s deception and manipulation of Clare is the catalyst for the characters to explore and debate some weighty ethical issues arising from the conduct of drugs trials in third world countries.

The initial awkwardness between the characters gives way to a more relaxed communication only to explode into a passionate, then angry relationship.

This 70-minute production, tightly directed by Chris Parker, boasts fine performances by Linscott and Mokgohloa and is accompanied by the soulful, live guitar of David Marama.

Mokgohloa shifts cleverly from formal student to smart manipulator and Linscott gives Clare the edge of desperation of a driven, lonely woman masking her pain with overwork and alcohol.

If you like thought provoking, issues-based theatre, this production raises moral, ethical and political issues and questions the first world’s treatment of the developing world.

Friday 18 November 2011

The Importance of Being Earnest, Nov 17, 2011 ***1/2

The Importance of Being Earnest 
By Oscar Wilde, Melbourne Theatre Company
MTC Sumner Theatre, November 17 to January 14, 2012
Reviewed by Kate Herbert on November 17, 2011
Stars: *** 1/2
Published in Herald Sun on Nov 21, 2011

 Emily Barclay, Geoffrey Rush, Patrick Bramall in The Importance of Being Earnest. Photo by Jeff Busby
Oscar Wilde is considered one of Britain's great, comic playwrights, and his renowned comedy of manners, The Importance of Being Earnest, is like two hours of Victorian stand-up comedy –witticisms come thick and fast with little physical action.

In this production, Simon Phillips’ swansong for MTC, Geoffrey Rush is uncannily convincing playing the doughty, elderly dowager, Lady Bracknell, with truthfulness, impeccable comic delivery and a supercilious tone – all while wearing an impressive, aristocratic gown. But, I can't help craving just a little more parody of the character.

‘In matters of grave importance style, not sincerity, is the vital thing,’ quips Gwendolen and Wilde’s plays are fine examples of style over content with their farcical plots, witty banter and two-dimensional characters.

Listening to relentlessly witty repartee can be tiring and this production often flags. On opening night, the actors seemed  a little uncomfortable with the style, the dynamic range felt limited and the rhythm and pace unbalanced, but these issues may improve with more shows.

Patrick Brammall and Toby Schmitz are an effective comic, double act as the two young toffs who assume different identities in town and country and awkwardly both end up called Earnest. Schmitz’s clumsy, blustering, clownish John Worthing is counter-balanced by Brammall’s egotistical, confident, entitled snob, Algernon.

Christie Whelan is elegantly snobbish as Gwendolen, finding subtle, physical comedy despite her restrictive, albeit gorgeous gowns. Emily Barclay is pert and funny as Cecily, Worthing’s hopelessly romantic, opinionated young ward.

Bob Hornery delights in hamming up the two butlers– the smug, efficient Lane and doddering, old Merriman – and steals the stage during scene changes.

Jane Menelaus and Tony Taylor play the unrequited, middle-aged love match, with Menelaus suitably prim, dowdy and spinsterly as Miss Prism, while Taylor’s addled and socially awkward Canon Chasuble stops short of the character’s requisite, droning dullness.

A highlight is the late Tony Tripp’s outsized, picture book design of Aubrey Beardsley drawings (realised for stage by Richard Roberts).

Wilde’s play is a wicked, social satire on the hypocrisy of Victorian society, its values and class system but perhaps its style craves some adapting to the 21st century theatrical climate.

By Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2

Thursday 17 November 2011

Meow Meow's LIttle Match Girl, Nov 16, 2011 ****1/2

Little Match Girl by Meow Meow
Produced by Malthouse Theatre &Meow Meow Revolution
 Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, Nov 16 to December 4, 2011
Reviewed by: Kate Herbert on November 16, 2011
Stars: ****1/2
Published in Herald Sun on Nov 18, 2011
 Meow Meow & Mitchell Butel in Little Match Girl. Photo by Jeff Busby

Meow Meow is a delicious blendino of demented cabaret artiste, dissolute whore and wayward child who grabs the audience like a fistful of putty and moulds us into whatever she wants. We are her playthings and she is our mistress.

Although this Christmas festa is called Little Match Girl, it is not a recreation or even a deconstruction of the Hans Christian Andersen tale.

Rather, it is a collection of images, songs and allusions inspired by the dark fairy tale about the hungry, shoeless child who dies of exposure when trying to sell matches on a snowy, New Year’s Eve.

Meow Meow’s voice seduces with its rich, dark chocolate tones and occasional touch of bitterness. She shocks and taunts us, ripping cabaret apart with her pearly teeth then rams the pieces together in a totally new form.

Wearing a blood-red, sequined gown and draped over a half-clothed man, she purrs a sultry rendition of Cole Porter’s It’s Too Darn Hot that is so steamy it explodes the lighting, leaving us in the dark at the mercy of the prowling Meow Meow.

She strikes matches to light her face, titillates the crowd in the dark, climbs over us, snatches mobiles phones, soothes us with a music box lullaby then abruptly barks orders like a commandant.

Audience members are press-ganged into lighting her with torches, riding a bike to generate electricity or rubbing her all over to power the revolve and they do it with a smile of awe and adoration.

Directed by Marion Potts and accompanied by Iain Grandage and the band, she sings a collection of smoky, poignant songs that are peppered with rambling soliloquies, ironic quips and casual references to poverty or homelessness.

What follows is the ultimate dream sequence. The inimitable Mitchell Butel, who is disguised initially as an audient, makes an impressive, dazzling entrance singing Wagner’s O Du, Mein Holder Abendstern (‘Oh, you, my fair evening star’) and dragging cascades of enormous string lights.

The pair sings the perky Eurovision 1965 hit, Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son (Wax Doll, Sawdust Doll) then wow us with Noel Coward’s witty, playful What’s Going to Happen to the Tots.

Meow Meow, now dressed like the wax doll in a tutu, flies upwards into the huge chandelier while singing Tear Down The Stars only to come tumbling back to earth when the dream evaporates to sing Laurie Anderson’s The Dream Before.

Her performance is provocative, impassioned, vulnerable and idiosyncratic. It resonates with 1930s German cabaret or modern burlesque, nightclub singers, political comedians, deconstructed theatre and contemporary performance art.

Anna Cordingley’s design is vividly evocative and Paul Jackson’s lighting is atmospheric and essential to the fabric of the show.

The more I think about this show, the more I love it. Don’t sit on the aisle or carry a torch. Meow Meow will eat you for supper.

By Kate Herbert 

Created & performed by Meow Meow & Iain Grandage
Featuring Mitchell Butel
Director: Marion Potts
Music Director, Composition & Music Arrangement: Iain Grandage
Additional Material: Mitchell Butel
Set & Costume: Anna Cordingley
Lighting: Paul Jackson
Sound System Designer: Chris Leary
Musicians: Iain Grandage, Stephen Fitzgerald, Benjamin Hauptmann, Xani Kolac

Saturday 12 November 2011

October by Ian Wilding, Nov 11, 2011 **

October, by Ian Wilding 
By Act-O-Matic 3000
Mechanics’ Institute Performing Arts Centre, Brunswick, until Nov 26, 2011
Reviewed by: Kate Herbert on November 11, 2011
Published in Herald Sun on Nov 22, 2011
Dan Walls & David Passmore in OCtober by Ian Wilding, by Act-O-Matic

Australian playwright, Ian Wilding, writes bleak, gritty and intense plays for small casts, but October is not the best example of his work.

Angela (Cathy Kohlen), an interior designer, and her husband, Tim (Ron Kofler), a pilot, live a comfortable, privileged life in their designer home until Dez (David Passmore) arrives in their living room claiming to be Angela’s lover.

Although we do not see it on stage, Dez stalks the couple relentlessly until Tim and Angela’s lives come unstuck and they call in Dick (Dan Walls), a sleazy, private detective who is a cure worse than the malady.

Wayne Pearn’s production explores some of the Pinteresque tension, menace and bloody violence inherent in Wilding’s black comedy, but there is an uneasy balance between the comedy and dark drama and the pace is uneven.

Wilding writes the characters as two-dimensional ciphers, but the actors look uncomfortable in their roles and in the style, not quite connecting with the repetitive, clipped and abstracted dialogue.

There is some broad, clownish comedy from Walls as Dick, the vile, intrusive and disreputable detective who wears ridiculously cheap and obvious wigs and fake beards.

This production craves a greater dynamic, dramatic range and emotional arc to push the boundaries, to go further out of control and make the stage more dangerous and the characters’ predicament more believably outrageous.

Mechanics’ Institute Performing Arts Centre, Brunswick, until Nov 26, 2011

Director: Wayne Pearn
Cast: Dan Walls, Cathy Kohlen, Ron Kofler, David PAssmore
Lighting & Sound Lindon Blakely
Stage manager: Julie-Ann Donnellan
Set desing: Carmel Iudica
Lighting Design: Douglas Scott Montgomery

Thursday 10 November 2011

Return to Earth by Lally Katz, MTC, Nov 9, 2011 **1/2

 Return To Earth 
Written by Lally Katz
Melbourne Theatre Company
Fairfax Studio, Victorian Arts Centre, until December 17, 2011
Reviewed by: Kate Herbert, November 9, 2011
Stars: **&1/2
Published in Herald Sun on Nov 11, 2011
 Eloise Mignon & Julie Forsyth, Return to Earth. Photo: Jeff Busby

Return to Earth by Lally Katz is an insubstantial play that straddles the border between reality and fantasy.

After an inexplicable absence in outer space, Alice (Eloise Mignon), a woman-child, returns to her family home with a different name (she used to be Erica) and altered behaviour (she now chews her food).

Alice-Erica does not live in the real world and behaves like an incompetent child having trouble with ordinary processes such as separating dream from reality, understanding grief or approaching a potential lover.

Aidan Fennessy’s direction, sleek and evocative set and lighting design (Claude Marcos, Lisa Mibus) and some fine comic performances boost this production, despite the flimsiness and confused style of the script.

Katz provides some funny Australianisms in her dialogue, amusing observations of the minutiae of daily life and some entertaining, absurd characters, but her metaphor of returning to earth and reality is predictable and over-worked.

Mignon’s as Alice is initially charming but her childlike, high-pitched vocal quality becomes repetitive.

Kim Gyngell and Julie Forsyth bring impeccable comic skill and quirky characterisations to Alice’s parents and Anthony Ahern is cool and laconic as blokey mechanic, Theo.

Tim Ross has warmth as Tom, Alice’s brother, and as Catta, his ailing child, Allegra Annetta was charming.

Unfortunately, this self-referential script bears the marks of being an early play that was reworked and
fails to illuminate its big issues.

 Stars: **&1/2

Director: Aidan Fennessy
Cast: Kim Gyngell, Julie Forsyth, Eloise Mignon, Anthony Ahern, Tim Ross, Anne-Louise Sarks
Set & Costume: Claude Marcos
Lighting: Lisa Mibus
Composer/Sound Designer: Kelly Ryall