Friday 31 August 2012

Top Girls, MTC, Aug 31, 2012 ***1/2

By Caryl Churchill, Melbourne Theatre Company
Sumner Theatre, MTC, Aug 30 to Sept 29, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2

Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls was first staged in 1982, but its central issues of women’s battles for success, or even equality in employment, are frighteningly current.

Jenny Kemp’s production is both playful and moving, and boasts a versatile, compelling cast of seven women playing multiple roles.

When Churchill wrote the play, Maggie Thatcher was in power and British feminists were fighting for rights for the community of women, rather than simply for the individual.

Set in the early 1980s, the play opens with Marlene (Anita Hegh) celebrating her promotion to Managing Director of Top Girls Employment Agency.

Her dinner guests are iconic women from history, and each of this parade of quirky characters depicts a different aspect of women’s struggle with power or powerlessness, oppression by men or avoidance of their control.

The latter scenes are more poignant, when Marlene’s poor background and her relationship with her working class sister, Joyce (Maria Theodorakis), and her daughter, Angie (Eryn Jean Norvill) is revealed when Angie visits Marlene’s office and Marlene returns to their family home.

Although the staging is complex and the structure and mixed styles of the script peculiar, the passionate performances provide its heart.

Monday 27 August 2012

Chess The Musical, Aug 22, 2012 ***

Music by Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus, Lyrics by Tim Rice
Produced by The Production Company
State Theatre, Melbourne Arts Centre, Aug 22 to 26, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Chess The Musical has a history as chequered as its chessboard design, despite having great credentials including lyrics by Tim Rice and music by ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus.

It includes the memorable hit songs, One Night In Bangkok and I Know Him So Well, and includes other singable pop tunes and orchestrations.

This production by lauded musical theatre director, Gale Edwards, boasts an exceptionally talented cast, perky choreography (Tony Bartuccio) and a stylish, black and white set design (Shaun Gurton).

However, one can’t ignore the fact that Rice’s narrative is shabby, inconsistent and lacking in dramatic tension or dramatic arc and that it needs a script that is more than a washing line on which to hang good songs.

It is set in Italy and Bangkok during two grandmaster chess championships between Russia and America against the background of the Cold War.

Sunday 19 August 2012

His Girl Friday MTC.Aug 18, 2012 ***

Adapted by John Guare from The Front Page by Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur and the Columbia Pictures Film
Playhouse, Melbourne Arts Centre, Aug 11 to Sept 15, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***
Published in Herald Sun on Monday Aug 20, 2012. 
 Pamela Rabe & Philip Quast

Philip Quast is delectably rude, manipulative and domineering as Walter Burns, the bull-headed news editor who would sell his soul for a scoop in His Girl Friday, John Guare’s stage adaptation based on Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s 1928 play and the 1940 movie.

Pamela Rabe is a fitting comic foil for Quast as Walter’s workhorse, former wife and talented newshound, Hildy Johnson, capturing some of the gangling presence and compulsive behaviour of Rosalind Russell in the movie.

Guare’s 21st century version revisits the barbed dialogue, acidic cynicism and machine gun gags of black and white screwball comedies.

Director, Aidan Fennessy and his cast of 16 channel the same frenetic pace of the glib dialogue, particularly in the scenes featuring the rabble of reporters scrambling for a juicy headline, and in Quast and Rabe’s combative confrontations as Walter and Hildy.

However, the production falters in other scenes where the pace and rhythm get flabby, although the audience may not survive such relentless speed for nearly three hours.

Saturday 18 August 2012

On The Misconception of Oedipus, Aug 17, 2012, ***

Text by Tom Wright; devised by Zoë Atkinson, Matthew Lutton & Tom Wright
Beckett Theatre, Malthouse,  Aug 10 to 26, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***

Natasha Herbert & Richard Pyros

IN THE GREEK MYTH AND SOPHOCLES' ANCIENT GREEK PLAY, Oedipus the King unwittingly murdered his father and married his mother.

If you wondered what happened before Oedipus discovered his horrific transgressions, On The Misconception of Oedipus cunningly fabricates an entangled family narrative based on Jocasta (Natasha Herbert) and Laius (Daniel Schlusser) and the birth of their doomed son, Oedipus (Richard Pyros).

There is nothing classical about this play, which is a contemporary exploration of Freud’s Oedipus Complex. “Misconception” is a pun on the ill-fated birth of Oedipus as well as a reference to the script’s deliberate fiddling with the myth.

The production begins promisingly with Tom Wright’s text presenting three, smug, self-absorbed, middle-class characters who address the audience directly in elaborate monologues directed with simplicity by Matthew Lutton and staged in a bleak, anonymous and unfinished room (Zoë Atkinson).

Their pretentious ramblings reveal the parents’ struggle with infertility, the mother’s fear of a childless future and the father’s overwhelming fear of bearing a monstrous child.

These oddly compelling, confrontational opening scenes that focus on language, give way to an abstract, silent version of Oedipus murdering his father in a show of senseless violence.

Performances by Herbert, Schlusser and Pyros are sleek, engrossing and skilful, but the play ends, unfortunately, with a messy, unsatisfying version of the lovers – mother and son – engaged in banal banter and smooching in a shabby living room.

These intentionally clashing styles do not illuminate the myth or the characters, but merely act to diminish the impact of the more stylised, enlightening earlier monologues.

By Kate Herbert
 Natasha Herbert

Friday 17 August 2012

Master Peter’s Puppet Show & What's Next? Aug 15, 2012 ***1/2

Master Peter’s Puppet Show by Manuel de Falla;
What’s Next? composed by Elliott Carter, libretto by Paul Griffiths;
By Victorian Opera
Melbourne Recital Centre, Aug 15 to 22, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2
 Carlos Bárcenas (Master Peter) & Ian Cousins (Don Quixote) 'Master Peter's Puppet Show' 2012,  
 Victorian Opera ©Jeff Busby
DON'T EXPECT CLASSICAL OPERA from this double bill of short works from Victorian Opera.

Master Peter’s Puppet Show, a quirky 20 minute opera written by Manuel de Falla in 1923, merges an eclectic score for chamber orchestra with three voices and shadow puppetry to tell the story of a Spanish, heroic romance.

Rough draped sheets give a rustic setting and provide huge screens for the clever, witty shadow puppets, deftly directed by Nancy Black. 

What’s Next? is compelling, but even more challenging to the uninitiated ear, with  Elliott Carter’s contemporary, discordant score, abstract setting, and Paul Griffiths’ absurd, delusional libretto.

Rhonda Burchmore: Cry Me A River, Aug 16, 2012 ***1/2

Rhonda Burchmore, Cry Me A River: The World of Julie London
Comedy Theatre,  Aug 16 to 19, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2

Full review after publication on Monday Aug 20.

Statuesque songstress, Rhonda Burchmore, would tower over petite, Hollywood siren, Julie London, but in her tribute show, Burchmore channels London’s music, her smoky voice and sultry presence.

The show, written by Burchmore and her director, Gary Young, threads the story of London’s life amongst her innumerable hit songs, as Burchmore narrates the rise to stardom of the girl who was discovered driving a Hollywood department store elevator.
Burchmore’s voice has a darker, fruitier quality and more vibrato than London’s lighter tone as she sings London’s memorable hits and does justice to her signature tune, that cool but emotive jazz classic, Cry Me A River.

Monday 6 August 2012

Lipsynch, Aug 4, 2012 ****1/2

By Ex Machina (Canada) & Théâtre Sans Frontières (UK)
Directed by Robert Lepage
State Theatre, Melbourne Arts Centre,  Aug 4 to 12, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: **** 1/2

Online at Herald Sun on Mon Aug 6 and in print on Tues Aug 7

WHEN ROBERT LEPAGE'S SPRAWLING, THEATRICAL NARRATIVE, LIPSYNCH, begins aboard a plane from Germany to Montreal, the audience simultaneously embarks on a 9-hour, transcontinental, multi-lingual journey through the lives of nine characters.

During six acts, we are voyeurs peering into the intimate worlds of these loosely connected people, often literally observing them through windows and doors.

The transformational set design (Jean Hazel) constantly changes locations from a Lufthansa jet to a London train, a Nicaraguan cantina, 1940s Vienna, a film set, a BBC radio studio and a Hamburg brothel.

The backstage mechanics of the theatre are revealed, becoming part of the dramatic narrative as multiple, black-clad stagehands swiftly and magically manipulate the versatile design.

The main narrative stream concerns German opera singer, Ada Weber (Rebecca Blankenship), who discovers teenage prostitute, Lupe (Nuria Garcia), dead on her plane to Montreal with baby Jeremy (Rick Miller) crying in her arms.

Other characters’ stories branch off like tributaries, while some flow back to the main narrative and others remain incidental.

As in previous Lepage shows, elaborate video projections feature but, in Lipsynch, language and the human voice, both speaking and singing, are the primary focus for the performers as they delve into their characters’ emotional, psychological and physical lives.

Friday 3 August 2012

All That I Will Ever Be, Aug 2, 2012 ***

All That I Will Ever Be, by Alan Ball, Fly-On-The-Wall Theatre

Where and When: Chapel off Chapel, Aug 1to 12, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Review in Herald Sun on Aug 8

Alan Ball’s award-winning screenplays (American Beauty, Six Feet Under) explore the inner darkness and paradoxes of characters, their vulnerabilities, conflicted natures, their struggle to reach potential and accept themselves.

His stage play, All That I Will Ever Be, delves into similar issues with its story of Omar (Francisco Lopez) who sells phones by day and recreates himself at night, playing exotic roles as a male prostitute.

Although he insists that he is not gay – he has a girlfriend (Sarah Roberts) – when he meets new client, Dwight (Christian Heath), he builds a relationship by increments with this privileged 30-something who lives on Daddy’s money.

Heath captures the insecurity and vulnerability in Dwight who has all material things, but lacks self-worth, love and freedom from emotional pain and panic attacks.

Helicopter, MTC, Aug 2, 2012 **1/2

By Angela Betzien, Melbourne Theatre Company
Lawler Studio, MTC, Aug 2 to  17, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 2
Stars: 2 & ½

 Review will appear  in Herald Sun on Tues Aug 7.
Helicopter by Angela Betzien, is a script stuffed too full with socially pertinent issues: wealth, racism, suffocating parenting, bullying, violence, Developed and Developing Worlds, prescription drug use, anorexia – and the list goes on.

With so many issues, the story becomes convoluted, lacks a coherent direction and its message is confused.

Well-heeled but neurotic parents, played by Paul Denny and Daniela Farinacci, live in their 6-bedroom, 4-bathroom McMansion with a pool, while African refugees from Uganda rent the house next door...  

Although the ‘helicopter mother’ (Farinacci) hovers over her disturbed, teenage son (Charles Grounds), she fails to protect him from harm, including school bullies and, more importantly, she misses the fact that he is a ticking time bomb.

The core of the narrative is the tragic accident that caused the death of the African neighbours’ toddler when Dad (Denny) reversed out of his drive.

Thursday 2 August 2012

Mademoiselle, Michael Dalley, Aug 1, 2012 ***

Written by Michael Dalley, co-created by Michael Dalley & Paul McCarthy, music by Michael Dalley & John Thorn
At fortyfivedownstairs,  Aug 1 to 19, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 1

 Michael Dalley & Paul McCarthy

IF YOU'VE EVER LOATHED A BOSS or been bullied by a manager, the acerbic, seething resentment of
Michael Dalley and Paul McCarthy’s sneering, mincing servants will raise a sour grin.

Mademoiselle, like Dalley’s previous cabaret shows, features perky, old-fashioned tunes played by pianist John Thorn, and Dalley’s social satire and caustic lyrics that, in this show, attack the privileged, the upwardly mobile and the bosses.

The show starts like a rocket with Dalley and McCarthy dressed to the nines in tuxedos and sporting synthetic, platinum wigs and perpetual sneers as they attack their wealthy boss, in the derisive tune, Mademoiselle.

These bickering old queens unite in their scathing mockery of the rest of the world, singing such corrosive and outrageous songs as, Other People’s Rubbish, The Nasty Queen from Menswear, The Table Manners of the Petit Bourgeoisie, The German and the Choirboy and The Passive-Aggressive Filipino Amway Lady (a barely disguised Rose Porteous caricature).

After a truly rollicking and hilarious first 30 minutes the show stalls, the songs and lyrics are less successful and the characters lose their momentum.

The latter half feels under-rehearsed and the arc of the story of these characters is unclear.

 What is missing is a stronger ending song, tighter dialogue in the second half and a bigger finish that perhaps reincorporates their attitude to Mademoiselle, their off-stage nemesis.

By Kate Herbert

This review published  in Herald Sun on Mon Aug 6