Sunday 28 October 2012

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way To The Forum, Oct 27, 2012 ****½

Book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Produced by John Frost
Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sat, Oct 27, 2012
Stars: ****½
Versions of this review published in Herald Sun, Mon, Oct 29, 2012 (print and online)

 -->“Something appealing, something appalling… Something that’s bawdy, something that’s gaudy, something for everybawdy!”
 Cast of Forum (c) Jeff Busby

GEOFFREY RUSH IS AN INSPIRED COMIC ACTOR and consummate clown who commands the stage as Pseudolus, clown-slave, king of slapstick and innuendo, and narrator in Simon Phillips’ riotous production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

Rush’s louche Pseudolus – all skinny arms and legs, sloping strides and impeccable comic delivery – tosses impertinent grimaces and glances at the audience as he conducts the comic action like a musical maestro.

Giving him a run for his comic money is Hugh Sheridan, a delicious surprise and triple threat (singer-dancer-actor) as Hero, the wide-eyed, bumbling, romantic youth, and his bright and warm vocal tone in his ballad, Love I Hear, is thrilling.

As the virginal courtesan, Hero’s dim-witted, doll-like, love interest, Philia, Christie Whelan is the perfect foil for Sheridan, and their duet, Lovely, is delightfully naïve and ditzy.

The book, written by comedy heroes, Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart in 1964, is inspired by Plautus’s Ancient Roman farces, draws mercilessly on the Italian clowns of Commedia Del’Arte, and is riddled with bawdy slapstick, puns, mistaken identity, disguises, social satire and chase scenes.

Pseudolus, the slave, attempts to win his freedom by procuring for his young master, the pretty new courtesan living in the bawdy house next door.

Monday 22 October 2012

An Enemy of the People, Schaubühne Berlin, Oct 21, 2012 *****

By Henrik Ibsen, Schaubühne Berlin
Melbourne Festival
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, October 21 to 27, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Published in Herald Sun online Tues Oct 23, 2012 and in print on Wed Oct 24.

Stefan Stern in An Enemy of the People 

AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH SETS OFF A SOCIAL AND POLITICAL TIME-BOMB  in Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, and Thomas Ostermeier’s production fires it directly into our contemporary world where it sits ticking ominously as we wait for it to explode.

Dr. Thomas Stockmann (Stefan Stern) is a whistleblower with none of the protections of the Whistleblowers’ Act and he faces ruination when he suspects, then proves, that the water supply to his town’s new Health Spa is contaminated by upstream pollution and is making patients ill.

Naively, Thomas thinks that the Town Council and his brother, Peter (Ingo Hülsmann), the Mayor, will be grateful and act immediately to repair the damage. Wrong!

Reparation, Thomas is told, is prohibitively expensive and will ruin the town’s economy, so his proof is discredited or ignored, Thomas is ridiculed and abused, supporters threatened or bribed, and Peter will not tolerate his reputation being tarnished by his foolhardy, ‘irresponsible’ brother.

Ostermeier argues Ibsen’s case with vigour and courage so effectively that one wants to boo and cheer – and he provides an opportunity in a participatory town meeting where audience members vehemently argue the case on microphones from the auditorium.

This is an inspired interpretation of Ibsen’s explosive play with committed, credible performances from a masterly cast, acerbic and satirical humour and accessible, relevant political commentary.

Tell a lie and build an entire campaign on it – that’s what Peter does. Sound familiar?

But do we, and Thomas, only want transparency and maintain the high moral ground when we have no financial, vested interest? Thomas is finally confronted with an unexpected choice – and we are left wondering what he will choose.

Ostermeier’s production is riveting and lucid, illuminating the issues in Ibsen’s 19th century Scandinavian play and catapulting them forward in time to address modern themes including the environmental sustainability, global financial crisis and social disintegration.

Ostermeier balances comedy with drama, the personal with the political, comfortable domestic scenes with prickly arguments then risky audience participation.

He incorporate delicious moments of invention as lines of dialogue and moments between characters delight and surprise us with their subtext or unexpected interpretations that resonate with our modern context.

Stern is a sympathetic everyman as Thomas, playing him with naïvete and awkward charm that evolves into impotent rage as he is ostracised for attacking not simply the spa, but also social norms and power structures.

As Peter, Hülsmann is cool, dapper, articulate and maddeningly manipulative, generating heat as he massages the truth into something that resembles policy.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Potted Potter, Oct 16, 2012 ****

The Unauthorised Harry Experience
Written by Daniel Clarkson & Jefferson Turner
Comedy Theatre, Melbourne, Oct 16 to 21, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review also published online for Herald Sun on Oct 18, 2012. KH. 
  Gary Trainor & Jesse Briton

POTTED POTTER IS A TOTALLY IRREVERENT AND STUPIDLY FUNNY PARODY of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books – all seven of them in 70 minutes.

There is no flashy set or lighting design, spectacular animatronics, elaborate costumes or massive cast because Rowling’s 300+ characters are whittled down to about twenty and are all played by two genuinely goofy, adorable actors, Jesse Briton and Gary Trainor.

Don’t expect stylishly accurate characterisations or lightning-fast physical transformations because this is cheesy, school play style acting that mercilessly ridicules the earnestness and complexity and sheer length and breadth of the Potter series.

Saturday 13 October 2012

Michael James Manaia, Oct 13, 2012 ****

Written by John Broughton, Taki Rua, (NZ)  
Melbourne Festival
45downstairs, Oct 12 to 28, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Te Kohe Tuaka as Michel James Manaia

NEW ZEALAND ACTOR, TE KOHE TUHAKA, with his formidable muscularity, blazing, dark eyes and sensitive portrayal of a man on the edge of violence and despair, is a powerful presence as Michael James Manaia in John Broughton’s 1991 play.

With bold and unsentimental self-narration, Tuhaka imbues the story with an ominous undercurrent of mania and rage as he leads us through Michael’s early life with his war veteran, Maori father and English mother and extended Maori family.

After a gentle beginning, the production, directed by Nathaniel Lees, escalates into compelling, passionate, physical storytelling when Tuhaka navigates into the horrors of jungle warfare in 1960s Vietnam, then back to New Zealand where life throws him a different, confronting predicament.

Broughton’s script could possibly benefit from contracting and editing Michael’s life before the war, in order to jettison us sooner into his more dramatic, personal conflicts in Vietnam and his inability to deal with a colourless life back home, without an enemy to fight.

Friday 12 October 2012

Orlando, Oct 12, 2012 ***

By The Rabble
After Virginia Woolf’s novel, Orlando
Melbourne Festival
The Tower, Malthouse Theatre, Oct 12 to 27, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 12

Full review after publication in Herald Sun 

Written as a love missive to poet, Vita Sackville-West, Virginia Woolf’s silky, romantic novel, Orlando, tells the fantastical tale of a young courtier to Queen Elizabeth I who decides to stop ageing, and then lives through three centuries, firstly as a man then as a woman.

Co-creators, Emma Valente and Kate Davis, deconstruct Woolf’s narrative, paring it down to a few, essential moments in Orlando’s (Dana Miltins) numerous incarnations, and delivering them as a series of distilled, abstract, imagistic scenes, some of which have a simple beauty.

Interspersed throughout are excerpts from Woolf’s Orlando, her novel, The Waves, and other literary quotes from Gertrude Stein, Emily Dickinson and Sappho.

The pace of Valente’s direction is slow and deliberate, which works for a time, but scenes are too often unnecessarily and frustratingly elongated. 

The movement is stylised and the characters painted with broad brushstrokes, allowing an audience to write its own story over the play’s background tones.

Never Did Me Any Harm, Oct 11, 2012 ****

By Force Majeure and Sydney Theatre Company, by Melbourne Festival
MTC Sumner Theatre, Oct 9 to 13, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 11, 2012
Version of this review published in Herald Sun on Sun, Oct 14, 2012

NEVER DID ME ANY HARM is a peculiar melding of contemporary dance with word-based theatre, is based on real interviews with parents about their attitudes to parenting and to their children.

Director, Kate Champion, weaves personal stories and observations together with abstract physicalisation in an episodic structure that is often charming and warm, with a high recognition factor for parents in the audience.

The stage, an Australian backyard, is intermittently transformed by Ben Cobham’s complex and mind-bending lighting, into a surreal, non-literal place that reflects and exaggerates a parent’s rage or confusion, love or desperation.

One early scene is an inspired collision of abstract movement and voice when two dancers physicalise a recorded dialogue between two parents.

After Life, Oct 11, 2012 ***

Libretto and Composition by Michel van de Aa after Hirkazu Kore-eda
Regent Theatre, Melbourne
Melbourne Festival
Thurs Oct 11 to Sat Oct 13, 2012
Stars: ***

AFTER LIFE CHALLENGES OUR VIEW OF LIFE AFTER DEATH, just as Sartre did with his play, No Exit (Hell is other people).

Dutch composer, writer and filmmaker, Michel van de Aa, creates an eccentric blend of opera and documentary film in this production.

It is set in a way station on their way from death to the after life, where people must choose one precious memory only from their lives to cherish for eternity.

On stage are three after-life bureaucrats who process the newly dead that arrive bemused and addled by their sudden departure from the living world, helping them to decide upon their dearest memory then recreate it using scrappy, found objects in the way station and finally, film it for the souls to take.

Aidan, sung with passion by Roderick Williams, died young and, like his colleagues Chief (Yannick-Muriel Noah) and Sarah (Marijje van Stralen) was unable to choose his single memory so is doomed to stay in the limbo of this processing station until he chooses.

Wednesday 10 October 2012

No Child... by Nilaja Sun, Oct 9 2012 *****

Presented by Theatre Works, Melbourne Festival & Brisbane Festival
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, Oct 9 to 14, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 9
Stars:*****  (I'd give it more if I could)

THE ENTIRE AUDIENCE LEAPT TO ITS FEET AS ONE at the end of No Child... by Nilaja Sun. This is one of those rare, theatrical jewels that is so perfectly wrought in every way that it is impossible to fault.

Sun may be alone on stage, but she transforms herself, and transports us into another world, populating the empty space with a parade of eccentric, vividly painted characters, all students and staff at a dysfunctional, uptown New York High School.

This masterly, award-winning performance, directed by Hal Brooks, is a testament to Sun’s theatrical skills as both a writer and a performer, and it balances hilarious, observational character comedy with poignant commentary on the failure of the US public education system to cater for these needy teenagers from Brooklyn.

Miss Sun (a version of the actor herself) is a teaching artist who ambitiously enters Malcolm X High to work with challenging Year 10s to stage a theatrical production of Our Country’s Good, an Australian play about convicts and freedom that is strangely relevant to the kids.

Thursday 4 October 2012

Promises, Promises, Oct 3, 2012 ****1/2

Book by Neil Simon, Lyrics by Hal David, Music by Burt Bacharach
Based on the screenplay The Apartment by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, by The Production Company
Where and When: State Theatre Oct 3 to 7, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Wed Oct 3,2012
Stars: **** ½
 It’s hard to find a better recipe for a musical comedy than Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s songs with a Neil Simon script, and Promises Promises combines the musical format with formidable 1960s pop song style to fulfil all its promises.

Add Australian musical theatre stars, Matt Hetherington and Marina Prior, and Nadia Tass as director, and we have a relentlessly funny, deliciously romantic, mischievous show.

In this playful, impertinent story, based on Billy Wilder’s movie, The Apartment, Hetherington is adorable and cheeky as Chuck Baxter, the naïve, young accounts manager who is manipulated by his company’s executives to provide his apartment to accommodate their secret, sexual dalliances.

Chuck’s heart is broken when he discovers that his love interest, Fran (Marina Prior), visits his apartment for secret seductions with his boss, Mr. Sheldrake (Tony Cogin).

Hetherington charms the audience from start to finish, making us complicit in Chuck’s dilemma as he addresses us directly with a wry tone and twinkle in the eye.

He delivers Simon’s gags with impeccable comic timing and channels Dick Van Dyke, Jack Lemmon and a bit of Jerry Lewis in outrageous slapstick and verbal gags.

Monday 1 October 2012

As We Mean To Go On, Sept 30, 2012

Devised by Elbow Room, written by Marcel Dorney
Melbourne Fringe Festival
Warehouse, Fringe Hub, Nth Melbourne, Sep 28 to Oct 13, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sept 30
Stars: **
 Emily Tomlins, Naomi Rukavina, Tim Wotherspoon

THE ACTORS WORK VERY HARD ON STAGE IN As We Mean To Go On, a play devised by Elbow Room as part one of a trilogy, but the script is so cumbersome, wordy and obscure that the actors’ efforts seems wasted.

Group-devised theatre is often inventive, physical and imagistic rather than verbal, but a word-based text, even when a playwright or dramaturg (Marcel Dorney) refines it, can end up cluttered with unnecessary verbiage.

The first few minutes look promising, with a simple, silent, physical image of a naked couple that we presume to be Adam and Eve, locked in a dramatic embrace, with the woman gripping then biting into an apple..

After that initial, visual impact, the scenes that follow are dense, expository and overwritten, the characters and story unclear, and the theme of origins obscure.

Some visual drama is created by the off stage actors being visible and evocatively lit (Kris Chainey) as they lurk behind the audience.