Friday 30 November 2012

Short & Sweet, Nov 23, 2012 ***1/2

Short & Sweet Theatre
Chapel off Chapel, until Dec 9, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2
This review is of Week 1 Theatre only.
Review published in Herald Sun on Tues Dec 4, 2012

One great advantage of seeing Short and Sweet Theatre, a festival of ten-minute plays, is that if you don’t like one of the plays, there’ll be another drama or comedy starting in ten minutes.

Fortunately, this first week of the Top 30 boasts a thoroughly enjoyable and diverse program of nine short scripts, all of which are well structured with simple narratives, clear dramatic development, quirky characters and interesting concepts.

In some of the productions, the acting or direction is uneven and the characters and dialogue are less fully developed, making some pieces more successful than others.

The highlight is In the Parlour (Jenny Lovell, Anna Renzenbrink), a fully improvised, genuinely hilarious piece featuring two 19th century women obsessing over the minutiae of their sheltered lives in the parlour.

Dan Habberfield’s Long Way Down features some tight dialogue between a suicidal drunk (Habberfield) and his bolshy guardian angel (Don Bridges).

Another successful piece is 50 Guns by Alex Broun, in which a girl (Hayman Kent) recites a shocking litany of gun crime statistics and victims, until finally she reveals her own childhood involvement in an accidental shooting.

Death of a Comedian, Nov 28, 2012 **1/2

By Fred Rowan
La Mama Courthouse, until Dec 9, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 2&1/2
Full review published in Herald Sun on Friday, Dec 7, 2012
Jeremy Kewley, Tim Ferris and Kevin Summers

IF YOU'VE EVER WATCHED A GANG OF COMEDIANS at a gig and wondered what happens backstage, Fred Rowan’s play, Death of a Comedian, directed by Bruce Langdon, will show you – warts and all.

Rowan, who is a comedian himself, depicts a gang of self-absorbed, competitive and anxious comics who are all at different stages of their careers.

The play reveals their grimy secrets and bad behaviour as they wait off-stage during a comedy benefit gig for a psychiatric hospital.

The narrative focuses on the return to the stage of disgraced TV comic and recovering addict, Johnny Mazing (Kevin Summers), who sneaks his name onto the running sheet for the show in order to revive his decimated career..
While Rowan’s play has a strong premise, some well-observed dialogue and credible characters, its potential is not fully realised, the dialogue is wordy, the staging too static, the pace slow and the acting frustratingly uneven.

Summers captures some of the vulnerability and resentment of Johnny, as he struggles to overcome his nerves and confront the prejudices of the new comics who treat him as a nobody, and the old guard who consider him a pariah.

Jeremy Kewley is puppyish and hilariously annoying as Graham, a doctor who thinks he is funny and, being the only non-comedian back stage, ironically gets the biggest laughs.

The other characters represent the range of current comedians: the ambitious newcomer (David Nash), the jealous host (Tim Ferris), the jaded, sozzled comedienne (Wendy Little), the perky radio babe (Karla Silvey), the arrogant TV star (Shannon Woollard) and his brutal, sexist TV producer (Linden Compassi).

Although it craves some script editing and tightening of the performances, Death of a Comedian is a diverting glance into the secret lives of comics.

By Kate Herbert

Kevin Summers, Jeremy Kewley, Tim Ferris, Shannon Woollard, Wendy Little, David Nash, Linden Compassi, Karla Silvey.

Saturday 24 November 2012

Normie The Musical, Nov 23, 2012

Book & Lyrics, Graeme Johnstone, additional music by Peter Sullivan
By Old Scotch Music & Drama & Beatroot Services
At Geoffrey McComas Theatre, Scotch College
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review published in Herald Sun on Friday, Nov 30, 2012

  Nathan Hotchkin-van Neuren, Normie Rowe, Julian Campobasso

Normie Rowe’s professional presence lights up the stage when he appears in this amateur musical production about his early years as the young King of Pop, and his subsequent conscription into the Vietnam War.
The strengths of this production are Rowe, the 60s songs and the band under David Wisken, but I could not forgive the glaring shortcomings: ham acting, pedestrian direction (Simon Eales), poor design, sloppy chorus work, awkward book and dialogue (Graeme Johnstone) and weak additional songs (Peter Sullivan).

Rowe does not play himself, but portrays former Prime Minister, Harold Holt, who was responsible for continuing Australia’s role in Vietnam, and for conscripting young men such as Rowe.

It is a delight to be reminded of Rowe’s vocal power and cheeky grin when he performs his hit song, Shakin’ All Over, as the ageing, philandering Holt who clumsily tries to seduce a young reporter.

Friday 23 November 2012

Pompeii L.A. Nov 22, 2012 ***1/2

Pompeii L.A. by Declan Greene, Malthouse Theatre
Merlin Theatre, Malthouse, Nov 22 to Dec 9, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: *** 1/2
This review is NOT a Herald Sun review.

Declan Greene’s grim, satirical look at life, death and child stardom in L.A. has some gripping emotional moments and startling visuals.

The play begins with satirical backroom scenes between a make-up artist (Anna Samson) and a sozzled talk show guest who we later discover is the dead Judy Garland played with wry, jaded elegance by Belinda McClory.

Scenes and characters bleed together as the make-up room slips into a T.V. studio, a soap opera rehearsal, a film set, an L.A. apartment and, finally, a car crash site.

Movie directors, stage hands, actors, medics all blur into each other as we try to make sense of this bleak, angry, confused, sometimes annoyingly abstracted world.

From the clues in the dialogue and action, we determine that someone, clearly a man, is injured. It is also obvious from all the clues that this injured person is a former child star.

Then finally, in one long, slow, silent and agonising scene, a battered car crouches in the centre of a huge, open space as police forensic officers and medics collect evidence at the accident site.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Margaret Fulton: Queen of the Dessert, Nov 21, 2012 ***1/2

Book & Lyrics, Doug MacLeod; Music, Yuri Worontschak
By Present Tense
Theatreworks, until Dec 1, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Wed, Nov 21, 2012
Stars: 3&1/2
Published in Herald Sun on Friday, Nov 23, 2012

Who knew that diminutive, Aussie icon, Margaret Fulton, lived a bohemian life amongst hookers and artists in The Rocks in Sydney, and had a penchant for ‘decorative, elegant and useless’ men?

Astonishingly, the life of this pavlova queen has enough drama, romance and piles of sweetness to make Doug Macleod and Yuri Worontschak’s funny, often cheesy musical, Margaret Fulton: Queen of the Dessert, a success.

The formidably talented Amy Lehpamer is warm, elegant, feisty and laconic as Margaret, although significantly taller, and her passionate and skilful singing raises the roof.

MacLeod cherry-picks episodes and characters from Fulton’s life in his biographical narrative, then teases them into goofy scenes populated with clown-like caricatures.

MacLeod’s lyrics are witty and Woronschak’s musical styles range from blues to pop and jazz to latin beats.

My personal musical faves include the sassy, latin chorus number, La Vie Boheme, the funky tune, London Swings, and a rousing anthem about Margaret’s cookbook.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Unnamed, 5Pound Theatre, Nov 20, 2012 **1/2

Devised by 5Pound Theatre
The Owl and the Pussycat, until Nov 24, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 20, 2012
Stars: 2&1/2
Review published in Herald Sun on Tues Nov 27, 2012
5POUND THEATRE GETS POINTS FOR BRAVERY for their intrepid attempt to rehearse and stage five productions in repertory over five weeks, and for devising and staging this third production, Unnamed, in five days. Bravo!

Unnamed has all the hallmarks of a quickly devised show: simple set, limited dialogue, thematic approach, abstract concept and some interesting elements mingled with less successful bits.

In the tiny, brick-lined space at the Owl and the Pussycat, five actors dressed in white, forensic jumpsuits and dust masks, perform a repetitive, monotonous, production-line routine that involves capturing sand in buckets again and again.

Repetition is your friend when devising show, and the company, with director, Danny Delahunty, uses repetition to explore the dullness of mechanical, menial and meaningless tasks and subservient behaviour.

Friday 16 November 2012

Glimpse, Nov 15, 2012 ***

By Kin Collective
At  fortyfivedownstairs, Nov 14 to Dec 2, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

In Glimpse, a play devised by eight actors and directed by Laura Maitland with Noni Hazlehurst, the lives of many strangers intersect in obvious, obtuse or surprising circumstances where family members conflict or strangers share intimate moments.

Glimpse has some compelling characters and absorbing scenes, and the narrative plays with accidental or intentional collisions between characters whose relationships are tainted by miscommunication, abandonment, death, fear and avoidance.

Bluey, a schizophrenic, homeless man played convincingly by Dan Hamill, opens the show with his confronting, paranoid rant about his need for connection and protection.

Julian (Mark Diaco) the drunk buys a gift for his lost son, and Poppy (Michala Banas) the nurse tends to the sick, while siblings Grace (Laura Maitland) and Chris (Keith Brockett) argue over their dying mother and James (Linc Hasler) gives a resentful eulogy at his mother’s funeral.

Mary (Marg Downey) cares for her sick husband and craves love from her brittle daughter, while Ziggy (Tom Barton) runs away from his mother and writes rap songs to his long lost father.

We can see ourselves in these people and we hope for redemption, reunion and love for these flawed characters.

There are great advantages in creating a play through devising and improvisation, not the least of which is the evolution of a cohesive ensemble with commitment to the content and characters.

There are, however, disadvantages that are evident in Glimpse: the quality of the writing, acting and character development is uneven, there are flaws in the dramatic structure of the script and the quality of individual scenes is inconsistent.

Thursday 15 November 2012

Music, MTC, Nov 14, 2012 ***

By Barry Oakley
Melbourne Theatre Company
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, Nov 14 to 22, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Published in Herald Sun on Friday, Nov 16, 2012
Robert Menzies, Richard Piper, Janet Andrewartha

Barry Oakley’s new play, Music, directed by Aidan Fennessy, is a poignant, sometimes confronting story about a man facing death and the repercussions on those around him.

As Jack (Richard Piper) hurtles towards a painful, quick death from a brain tumour, he uses ‘morphine, music, memories and malt whisky’ as his anaesthetics.

To avoid the pain and the present, he becomes immersed in the past and finally faces uncomfortable truths about his marriage, friends, family and academic work.

While Jack is making a peculiar peace with himself, his wife, (Janet Andrewartha), friend and doctor (Paul English) and brother (Robert Menzies) are simultaneously losing faith as their lives crumble.

The performances are the great strength of this production and Piper is pivotal, playing the dogged Jack with humour and grit, and making his death scene passionate and tragic.

Sunday 11 November 2012

Jesus Christ Superstar Arena Tour Movie *****


What: Jesus Christ Superstar Arena Tour, Universal Pictures
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: *****

The filmed version of the UK Jesus Christ Superstar Arena Tour left me breathless and gob-smacked at the quality of the production, Laurence Connor's stage direction and performances by Tim Minchin and Ben Forster.

Minchin's exceptional vocal and performance skill in music theatre is a discovery for me, although I've always liked him as a comedy-cabaret performer. His interpretation of Judas in this Arena production is charismatic, sympathetic and strangely alluring, considering how Judas betrays Jesus to the Pharisees.

Forster's Jesus is naive and sensitive, intensely human and afraid in the face of his impending sacrificial death and his crucifixion scene is beautifully staged and profoundly moving.

Ex-Spice Girl, Mel C, is affecting and credible as Mary Magdalene and the rest of the leads are equally compelling.

Chris Moyles plays King Herod as a glitzy, wildly popular television show host who whips the crowd into a frenzy over Jesus and views everything in terms of ratings.

Alex Hansen has a fine voice and depicts Pilate as a political animal who wants to help but is swayed by the crowd, his advisers and the pressure of getting on with his tennis match.

In this version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s highly successful musical, a naïve Jesus is fighting a losing battle as an idealist trapped in a world of politicians, religious leaders, cult followers, desperate youth and a media circus.

Connor's production is cunningly updated to include projections, tweets, graffiti and a chorus of dread-locked ferals as Jesus's followers. The world of Jesus comes into the 21st century with a powerful urgency that resembles a youthful, political revolution.

This production would be spectacular live but reaches new dimensions on screen with vivid close ups and multi-camera filming that allow the viewer to climb inside this dangerous and passionate world of social upheaval and personal betrayal.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 1 November 2012

Elling, Simon Bent, MTC, Nov 1, 2012, ***1/2

Adapted by Simon Bent from novel by Ingvar Ambjornsen
Melbourne Theatre Company
MTC Sumner Theatre, Nov 1 to Dec 8, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Published in Herald Sun online Fri Nov 2,2012, and in print on Mon Nov 5, 2012
 Hayden Spencer & Darren Gilshenan
IN SIMON BENT'S DARK COMEDY, based on Ingvar Ambjørnsen’s novel, Elling (Darren Gilshenan) and Kjell Bjarne (Hayden Spencer) are the Norwegian Odd Couple, compelled by the welfare system to co-habit, despite their apparent incompatibility and social dysfunction.

These two are klutzy clowns, but the first part of the play is too distressing to be funny as these two misfits are hurled out of their safe institution into an Oslo flat where, with minimal support and training, they must fend for themselves.

As they become functional and inured to the dangers of the world, their foibles become comical and we can laugh as they struggle to find their place amongst ‘normal’ people.

As Elling, Darren Gilshenan impeccably balances comedy and tragedy, inhabiting this pernickety, selfish, emotionally stifled, mentally rigid and socially incapacitated mummy’s boy who lived with his mother until she died when he was 40.

Elling, a fantasist with a poet’s mind, speaks in metaphors and fabricates stories to entertain his friend, Kjell Bjarne, and his condition is a conglomerate of Asberger’s, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, social anxiety and agoraphobia.

Hayden Spencer is loveable as Elling’s polar opposite, the childlike Kjell Bjarne, a scruffy, huggable, bear-like man with minimal impulse control and an unwillingness to wear trousers or wash his underwear.

More Sex Please...We're Seniors! Oct 31, 2012 **

By John-Michael Howson, Music by Peter Sullivan
Comedy Theatre, Oct 31 to Dec 2, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert  
Stars: **
Review in Herald Sun on Friday, Nov 2, 2012

 Mark Mitchell & Michael Veitch 
MORE SEX PLEASE...WE'RE SENIORS! a musical comedy by John-Michael Howson, has a catchy title but doesn’t fulfill its potential to be entertaining Identification Theatre about the many indignities visited upon seniors.
The capable cast, directed by Pip Mushin and accompanied by Peter Sullivan on piano, work like Trojans to make the flimsy narrative, two-dimensional characters, flabby dialogue and cheesy songs entertaining.

However, Howson’s script lacks dramatic development, there is no dramatic or character conflict, and the gags are wordy, predictable and often unfunny.

Two senior couples of indeterminate age (65-70 perhaps?) move into Guantanamo Palms Retirement Village to enjoy their twilight years surrounded by palm tress in Craigieburn.

Mark Mitchell is the comic highlight as Mac, the retired mechanic who loves a beer, and he gets the biggest laughs for his physical, visual gags: sliding awkwardly off the couch while pedalling his foot exerciser and wrestling hilariously with his oversized, red pants.

Mac’s craving for his youthful sex drive features in his two songs: The House Where I Get None and Take Viagra.