Monday 31 December 2012

War Horse, Australian Premiere, Dec 31, 2012 ****1/2

Stage adaptation by Nick Stafford, based on Michael Morpurgo's novel, War Horse
Produced by The National Theatre of Great Britain and Global Creatures
Puppetry by Handspring Puppet Company
State Theatre, Melbourne Arts Centre
Monday Dec 31, 2012 to March 3, 2013 (previews Dec 23 -30, 2012)
Stars: ****1/2

A truncated version of my review appeared on Jan 1, 2013 in the News Pages and Arts page online in the Herald Sun. The following longer review will not be published in the paper. KH
 Photo by Joe Calleri

‘NEVER perform with children or animals,’ warns the old theatre adage, but in War Horse, the actors are upstaged and outshone by puppets: enormous, expressive horses that breathe, whinny and pulsate with muscular power and equine grace.

The excitement was palpable at last night’s New Year’s Even opening of the Australian production of this Tony and Olivier Award-winning play and the audience was peppered with Australian celebrities: Nick Cave, Magda Szubanski, Hugh Sheridan, Josh Thomas and Christie Whelan.

Adapted by Nick Stafford from Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 novel, War Horse is an epic tale about Albert (Cody Fern), a boy from a Devon village, who hunts for his beloved horse, Joey, during World War One, after Albert’s desperate father, Ted (Ian Bliss), sells Joey to the British cavalry.

Although the stage is nearly bare to accommodate the galloping, rearing creatures, Rae Smith’s line drawings, projected onto a suspended screen resembling a huge, torn scrap of paper, transport us through time and space, from 1912 to 1918 and from Devon to France.

There are poignant scenes that will twang the heartstrings of horse lovers as well as those touched by the tragedies of war including the horrors of boy soldiers fighting in trenches and cavalry horses faced with barbed wire and machine guns.
   Photo by Joe Calleri

Sunday 30 December 2012

War Horse preview, Opening Dec 31, 2012

Stand by for a review of War Horse after the opening of the show on Dec 31, 2012.

A version of this preview article appears in Herald Sun news section on Monday, Dec 31, 2012 on p 14.

The National Theatre of Great Britain and Global Creatures bring the multiple Tony and Olivier Award-winning War Horse, to Melbourne, opening on New Year's Eve, 2012. 

Australian Cast of War Horse with Joey, the horse; Photo by Joe Calleri

 If sales are any indication, Melburnians are stampeding for tickets to the Australian production of War Horse, a play about a boy separated from his beloved horse, Joey, during World War One.  

After smashing London and New York box office records, War Horse has now broken the record for largest sales of any show in the history of Arts Centre Melbourne. This matches the record-breaking ticket sales in London and New York.

Chris Harper, producer for the National Theatre of Great Britain, describes the UK sales as phenomenal. ”It has the highest selling advance sales for any show in London.”
The stars of this epic, emotionally charged play by National Theatre of Great Britain and Global Creatures, are the startling, life-sized horse puppets that appear to breathe and pulsate with power and grace. 

Harper claims that War Horse is the Queen’s favourite show and that she came on a private visit to see the show, sitting with the rest of the audience in a very low key visit. It started with Princess Anne then... in the best tradition of word of mouth, they (the royal family) all came."

This would explain why, during the Queen’s Jubilee Flotilla in 2012, Joey reared and saluted Her Maj from the National Theatre on the banks of the Thames.

Never perform with children or animals, says the old stage adage. Do puppets count? Those actors must be quaking in their boots.
By Kate Herbert Dec 30, 2012 

Joey the horse with puppeteers. Photo by Joe Calleri

Stage adaptation by Nick Stafford, based on novel by Michael Morpurgo (War Horse)
By The National Theatre of Great Britain and Global Creatures
Puppetry by Handspring Puppet Company
State Theatre, Melbourne Arts Centre
Opening night: Monday Dec 31, 2012
Melbourne Season: Dec 23, 2012 to March 3, 2013
Sydney: Lyric Theatre, from March 16, 2013
Brisbane: Lyric Theatre from July 6, 2013


Thursday 27 December 2012

Top theatre picks for 2012

Another year, another 200+ shows! With such competition, you would assume that I’d have no trouble finding a Top 5. But, frankly, 2012 was not the most memorable year for theatre in Melbourne and I struggled to find five favourites.

Only a handful of shows warranted 5 stars, and these were all imported and significant international productions, while the remaining two on my short list were locally grown.

The major theatre companies, including MTC and Malthouse, had a disappointing year, musicals did not hit the high notes that we expected, and even independent productions and notable smaller companies – apart from Red Stitch – did not produce many highlights.

You will find full reviews of these shows on this blog.

1.     No Child… by Nilaja Sun, Melbourne Festival, produced by Theatre Works (Return season at Theatre Works, May 7-19, 2013)
Nilaja Sun in No Child...
This inspired solo show written and performed by Nilaja Sun (USA) takes top place for me this year and is one of those rare, theatrical jewels that is perfectly wrought and impossible to fault. 

 Sun transforms herself and transports us into another world, populating the empty space with a parade of eccentric, vivid characters at a dysfunctional, uptown, New York High School.

This award-winning performance balances hilarious, observational character comedy with poignant commentary on the failure of the US public education system.

When I left the theatre, I wanted to see this show again immediately  – twice. I'll be there for the return season.

2. Lipsynch by Ex Machina (Canada) & Théâtre Sans Frontières (UK)
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 and voyeuristic journey through the intimate worlds of nine loosely connected characters.

This production is a phenomenal theatrical experience with its transformational set design, elaborate video projections and its focus on language and the human voice.
3. An Enemy of the People, by Henrik Ibsen, Schaubühne Berlin, Melbourne Festival
An inconvenient truth sets off a socio-political time bomb in Ibsen’s 19th century play, An Enemy of the People, and Thomas Ostermeier’s riveting and lucid production fires it directly into our contemporary world of social upheaval and political cover-ups. 

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

Some additional shows that earned 4 or 4.5 stars stay in the memory longer than others. These include:  
Britney Spears: The Cabaret: featuring the charismatic and mischievous Christie Whelan,
makes us laugh and cry at her depiction of the vacuous but troubled pop star and her demented behaviour. With her versatile voice and wearing a scarily brief frock, Whelan shines with Brit’s own hit songs and Dean Bryant’s merciless satirisations of her music.

Beyond The Neck by Tom Holloway, Red Stitch: Through the heart-wrenching stories of four characters whose paths intersect at Port Arthur a decade after the massacre, Tom Holloway’s play compels us to contemplate the life-altering impact of losing loved ones to senseless acts of violence. All four performances are compelling and Suzanne Chaundy’s direction is sensitive.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Stephen Sondheim's wacky musical that showcases Geoffrey Rush’s impeccable comic delivery and conducting of the action like a slapstick maestro.

Stockholm by Briony Lavery (Red Stitch): a piece about a couple trapped in a dysfunctional relationship.

 The McNeil Project: two gritty, short plays by Jim McNeil about prison inmates.

By Kate Herbert

Friday 14 December 2012

Genesis To Broadway, Dec 11, 2012 **1/2

Genesis To Broadway
Written by Frank Howson, Arts International Events
Chapel Off Chapel, until Dec 16, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: **1/2
This review appeared in Herald Sun on Friday, Dec 14, 2012 (print & online)
 Andrew Dunne & Fem Belling in Genesis to Broadway. Photo: Vanessa Allan

GENESIS TO BROADWAY explores the contribution of Jewish artists to the evolution of the Broadway musical, their search for a homeland and their eventual acceptance into the bosom of American theatre where their music broke down barriers and transcended prejudices.

Howson’s narrative has dramatic potential, but it is the least effective component of the show, the most successful element being the songs performed by Fem Belling and Andrew Dunne, and music played by a live band (Warren Wills, Lachlan Davidson, Gideon Marcus).

This overly ambitious, musical journey attempts to cover too much ground, hurtling from the Garden of Eden and Job in the Old Testament, to Mediaeval Spain, Africa, pre-war Germany and on to 20th century New York.

The expository dialogue is peppered with predictable, unfunny jokes and chunks of unnecessary information that could well be replaced with more singing and longer versions of songs.

Warren Wills’ virtuoso piano playing does justice to music ranging from Jewish religious songs, to Hebrew laments, Spanish love songs, Al Jolson and Oscar Hammerstein, and Wills’ medley of Broadway themes was a hit with the crowd.

Thursday 6 December 2012

A Christmas Carol, Dec 5, 2012 ****

Adapted from Charles Dickens
Performed by Phil Zachariah; Directed by James Adler
Athenaeum Theatre, until Dec 11, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on  Dec 6, 2012
A version of this review published in Herald Sun, in print and online.

 Phil Zachariah as Charles Dickens
IN THIS SKILFUL, SOLO ADAPTATION OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL, the versatile Phil Zachariah channels Charles Dickens, writer and raconteur, recreating the world of Victorian London and inhabiting a parade of eccentric, Dickensian characters.

The funny and moving production directed by James Adler sees Zachariah as Dickens conducting the story like a maestro, enacting and enlivening the prose, lifting it from the page and transforming it into drama, just as Dickens himself did in his public readings and tours.

The text is astutely selected and edited then performed as self-narration that is accompanied and invigorated by deft physicalisation, clever characterisation and direct address to the audience.

Zachariah introducing us to a bevy of familiar personae, masterfully switching in an instant between characters with a shift in posture, an altered accent or a change in facial expression.

Ebenezer Scrooge, with his “Bah! Humbug!” attitude to Christmas, is the cold heart of the story, and Zachariah captures the character of this wizened, miserly, old misanthrope with a twisted physicality, a pinched face and a strangled, shrill voice.

Sunday 2 December 2012

L'Amante Anglaise, Feb 2, 1994 *****

L'Amante Anglaise by Marguerita Duras
Directed by Laurence Strangio 
With John Flaus and Brenda Palmer
La Mama Theatre, Carlton
Season Feb 2- Feb 13, 1994
Reviewed by Kate Herbert Feb, 1994

I had a request for a copy of this review from Laurence Strangio, director of L'Amante Anglaise in 1994, and have now transferred it to the blog.

 It stands out as one of the most compelling pieces of theatre for its simplicity and focus on the actors and the text.

I am, at present, working on a production based on Shakespeare's Sonnets and hope that I can attain some of the simplicity and purity of Laurence's 1994 production in our Sonnets production in May, 2013. KH
 MARGUERITA DURAS' PLAY, L'AMANTE ANGLAISE, is a superbly crafted piece of writing. She plunges us into the dark side of murder, madness and mystery with the story of 60 year old Clair Lannes who has confessed to the gruesome murder of her deaf-mute cousin, Marie-Therese.

 Laurence Strangio directs the production at La Mama with a light and tasteful hand, very sensitively allowing the text to speak for itself without embellishment.

The two actors, John Flaus and Brenda Palmer, talk seated opposite each other for most of the 90 minutes. It is riveting character drama – an actors' dream.

In the first scene, a female psychologist interviews Lannes about his wife. We obtain, from her rigid, insensitive and deeply dislikeable husband, a peculiar second-hand biography of this woman who has committed such a hideous crime.