Wednesday 27 February 2013

Hate, Stephen Sewell, Feb 26, 2013 **1/2

By Stephen Sewell, Malthouse Theatre
Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse until March 8, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 26, 2013
Stars: **1/2 
This review was published in Herald Sun online on Wed Feb 27, 2013, and in print some time later. KH

There are certainly some meaty issues about political and familial power relationships in Stephen Sewell’s 1988 play, Hate, but the content is buried under repetitive dialogue and relentless tirades from the five family members.

Despite the density of the text, the performances from the cast are strong, particularly William Zappa as John Gleason, the tyrannical, manipulative father, corporate giant and Liberal party stalwart.

John summons to his country home, his wife, Eloise (Glenda Linscott), and adult children, Raymond (Grant Piro), the stockbroker, Celia (Sara Wiseman) the nurse, and Michael (Ben Geurens) the layabout.

Even before his arrival, John’s powerful, chauvinistic and rightwing presence is palpable as the siblings seethe with rage and venom about their father’s treatment of his children.

Raymond rails about his father’s deception and mismanagement of the family company, Celia blusters about her choice to isolate herself from the business and her resentment and hatred of her father, and Michael reveals his mistrust, sense of betrayal and inability to commit to anything.

Meanwhile, Mother lives in a state of cheerful denial and relentless positivity.

Sunday 24 February 2013

Pornography, Feb 23, 2013 **1/2

By Simon Stephens
Green Street Theatre
Beckett Theatre, Malthouse, until March 3, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: **1/2 
Review in Herald Sun online on Sunday Feb 24 and  in print after Feb 25. KH
Simon Stephens’ challenging play, Pornography, does not refer to sexual pornography but to the horrors of modern life: crime, violence, social isolation and dysfunction, and the pervasive threat of terrorism.

This episodic play is set against the backdrop of London during a week in July 2005 when several momentous events occurred:  the G8 Summit, the announcement of the London Olympics, the Live 8 Concert, and the horrific London bombings of July 7.

David Myles’ production cannot compete with the original, superb version by Deutsches Schauspielhaus, Hamburg, but it captures some of the intimate drama and turmoil in the lives of eight people touched by the bombings.

The characters, whose lives intersect superficially, appear in monologues and dialogues, but some are more successful because of the unevenness of the acting.

Emma Chelsey is compelling as the stroppy, troubled teen that stalks her teacher, gets into street fights and loathes everyone and everything.

Jesse Velik is strangely the most moving character, despite playing a train bomber, a sensitive, well-spoken, young father who is addled but passionate about his campaign of terror.

Friday 22 February 2013

Love Me Tender, Mutation Theatre, Feb 22, 2013 **

By Tom Holloway, Mutation Theatre
Theatreworks, until March 2, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review  in Herald Sun online on Sunday FEb 24 and in print on Tues Feb 26 (TBC). KH
Nick Pelomis, Brendan Barnett, James Tresise 
Love Me Tender, first produced in 2010, is not one of Tom Holloway’s best plays and its post-dramatic, deconstructed script, and this rather portentous production become annoyingly cryptic rather than evocative.

The script is episodic, fragmented, intermittently poetic, abstracted, topical or witty, with a purported referencing of Euripides Ancient Greek play, Iphigenia in Aulis, in which Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter to the Gods to receive a wind to blow his ships to Troy.

There is no linear narrative in Holloway’s text, but there are themes, characters and some elements of story and, although we do not expect resolution in this style of play, the thematic links and references don’t pay off and the outcome is ultimately profoundly unsatisfying.

The Father (Brendan Barnett), a firefighter, first grapples with the messy birth of his baby daughter (or is it a baby deer?), then with his ensuing, intense love, protective impulse and a suggested, more sinister, sexualized relationship with her.

Intercut with his struggle to express his love, are the Mother’s (Sarah Ogden) emerging fears and search for answers and reassurance.

More naturalistic scenes and monologues are interspersed with abstracted dialogues that capture the Father’s struggle to articulate his inchoate feelings and memories through faltering, repetitive speech that is prompted and shaped by the Chorus (Nick Pelomis, James Tresise).

At Last: The Etta James Story, Feb 21, 2013 ***

Written by John H. Livings
Athenaeum Theatre, Feb 21 to March 3, 2013

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

 Review published in Herald Sun online on Sunday, Feb 24, then in print after Mon Feb 25  KH
 Vika Bull Photo by Chrissie Francis

It is astounding that American singer, Etta James, not only survived her chaotic, drug-addled life, but her distinctive vocal style became a major influence in Rhythm and Blues, Rock and Pop music.

Australian singer, Vika Bull, known as part of a duo with her sister Linda, sings Etta’s music with passion and commitment, and narrates Etta’s turbulent life story in this ‘narrative concert’.

However, there is a missed opportunity to make this show more than just a concert with awkward introductions to songs.

Bull is accompanied by The Essential R & B Band, a tight, seven-piece ensemble, led by John McAll, that brings blistering brass, guitar, keyboards and rhythm section to Etta’s music.

Bull’s voice has a powerful, bright, brassy upper register that does justice to Etta’s songs, although she cannot replicate the idiosyncratic, smoky quality and dark, heart-rending undertones of Etta’s vocal style that echoed Etta’s hectic lifestyle of booze, weed, pills and the needle.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Shows I can't get to see

These are shows that open this week or last and that I cannot get to see – in case you are interested.
Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins,  by Stephen Temperley. Performed by Helen Noonan and Stephen McIntyre

The Masters, Feb 13-24, La Mama Courthouse

Closer by Patrick Marber  from Thurs 14 Feb,  Loft, Chapel off Chapel

Dark Stars, from Wed Feb 13, La Mama

4000 Miles, from Friday 8 Feb Red Stitch, by Amy Herzog

Kiss Me Like You Mean It, 13 - 23 Feb by Chris Chibnall @ The Owl and The Pussycat  

Dark Stars, from Wed Feb 13 La Mama 
In The Middle of the Night, From Fri Feb 15, La Mama Courtyard

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Dans La Maison, French Film Festival ****

Dans La Maison (In the House) by Francois Ozon 
Alliance Francaise French Film Festival Preview
Palace Cinemas from March 6 -24, 2013
Palace Balwyn, Palace Brighton Bay, Palace Cinema Como, Palace Westgarth
Cinemas & Kino Cinemas
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
This is not a Herald Sun review. KH

Dans La Maison (In the House), a film by Francois Ozon that is featured in the Alliance Francaise Film Festival, is an intense, domestic thriller that tantalises the audience with an unsettling and unusual sense of menace.

A jaded, high school literature teacher, Germain, played by the compelling Fabrice Luchini, becomes a mentor for a teenage student, Claude, (Ernst Unhauer) who is writing regular instalments of disturbing material about his voyeuristic visits to a schoolmate’s family home.

Claude writes from his personal observation with scathing bluntness and an underlying layer of threat and his material shifts from non-fiction and creative non-fiction to fiction and character assassination.

Germain tempts and trains Claude with different writing styles that are informed by the suggestions and classical literature.

Because of his work with Claude, Germain’s work life unravels, as does his seemingly stable home life with his cool, elegant wife (Kristin Scott Thomas).

This is a riveting movie that explores the heart of writing and literature, the soul and purpose of an artist and teacher, the mentor-student relationship, and the dangers of a writer using the lives of those around him as research material.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 14 February 2013

Constellations, MTC, Feb 16, 2013 ***

Written by Nick Payne
Melbourne Theatre Company
Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio
Opening night: Wednesday 13 Feb 2013 at 8pm
8 Feb to 23 March 2013 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sat Feb 16
This is not a Herald Sun review. KH
Alison Bell & Leon Ford. Photo by Jeff Busby

In Nick Payne’s play, Constellations, we observe like voyeurs as Marianne (Alison Bell) And Roland (Leon Ford) engage in a series of short scenes that depict myriad, possible permutations in their relationship.

Marianne, a quantum physicist, meets Roland, a bee-keeper, at a friend’s barbecue and their unlikely romance unfolds in what Marianne the physicist would describe as “the multiverse” in which we all exist in parallel universes simultaneously.

Each different choice, attitude, word or approach that they make, steers the relationship in a different direction. Scenes dovetail into each other as the lovers repeats their meeting, an argument, a separation, a diagnosis and a tragic ending.

Payne’s dialogue is well observed and witty, and his scenes are entertaining and the final revelation is painful.

Bell and Ford explore, with fluidity and energy, the range of emotions of the couple and they meet the challenge of the shifting scenes and attitudes.

The style, however, looks less like a fully developed play and more like a series of acting exercises or an improvisational workshop to develop characters during a creative development for a play. The repetition simply becomes predictable.

Friday 8 February 2013

Anna Karenina, Movie Review, Universal Pictures ***1/2

Movie review
Anna Karenina, based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy
Directed by Joe Wright 
Screenplay by Tom Stoppard

Universal Pictures
Stars: ***1/2 

 I reviewed this movie at a Media Preview provided by Universal Pictures. 
This review is not for the Herald Sun. KH
Joe Wright’s production of Anna Karenina is sumptuous and exotic, filling every frame with vivid colour and painstaking period detail evoking Imperial Russia in 1874.

Tom Stoppard’s inspired adaptation of Tolstoy’s renowned, romantic but tragic novel, draws on his background as a writer of stage plays by stylising and theatricalising the dramatic narrative.

Scenes begin as theatrical episodes set on a 19th century, proscenium arch stage and, between scenes, characters stroll along the precarious, wooden gantries above the stage, echoing the artifice and deception of the aristocratic society of Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The scenery is composed of painted backdrops and theatrical props, and dancers populate ballrooms and inns alike with complex choreography or frozen, stylised tableaux.

These artificial scenes bleed into realistic, elaborate interiors of the cities and the frozen landscapes of the Russian countryside with bold invention.

With Sarah Greenwood’s luscious production design and Stoppard’s imaginative script, Joe Wright creates a visual feast.

The major problem with Jo Wright’s direction is that the intense emotion of Tolstoy’s novel is diluted so that we skate across the surface of the anguish and despair that should leave us weeping at Anna’s final demise.

Keira Knightley has a fine featured, delicate beauty of Karenina, but she is acting by numbers, her expressions and exclamations being contrived and mechanical and, ultimately, predictable and annoying. One can’t help but crave the subtlety of the young Francesca Annis in the BBC version.

Saturday 2 February 2013

The Rape of Lucrece, Feb 1, 2013 *****

The Rape of Lucrece by William Shakespeare
Royal Shakespeare Company
Performed by Camille O’Sullivan
Adapted by Elizabeth Freestone, Feargal Murray and Camille O’Sullivan
Music composed by Feargal Murray and Camille O’Sullivan
Sumner Theatre, MTC, Jan 31 to Feb 10, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review appeared online for Herald Sun on Monday Feb 4 and in print on Tues Feb 5.  KH
Camille O'Sullivan. Photo by Keith Pattison

The Rape of Lucrece is a thrilling, superbly crafted, theatrical jewel, not only because of Camille O’Sullivan’s compelling, impeccably wrought and poignant performance, but also because of its direction, songs, design, lighting and Shakespeare’s glimmering poetry.

With house lights still on, O’Sullivan, wearing a heavy, dark overcoat, strolls humbly onto the stage with her pianist, Feargal Murray, and chats to the audience, establishing the easy rapport of a cabaret performer.

This casual introduction bleeds almost imperceptibly into Shakespeare’s tragic, narrative poem as the lights dim and we embark on the inexorable path of the Ancient Roman tale of Lucrece, the virtuous wife of Collatine, a Roman aristocrat, and her violation by Tarquin, son of the Roman King.

O’Sullivan, an Irish cabaret performer, sings about half of the poem in a style influenced by torch songs, chants, laments and recitative and Murray’s restrained and evocative piano underscores most of the narrative.

The remarkable, unpretentious O’Sullivan evokes three characters: Narrator, Lucrece and Tarquin, through Shakespeare’s complex, lyrical language, delivering it in both song and dialogue, with splendid timing, subtle physicality and perfect comprehension of its layers of meaning.

Friday 1 February 2013

The Other Place, MTC, Jan 31, 2013 ****1/2

By Sharr White, Melbourne Theatre Company
Playhouse, Melbourne Arts Centre, Jan 31 until March 2, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: **** ½

Version of this review published in Herald Sun in print and online on Monday Feb 4. KH

 Catherine McClements & David Roberts: Photo by David Parker

Sharr White’s play, The Other Place, is a complex, poignant drama that challenges both actors and audience with its issues about early onset dementia.

Catherine McClements is exceptional as Juliana, a renowned geneticist whose research produced a drug to combat the brain degeneration of dementia.

McClements balances Juliana’s brittle, cruel and cool style with her irrational raging, her confusion and unwillingness to accept her own creeping illness that she presumes to be brain cancer.

In a series of cunningly interwoven scenes, we witness several phases of Juliana’s life: presenting her research to a medical conference, visiting her neurologist, arguing with her husband and dealing with her teenage-runaway daughter.

David Roberts is sympathetic and vulnerable as Ian, her beleaguered husband who struggles to accept and manage his clever wife’s erratic behaviour and rage.