Sunday 28 April 2013

True Minds, MTC, April 29, 2013 ***

By Joanna Murray-Smith
Melbourne Theatre Company 
Sumner Theatre, MTC, Southbank, Mon May 29 to June 8, 3013 (Previews 25-27 April) 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Mon April 29 
Stars: *** 
This review published in Herald Sun on line on April 30, 2013, then later in print. KH

Meeting the prospective in-laws, introducing the beloved to one’s parents, and struggling with the ex-boyfriend is the stuff of many a romantic comedy, and True Minds, Joanna Murray-Smith’s new play, mines the comic possibilities of it all.

The hapless Daisy (Nikki Shiels) – successful writer of a book about men not marrying women that their mother’s don’t approve – scrambles to impress Vivienne (Louise Siversen), the right-wing mother of Daisy’s lawyer fiancé, Benedict (Matthew McFarlane).

Daisy’s mother, Tracey (Genevieve Morris), is an old-fashioned, hippy feminist; her father, Maxim (Alex Menglet), is a celebrated, philandering, left wing political animal; and Daisy’s former boyfriend, Mitch (Adam Murphy), is just out of rehab.

Daisy is hurled into the bear pit when they all arrive at her home at once.

Murray-Smith’s text satirises all the characters, making them more caricatures than fully rounded personalities, which is a double-edged sword for this production as it provides laughs but leaves the characters and story two-dimensional.

Saturday 27 April 2013

About Tommy, Red Stitch, April 26, 2013 ***1/2

By Thor Bjørn Krebs, translated by David Duchin,
Red Stitch Actors Theatre until May 25, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 26

This review published in Herald Sun on line on April 30, 2013 and after that in print. KH

Fighting in a war is always debilitating and desperate, but Tommy (Matthew Whitty), a gung-ho, young, Danish soldier posted to the former Yugoslavia in the 90s, cannot even fight back when threatened, because UN Peacekeepers are not permitted to initiate fire.

Danish playwright, Thor Bjørn Krebs’ documentary-style script, About Tommy, comprises narration by several Danish soldiers, but Tommy’s experience remains the pivot, and we witness his psychological breakdown during and after his horrific tour of duty.

Krebs shifts the characters’ tone from that of cool, military observers in early scenes, to escalating horror and despair by the end.

Director, Kat Henry, also positions the audience as observers, confronting us with actual newsreel footage of the conflict that underscores the gruesome, verbal descriptions of wartime horrors.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Dance of Death, April 24, 2013 ***1/2

By Friedrich Dürrenmatt (After August Strindberg's play)
English translation by Tom Holloway 
Malthouse Theatre, April 24 until May 19, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 24
Review published in Herald Sun online on April 26, 2013, and will appear in print later. KH

The opening scene of Dance of Death is undeniably bold and dangerous, with Jacek Koman and Belinda McClory playing an ageing couple engaged in a brutal battle of words that playwright, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, presents as a gruelling and tenacious boxing match.

Koman is riveting as Edgar, an embittered, merciless but ailing military man who treats his wife, Alice (McClory), with ruthless disregard.

Koman has a formidable stage presence and plays Edgar with a visceral physicality combined with impeccable comic delivery that makes his character unpredictable and thrilling.

McClory’s Alice is shrewd, manipulative and hostile like a trapped rat, and she shifts imperceptibly and dexterously from elegant, shattered beauty to primitive, ugly rage.

David Paterson, as Kurt the visitor, is the temperate foil for the couple’s callous and predatory fights, acting initially as a referee but finally being sucked into their toxic relationship.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Beached, MTC Education, April 23, 2013 **1/2

By Melissa Bubnic
Melbourne Theatre Company, Education Program
The Lawler, MTC Southbank, April 23 to May 10, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 23 
Stars: **1/2
Review published in Herald Sun online on May 1, 2013 and probably later in print. KH

Reality television can be a cruel and manipulative process that is more interested in sensationalising its subjects’ problems than solving them.

Melissa Bubnic’s play, Beached, reveals the nastier aspects of a fictional, weight-loss reality television series called Shocking Fat Stories.

The program, shaped and edited by its ambitious, uncaring producer (Anthony Ahern), follows bedridden, 400 kg, 18 year-old Arty (Damien Sunners), who must shed a massive amount of weight before he can have life-saving lap band surgery.

The play is part of the MTC Education program, but its style, content and level seem best suited to lower secondary rather than VCE audiences, because characters remain caricatures, the story is shallow, and issues are never penetrated to any sophisticated level.

The form overwhelms the content with video projections and live filming that replicate the style of reality TV, and some awkwardly placed animation depicting Arty’s romantic fantasies of being an explorer.

Thursday 18 April 2013

Robots Vs. Art, April 17, 2013 ***

By Travis Cotton 
La Mama Theatre, Carlton, until May 5, 2013
Melbourne International Comedy Festival  
Stars: ***
Reviewer: Kate Herbert  
 Review also published in Herald Sun on line on Friday April 19, 2013.  KH 

Just like Data in Star Trek, these robots want to experience Art and emotion.

Simon Maiden in Robots Vs. Art
Actors paled when they heard of a Japanese company in 2009 performing a play with robots instead of actors, but Travis Cotton was unfazed; he wrote a comedy about it.

Cotton’s play, Robots Vs Art, is set in a futuristic, sci-fi world in which humans now work mining minerals deep underground and are subordinate to the robots that they created.

Of course, just like Mr. Data in Star Trek, the executive Master Bot (Simon Maiden) wants to experience Art and to feel human emotion so, what does he do? He writes a play.

Daniel Frederiksen is entertainingly guileless as bemused, fearful Giles, the only human left alive, and captures Giles’ aimless, confused complexity of the human race that cannot be quantified by the robots.

Friday 12 April 2013

Song, Ranters, April 12, 2013 ***

By Ranters Theatre 
North Melbourne Town Hall, April 12 to 21, 2013 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 12 
 This review also published on line in Herald Sun on Thurs April 18. It may also appear in print. KH 

Imagine that you are reclining under a moonlit sky, in a forest populated by night birds, insects, surrounded by whispering trees, a rushing creek and the scent of wet leaves and eucalyptus.

Harmonising voices from unseen locations, often accompanied by guitar and piano, sing eccentric, folk-style songs about the natural or built environment, love and loss.

The experience is strangely soothing and meditative; like being at a 1970s, overnight, hippy festival in a rainforest, or having a massage accompanied by a mesmerising soundtrack.

This is Song, the new work from Ranters Theatre and the Cortese brothers, Adriano and Raimondo.

Song is more an installation than a piece of theatre, a listening rather than a watching experience that slows your pulse and allows your mind to drift to still and unexpected places as the evocative music, soundscape (J. David Franzke) and lighting (Stephen Hennessey) waft over you.

Thursday 11 April 2013

Assassins, April 11, 2013 ***

Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by John Weidman
By Watch This
45downstairs.April 11 to 21, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 11
Review also published online in Herald Sun on April 12 and in print after that date. KH
The killers of American Presidents may seem unlikely and macabre characters for a musical, but Stephen Sondheim, noted for his unusual themes, depicts this motley collection of nutters in his revue-style musical, Assassins.

Assassins, with Sondheim’s eclectic music and lyrics and a witty book by John Weidman, is an old-style, musical revue set in a fairground where the proprietor of a shooting gallery provides the would-be assassins with guns.

This production, by new company Watch This, captures the bizarre nature of the characters and the wry humour, political satire and moral commentary of the script, but the quality of the singing and acting is uneven.

In a compelling, abstract world, killers from different time periods collide, sing about their obsessions, explain their motives through monologues, scenes and songs, including: Everybody’s Got The Right, Another National Anthem, Something Just Broke, and the poignant November 22, 1963, in which people recall where they were when Kennedy was shot.

Wednesday 10 April 2013

A Clockwork Orange, April 9, 2013 ***

By Anthony Burgess, by Action To The Word
Malthouse Theatre, April 6 to 21, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 6
Stars: ***

This review also published in Herald Sun in print or online on April 11. KH
Martin McCreadie ((L) and cast in A s Clockwork Orange
It’s a tall order to compete with the indelible image and scorching “ultra-violence” of Malcolm McDowell – as the brutal, frightening Alex – and his “droogs”, in Stanley Kubric’s cult film of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange.

Rather than adapting the movie, director-choreographer, Alexandra Spencer-Jones, with ten young, male actors, uses Burgess’s playscript that is based on his novella, and stylises the production by using dance to portray all aggressive action.

Although an interesting theatrical device, the choreography dilutes the pornography of violence at the core of Alex’s life, and the style overwhelms content, limiting the sense of menace in scenes of rape, torture and murder when the stage could be a dangerous place.

Alex (Martin McCreadie) is a dysfunctional teenager who uses “ultra-violence”– fuelled by testosterone and frustration – as entertainment, until he is imprisoned then subjected to an invasive, government sanctioned, psychological reconditioning and aversion therapy.

McCreadie is capable and intensely physical as Alex, capturing, through abstracted movement and muscularity, Alex’s mindless passion for violence and classical music.

But it is in the latter half that he is most effective, when portraying Alex’s despair and confusion after his treatment, when he is nauseated by the thought of violence and by the sound of his beloved Beethoven.

Sunday 7 April 2013

Driving Miss Daisy, April 6, 2013 *****

Driving Miss Daisy by Alfred Uhry
Produced by John Frost 
Comedy Theatre, Melbourne, April 5 until May 12, 2013 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 6 
This review also published in print and online Herald Sun on Sunday April 7, 2013 
 Angela Lansbury & James Earl Jones in Driving Miss Daisy; photo by Jeff Busby

It is a privilege to witness the consummate professionalism and fine acting of two of America’s stage and screen royalty, Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones, in their much-anticipated Melbourne opening of Driving Miss Daisy, the stage play written by Alfred Uhry.

The excitement was palpable at the Comedy Theatre and the audience, littered with local celebrities, was captivated by Lansbury and Jones’ funny, poignant, superbly crafted performances in this adorable, heart-warming story of burgeoning friendship spanning 25 years from 1948 to 1973.

Lansbury is entertainingly sharp-tongued and cantankerous as fiercely independent Daisy Werthan, a wealthy, elderly, Jewish woman living in Atlanta, Georgia, who, at 72, is forbidden by her son to drive after crashing her vehicle.

Jones is jovial, compassionate and dignified as Hoke Colburn, a poor, African-American chauffeur hired by Daisy’s frustrated son, Boolie (played with warmth and ease by Boyd Gaines), to drive Miss Daisy.

Lansbury tempers Miss Daisy’s brittle stubbornness with wry wit and a benevolent heart when she discovers that Hoke is illiterate.

She learns how the other half lives, about the inherent racism that Hoke endures in the South, and even experiences such racism personally when her synagogue is bombed.

Jones embodies the gentle, considerate and loyal soul of Hoke in his solicitous, respectful treatment of Miss Daisy and, of course, we thrill to the resonant, velvet tones of his all-too-familiar voice.

Friday 5 April 2013

Sophie Miller, April 4, 2013 ***

Sophie Miller in Do Better
Cohen’s Cellar Bar, Victoria St., on April 6, 9, 11, 13, 16, 18, 20
Melbourne International Comedy Festival 
Star rating:  ***
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 4 
Review also published online in Herald Sun on April 5. KH 

Amusing, original ditties about "doing better".
Sophie Miller in Do Better
Pert and impish Sophie Miller’s solo show, Do Better, is 40 minutes of amusing ditties about her fictional, self-help book that reads like a report card: Sophie – and everyone else – could ‘do better’ at, well, everything.

The book’s Contents page is an endless list of items that could do better: Fifty Shades Of Grey could do better, as could little dogs, teenage boys, email signatures – and the list goes on.

Miller sings her original songs while plays a Roland piano, tucked into a corner in a cosy wine bar with couches, tables and a good wine list.

The songs and Miller’s performance really take off with her clever, funny song about her online relationship with a Korean boy called Kim Jong Un, and how Google Translator hilariously warps her love missives to him. Don’t try this at home!

Tuesday 2 April 2013

Stephen K. Amos, April 2, 2013 ****1/2

Stephen K. Amos is The Spokesman
Athenaeum Theatre, March 28 until April 21, 2013
Melbourne International Comedy Festival
Stars: ****1/2
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
 This review also published in Herald Sun online on Wed April 3. KH

"He handles the crowd like a zookeeper feeding the animals."

Stephen K. Amos walks an unusual line between intelligent wit and down-and-dirty, idiotic naughtiness, which means that he can balance all types of audience members in the palm of his hand.

Clad in jeans and black T-shirt, he shifts from refined tones and smart political references to bold, broad caricatures and gags about booze and sex, all of which have the crowd roaring.

His material is impeccably crafted, his comic timing skillful and, throughout the show, his delivery style remains conversational, amiable and relaxed as he strolls through topics both local and global.

Darwin is actually the missing link; Adelaide is littered with mullet and bogans; our weather is hellish; Julia Gillard thinks she is a Superhero; and Amos also learns a thing or two about Melton.

He rambles about his fear of water then quizzes audience members about their own phobias, eliciting strange responses including a fear of eggshells, or holes that are too close together. Really!

Monday 1 April 2013

Jenny Eclair, March 31, 2013 ****

Jenny Eclair in Eclairious
Supper Room, Melbourne Town Hall, March 28 until April 7, 2013
Melbourne International Comedy Festival
Star rating:****
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
This review also published on line in Herald Sun on April 1
"Outrageously funny, smutty routine about the trials of being a woman of a certain age."

Jenny Eclair shocks the pants off the bloke in the front row and even scares some of the women of a certain age who chortle at her wicked jokes about sex, ageing, hot flushes, stress incontinence and being ticked off at just about everything.

‘Lower your expectations’, she quips, then proceeds to babble at a bruising pace with her gravelly voice, near hysterical delivery, occasional startling shouts, and unsavoury, hilarious material liberally littered with expletives and gob-smacking brazenness.

As she slouches across the stage or perches on her comfy armchair, she laments the horrors of ageing, visiting the doctor to discover her weight is too high, her blood pressure is through the roof and her drinking is killing her.

She elicits hoots, groans and gasps from the audience as she complains about body hair (she brings new meaning to the term ‘comb-over’), extols the virtues of sensible clothing and revels in her newfound anti-social behaviour.

Her intolerance of toddlers got one of the biggest laughs and united the entire audience – even that bloke in the front row – and her rules to maintain a relationship for 30 years are a riot.

The mischievous Eclair knows she is outrageous, so she gives us a ‘safe word’ to call out if she goes too far. Of course nobody does because, by the encore, we are stunned into gaping incredulity by her stories of ageing disgracefully.

By Kate Herbert