Sunday 30 June 2013

Lord of the Flies, June 29, 2013 ***1/2

Adapted from the novel by William Golding by Nigel Williams
By US-A-UM and Malthouse Theatre
Malthouse, Tower Theatre, June 29 to July 14, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 29
Review also published in Herald Sun on line on Mon July 1, 2013 and later in print. KH
 Photo by Sarah Walker

If stranded on an isolated island with little hope of rescue, would humans degenerate into a horde of savages with no defined power structure or institutional law and order?

The answer, according to William Golding’s startling 1954 novel, Lord of the Flies, is a resounding Yes; well, at least it is for the prepubescent schoolboys marooned on an island after a plane crash.

Nigel Williams’ 1995 theatrical adaptation condenses Golding’s narrative and combines characters, recreating the intensity, danger and horror of the novel.

In the intimate space of the theatre, Kip Williams’ production is confronting and sometimes frightening as 9 young boys – played by young women – descend into social chaos typified by barbaric rituals, warring factions, irrationality and, ultimately, murder.

Lord of the Flies raises social, political and philosophical issues that have stymied civilisations for millennia: good and evil, right and wrong, morality and ethics, law and order, hierarchy and power.

Thursday 27 June 2013

The Crucible, June 27, 2013 ****

By Arthur Miller
Melbourne Theatre Company
Southbank Theatre, The Sumner, June 27 until Aug 3, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 27, 2013
 Review also published in Herald Sun online on Fri June 28, 2013 and later in print. KH
 David Wenham (John Proctor) & Elizabeth Nabben (Abigail Williams), Amanda McGregor (Betty on bed). Photo © Jeff Busby

By the end of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, you may feel overwhelmed by despair, frustration and horror at the astonishing success of false accusations and mob hysteria to condemn the innocent to death.

A 21st audience will draw parallels with the dangerous consequences of viral rumour mongering on social media.

Miller used the 1692 Salem witch-hunts as a vivid landscape for the personal story of a farmer, John Proctor (David Wenham), whose upright wife, Elizabeth (Anita Hegh), is accused of witchcraft by young Abigail Williams (Elizabeth Nabben), their former servant and John’s ex-lover.

The vengeful Abigail has no qualms about sending Elizabeth and others to their deaths in order to fulfil her desire to have Proctor.

The actual 1692 witch-hunts of Salem, Massachusetts provided Miller with an analogy for the 1950s McCarthy trials that persecuted artists who had even the flimsiest association with Communism.

But Miller knew that a powerful drama needs human passion at its core to drive the narrative and illuminate social and moral issues.

The Crucible boasts an impeccably crafted script, challenging themes, bold dialogue and sensitively drawn characters that all make this heightened narrative credible.

Wednesday 26 June 2013

Cabaret Festival Gala, June 26, 2013 ****

Melbourne Cabaret Festival Opening Gala. Festival runs June 26 to July 7, 2013 Wed June 26, 2013, Palais Theatre, St. Kilda
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review also published in Herald Sun online on July 27, 2013 and possibly later in print. KH

 Mary Wilson (R)
If you’re delirious about cabaret, the 4th Melbourne Cabaret Festival will tempt you with delights including a queen of Motown, a transvestite Annie, a New York cabaret icon, a Tony award winner, burlesque artistes, and assorted other risquè, provocative or melodic acts.

The Festival Gala provided a titillating taster that culminated with the regal Mary Wilson from The Supremes who, clad elegantly in red lame and white fur, sang tunes from her show, Stormy Weather: The Lena Horne Project.

Wilson, with her versatile jazz-blues tones, easy charm and skilful storytelling, sang a poignant rendition of Stormy Weather and an impassioned version of The Man I Love, followed by the moving Yesterday When I Was Young.

One of my faves was American composer/performer, David Pomeranz, performing a sweet, cheeky song from his solo musical,
Chaplin: A Life – in Concert, in which he plays all 40 characters; he left the audience craving more.

Another of my picks was Melbourne’s hilariously sassy, voluptuous Yana Alana, who took singing the blues literally, wearing only a coat of blue paint as she sang I’m Blue then, in her inimitable, bold and provocative burlesque, Life Is A One Woman Show.

 Yana Alana

Friday 21 June 2013

Shane Warne The Musical, June 20, 2013 ****

Music, Lyrics and book by Eddie Perfect
Hamer Hall, June 20 & 21, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ****
Review also published in Herald Sun online on Friday June 21, 2013 and later in print.  KH

  Photo by Meredith O'Shea 

I wouldn’t know a googly from a leg-break, but Eddie Perfect’s updated version of Shane Warne The Musical entertainingly depicts the King of Spin with admiration, wry humour and a fair dose of cynicism. 

Shane Warne is the cricketer-turned-white-toothed-celebrity who triggers love or loathing, depending on your willingness to ignore a great sportsman’s bad behaviour and moral failings.

Warney may have magic on the pitch, but Perfect has the charisma on stage when performing Warne’s life, from his first foray into cricket up to his revamped image and current relationship with Liz Hurley.

In this smartly directed production by Simon Phillips, Perfect’s 23 original songs have witty, complex lyrics and eclectic musical styles that are played by a very tight orchestra led by Iain Grandage. 

Although the new opening scene is a bit slow, the pace picks up with rousing, rowdy songs about Warne’s scrappy, unprofessional attitude to cricket training (AIS) and his love of beer (We’re Going There).

Using his distinctive voice, with its velvety baritone and cunning vibrato, Perfect is magnetic singing Hollywood, a power ballad about heroes, that compares Warne with the Anzacs and Ned Kelly.

Monday 17 June 2013

By Their Own Hands, June 16, 2013 **

The Hayloft Project, MTC NEON Festival of Independent Theatre
MTC Lawler Studio, June 13 to 23, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 16
This review is not written for, or published in the Herald Sun or any other publication. KH

By Their Own Hands takes a dive off the high board, leaving Sophocles’ tragic play and the Ancient Greek Oedipus myth behind.

The result is the trivialisation of a classic story and a poor deconstruction that results in a shallow piece of theatre that does not challenge the audience or illuminate the narrative and characters.

The piece, devised and performed by Benedict Hardie and Anne-Louise Sarks, is divided into three sections, each of which approaches the myth from a different angle.

In part one, the performers invite the entire audience onto the stage to participate, as the people of Thebes, in their gentle, casual but engaging storytelling, with odd people allocated characters but required to do nothing in the roles.

This part is quietly amusing as the actors directly address the audience and relate, without embellishment or emotion, the tale of Oedipus, the abandoned child of King Laius and Queen Jocasta, who returns to Thebes to unwittingly kill his father and marry his mother.

After this mild beginning in full light, in part two the theatricality kicks in with stark and dramatic lighting and an enormous sheet of plastic covering the floor. What follows is predictably grotesque and bloody – literally.

The pair enact mimetic, excruciatingly laboured, graphic and risible depictions of crucial moments in the story: Laius and Jocasta’s marriage, Jocasta washing her bloody baby, Jocasta’s hanging, Oedipus’s rage and self-blinding.

Any hope that the piece would illuminate the tragedy any further was lost in part three when, standing at microphones, the pair chat aimlessly as Jocasta and Oedipus.

They improvise purile dialogue as if the characters were a contemporary couple – cynical older woman and annoyingly puppyish, younger man – discussing their seduction, relationship, unborn babe and discovered incest.

The piece becomes laughable and is alienating for an audience unfamiliar with the Oedipus myth – people around me were confused saying, “Are they going for comedy here?”

This show is irritatingly thin, and does not serve the ancient tragedy or the audience, who deserve better. Deconstruction can be so much better. 

Yes, it made me angry, and I was not alone in this reaction.

By Kate Herbert

Saturday 15 June 2013

King Kong, June 15, 2013****

Book by Craig Lucas; Original music by Marius De Vries
Other songs: 3D from Massive Attack, Guy Garvey, Sarah McLachlan, Justice, The Avalanches; additional lyrics by Michael Mitnick, Richard Thomas; presented by Global Creatures
Regent Theatre, Melbourne, no closing date
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 15
Stars: ****
Review of opening night June 15 also published online in Herald Sun June 15 and on Sunday June 16 in print. KH
 Photo by Joe Calleri

When King Kong first emerges from the dim mists of SkulI Island, roaring and beating his chest, he has the audience gaping in awe.

The six-metre Kong is the runaway star of this new musical and the most fully developed character on stage because of his expressive, almost human face, imposing physicality, majesty and grace.

It is heartbreaking to witness such a magnificent – albeit mechanical – creature chained, tranquillised then exhibited as a freak show.

Thanks to his creators (designer, Sonny Tilders) and operators (puppetry director, Peter Wilson), Kong lives, breathes and communicates; he roars with unfettered rage, complains, grieves, is jealous, wretched, combative, childish or protective.

Even his on-stage and off-stage operators get rousing applause for their feats of athletic puppetry and animatronic operation.

This big-budget, global premiere is an eye-popping spectacle designed to appeal to 21st century audiences that demand relentless action, colour and movement in their entertainment.

The cast is superlative and Esther Hannaford is perfectly beguiling and quirky as Ann Darrow, the reluctant heroine, evolving from a gauche, country gal into an assertive woman risking her life to save Kong.

Ann and Kong’s rapport is central to this show’s success and director, Daniel Kramer, effectively shapes their connection into a genuinely poignant, heartfelt and credible relationship.

Hannaford’s versatile voice is pretty and warm singing the mellow, memorable Full Moon Lullaby to soothe the injured Kong, and the sweet, striking ballad, What’s It Gonna Take, but she is hilariously feisty leading the sassy chorus of Hollywood babes in Special FX.

Chris Ryan is an ideal foil for Hannaford as Jack Driscoll, the dashing sailor who romances her in the nostalgic, Fred and Ginger-style Fox Trot, and his pure tenor has passion and trepidation singing In the Face of Forever, about Jack’s fear of falling.

 Photo by Joe Calleri

Adam Lyon is bold and funny as rapacious Hollywood director, Carl Denham, and his voice is impressive in the rock anthem, Colossus.

Queenie Van De Zandt is thrilling singing Rise, a soaring tune that charts Kong’s climb up the Empire State.

The many elaborate chorus numbers (choreography, John O’Connell; acrobatics, Gavin Robins) including Hunting Season, a Busby Berkeley routine, are vibrant and entertaining.

However, songs must advance story and illuminate characters and, although Marius De Vries’ compositions are rousing and diverse, and individual songs by contemporary artists have a distinctive flavour, the repertoire lacks a consistent voice and unified vision.

The story (Craig Lucas) gallops at a giddy pace for 45 minutes until Kong appears, with one huge chorus scene chasing another, and lacklustre dialogue does not enhance characters and relationships.

The bold, modern design (Peter England), complex laser lighting (Peter Mumford) and projections (Frieder Weiss) create an intricate landscape but, with so much stage action and overwhelming visual stimulus, some scenes are overwrought, busy and dizzying.

While the production is a triumph of state-of-the-art technology, only time and public reaction will determine whether King Kong the musical can achieve the cult status of the classic 1933 movie upon which it is based.

By Kate Herbert

 Photo by Joe Calleri

Jesus Christ Superstar Arena Spectacular, June 14, 2013 *****

Jesus Christ Superstar Arena Spectacular, Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lyrics by Tim Rice
Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne, June 14, 15, 16, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 14
Stars: *****
Full review also published in Herald Sun online on Saturday June 15 and in print in Arts section on Sunday June 16. KH

Laurence Connor's inspired UK Arena production of Jesus Christ Superstar catapults the story of Jesus into the 21st century with the momentum and urgency of a youthful, political revolution.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ground-breaking, 1970s rock opera now includes tweets, graffiti, live video, and an exuberant chorus of dread-locked ferals as Jesus' followers.

Ben Forster's Jesus is an unsophisticated, intensely human idealist who fights a losing battle amongst corrupt politicians, religious leaders, manic cult followers, despairing youth and a ravenous media circus.

Forster's versatile voice is thrilling and impassioned singing the rock anthem, Gethsemane, but he is equally compelling singing ballads with warmth and subtlety.

The final Crucifixion is remarkable and moving with Forster stripped, beaten and bleeding, then hoisted high on a metal grid while Judas leads a frenzied chorus celebrating Jesus’ death.

Tim Minchin’s voice and performance are impeccable and his Judas is charismatic, sympathetic and strangely alluring, considering the much-maligned Judas betrays Jesus to the Pharisees.

His rendition of Superstar is bold and fervent, and the scene of Judas’s Death is the most poignant moment in the production.

Ex-Spice Girl, Melanie Chisholm (Mel C), is affecting as the hapless Mary Magdalene singing I Don’t Know How to Love Him.

Jon Stevens is a seductive Pontius Pilate, and the exceptional power of his gravelly, rock voice singing Trial Before Pilate exposes Pilate as a weak, political animal easily swayed by public opinion.

Leon Craig (Replacing the injured Andrew O’Keefe) is a riot playing King Herod as a grinning, glitzy TV host who whips the crowd into a frenzy then declares Jesus a fraud after a TV poll.

Playing the manipulative Caiaphas and his obsequious sidekick, Annas, Cavin Cornwell and Gerard Bentall sing Bloody Money with contemptuous glee.

On a stage design that includes imposing stone steps and projections of government and derelict buildings, songs such as What’s The Buzz, Hosanna, The Temple and Superstar assume contemporary significance and have resonances of the 2009 London riots and other rebellions.

Lloyd Webber’s music is dynamic, vibrant and eclectic in style and, with Time Rice’s cunning lyrics, the songs advance the narrative and illuminate the characters as only great music theatre can do. Kudos to the two creators.

Connor’s production is cohesive and coherent, miraculously translating Superstar into a dangerous, passionate world of social upheaval, corruption, personal betrayal and potent rage.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 13 June 2013

Solomon and Marion, MTC, June 12, 2013 ****

By Lara Foot, Melbourne Theatre Company
Fairfax Studio, Melbourne Arts Centre, June 12 to July 20, 2013

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 12
Stars: **** 

Review published in Herald Sun online on June 13, 2013 and possibly after that in print. KH
 Gillian Jones (Marion) and Pacharo Mzembe (Solomon)

Although Lara Foot’s play, Solomon and Marion, deals with grief, fear and violence in post-Apartheid South Africa, the unlikely relationship between its two characters from contrasting worlds feels surprisingly gentle and intimate.

Gillian Jones is beautifully restrained and credible as the brusque Marion, an ageing, ailing, white, Anglo-South African who is crippled by the loss of her son and, despite the escalating violence around her, refuses to leave her home in a small village.

When Solomon (Pacharo Mzembe), a shy, young, black man arrives unannounced in her home, she fears that his motive is racial violence, but he insists that his grandmother sent him to care for Marion.

Mzembe is genuinely compelling as Solomon, shifting from nervous, watchful youthfulness on his arrival, to a growing confidence and certainty that his vocation is to care for Marion.

Jones cleverly imbues Marion with a brittleness and fragility that belies her feisty, combative nature in her exchanges with Solomon.

Foot’s script evolves from fear and alienation between the pair, into warmth, honesty and forgiveness, and it does so with wit as well as painful exchanges and revelations.

Foot uses Marion’s letter writing to her daughter in Australia to elaborate on Marion’s emotional and psychological state, her growing attachment to Solomon’s presence and the details of her past.

But it is Solomon who reveals the real horror of the story of her son’s death, and it is at this point that the play collides with the real story of two young men who were murdered in South Africa in 2006.

Director, Pamela Rabe, subtly builds the tension between the pair, keeping them separated and contained but also connected as if by an elastic cord at their core, until these two lonely people relax, finding ease, comfort and support in each other and, finally, forgiveness.

The fractured world of contemporary South Africa outside their walls is reflected in Richard Roberts’ imaginative, pale, sand-filled design that tilts the floor and the scruffy furniture at odd angles.

Solomon and Marion is an intensely human play that focuses on one relationship that challenges our view of tolerance, compassion and surviving violence and grief.

By Kate Herbert

Cast Gillian Jones (Marion) and Pacharo Mzembe (Solomon)
Director Pamela Rabe; 
Set and Costume Designer Richard Roberts;
Lighting Designer Rachel Burke; 
Composer/Sound Designer David Bridie

Friday 7 June 2013

Palace of the End, June 6, 2013 ****

Three monologues:My Pyramids; Harrowdown Hill; Instruments of Yearning
By Judith Thompson
Production by Daniel Clarke in association with Theatre Works 
Theatre Works, June 6 to 16, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 6
Stars: ****
This review is published in Herald Sun on line on Fri June 7.

Judith Thompson’s play, Palace of the End, is emotionally confronting and, in the claustrophobic, dimly lit space, surrounded by gossamer thin, black drapes, we experience a hint of the entrapment of torture victims and witness the tragic impact of the inhumanity of war and its moral ambiguities.

Three powerful and convincing monologues present three diverse experiences and views of the various conflicts visited upon the Iraqi people, and the abuses and devastation caused by both Saddam’s regime and the US and UK forces.

The actors address the audience directly and Daniel Clarke’s production does not embellish the monologues, but allows Thompson’s vivid language, sometimes brutal imagery and grim stories – each with fleeting glimpses of humour – to speak for themselves.

The first monologue, My Pyramids, delivered by a genuinely dislikeable character known only as A Soldier (Hannah Norris), depicts Lynndie England, the US soldier convicted of the abuse and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, justifying her reprehensible actions.

Norris, portraying a frenetic, dim-witted, redneck ranting about her mistreatment by media and a battery of online hate messages, shows her to be deluded (she compares herself to Joan of Arc), conceited and cruel, with a frightening moral certainty based on twisted patriotism.

A more sympathetic character is David Kelly (Robert Meldrum), the British weapons expert who died after he was exposed as the unnamed source of a journalist’s revelation that dossiers on the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction were fabricated to justify the Iraq invasion.  

In this monologue called Harrowdown Hill, Meldrum’s performance is measured, restrained and intimate, evolving from reportage into emotional declarations as Kelly reveals his guilt, self-loathing and rage at the horrors and injustices visited upon his friends in Baghdad.

Instruments of Yearning, the final piece, is a compelling depiction, by Eugenia Fragos, of Nehrjas Al Saffarh, an Iraqi dissident who survived torture by Saddam’s B’athists in the Palace of the End four decades ago, but died in a US bombing raid in 1991.

Fragos is impassioned and dignified as Al Saffarh, peeling back layers of horror as she tells her tale of torture, loss and defiance.

Palace of the End will challenge you with its poignant, horrific or visceral details of abusers and abused in wartime, leaving you feeling both provoked and moved by its characters and themes.

By Kate Herbert

Saturday 1 June 2013

The Lover, May 30, 2013 ****

Translated and Adapted from Marguerite Duras' novel by Colin Duckworth
Trades Hall, New Ballroom, May 30 to June 16, 2013 (opening May 31)
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 1 
Stars: ****

Review published on line on Tues June 4 in Herald Sun and probably later in print. KH
 Kate Kendall in The Lover

Alone on stage in The Lover, the charismatic Kate Kendall seems to be surrounded by a faint glow, a pale luminescence that gives her the magical aura of a glamorous, 1930s movie star.

In Colin Duckworth’s theatrical adaptation of Marguerite Duras’ erotic novel, Kendall self-narrates the tale of a poor, 14 year-old French girl who is seduced by, and falls in love with, a wealthy, young, Chinese man in French colonial Saigon during 1929.

Greg Carroll’s production is intimate, claustrophobic and atmospheric, with Kendall confined within the rich, red, velvet-lined walls of a small, French salon (design by Peter Corrigan) that conjures images of an opulent brothel gone to seed.

Perched on an oriental chaise and dressed in cool, cream slacks and shirt, a broad, striped bandanna and a rope of pearls, Kendall looks the epitome of mid-20th century, Parisian success... continues

 Full review will appear here after publication on line or in print in Herald Sun. KH
Starring Kate Kendall
Directed by Greg Carroll
Set and Costume Design by Peter Corrigan
Underscore by Greg Carroll with
Music by Carl Vine, Brian Eno, Piazziolla and Toru Takemitsu