Monday 28 March 2016

Tripod in 101 Hits, March 27, 2016 ****

Melbourne International Comedy Festival
The Famous Spiegeltent, Arts Centre Melbourne, until April 17, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert  
Stars: ****
Review also online at Herald Sun Comedy Festival. KH

The spin of a bingo ball dictates their repertoire but you’ll still hear the thrilling, three-part harmonies and loony lyrics that characterise Tripod’s musical stylings.

The Tripod trio (Scod, Gatesy and Yonny) spin a bingo ball cage that spits out a numbered ball and they must then perform the corresponding tune from their songbook that is titled 101 Hits.

According to Tripod, the term ‘Hits’ applies only loosely to their original, quirky but not necessarily world-famous songs.

This show may be less structured than Tripod’s usually tight program, but it is exhilarating for both audience and performers to nervously anticipate what comes next and whether the trio will remember the lyrics or even the guitar chords.

The jam-packed crowd of die-hard Tripod fans at the Spiegeltent hears an eclectic program ranging in style from lilting ballads to up-tempo tunes, jazz, rock and country numbers.

Tripod’s songs startle and titillate the audience as they tilt seemingly predictable tunes on their heads with mischievous lyrics and bizarre narrative twists.

They start with number 12, Bubble Helicopter, the lyrics of which Yonny can niftily alter to include Traitor Jim or any other character, it seems.

Thank You, The Wheel, Number 99, is a clever jab at the technological advances that changed our lives – to allow us to watch countless, stupid YouTube videos.

Ode To An Alarm Clock is a cute, country music tune that the lads wrote in an hour for a radio show, while The Blueprint is a wicked ballad that takes the mickey out of hipster couples, their matching designer kids and rabid self-interest.

A short and hilarious highlight is the upbeat Fear of Shorts, a song to warm the cockles of any man who just won’t wear shorts and fears showing his legs in public, even if his girlfriend says he looks fine.

The guys sing plenty more Tripod toons but their audience request, Ghost Ship, was a splendid finale to a really entertaining night with Scod, Gatesy and Yonny who are now Melbourne institutions at the Comedy Festival.

By Kate Herbert

Sunday 27 March 2016

The Umbilical Brothers in Speedmouse, March 27, 2016 ****

Melbourne International Comedy Festival
The Umbilical Brothers in Speedmouse
Athenaeum Theatre, Collins St., until April 17 (28 Mar & 4, 11, 15, 16, 17 April)
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ****
Review also in Herald Sun Com Fest reviews online on Sun March 27, 2016. KH

The Roadie in Speedmouse

Who knows why mime gets such a bad rap in comedy circles but The Umbilical Brothers (David Collins, Shane Dundas) blend it with vocalised, environmental sound effects to create physical comedy that inspires the imagination of young and old.

In Speedmouse, Dave and Shane perform a parade of unrelated sketches loosely linked by ridiculous transitions that are triggered by a remote control that someone in the crowd is using to manipulate their behaviour.

They warn us that the remote has functions that include the usual fast-forward, pause, slo-mo and rewind, but also additional, absurd buttons for insinuation, argument and porno. Look out Dave and Shane!

Using their physical and visual comedy talents, The Umbis dexterously create the illusion of solid objects, exotic locations and quirky characters.

The two transform into creaking, raptor dinosaurs, do a waggish audience Q and A with Schwarzenegger and then whisk an invisible, 4 year old volunteer on stage then into the air in a mime balloon.

They float under water or wander through a mime doorway into a windy alien environment and we witness Dave as Olympic all-rounder, Trevor Spartacus, who screws up his javelin toss, hammer-throw and shot put alike.

Dave drags his microphone all over his body and we simultaneously hear the amplified gurgling and babbling noises of his gut, heart and finally, the weird creatures inhabiting his head.

Shane, who is on a microphone off stage, provides all these synchronised, vocalised sound effects.

They are joined on stage by the Roadie, a sinister, silent and enormous clown, and by the off-stage voice of Tina, their bass baritone stage manager.

The Roadie is a comic highlight as he torments Dave on and off stage, switching off Dave’s microphone and refusing to do his bidding to carry heavy mime objects on and off stage.

The Umbis have toured to 37 countries with Speedmouse and this mischievous pair continues to titillate family audiences as they conjure objects out of thin air.
By Kate Herbert

Justin Hamilton in Hoot, March 26, 2016 ***

Melbourne International Comedy Festival
Cloak Room, Melbourne Town Hall, until Sat April 16 (Saturdays only)
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
 Review also in Herald Sun Com Fest review page on Sun March 27, 2016. KH
Justin Hamilton

Justin Hamilton is a rambling philosopher comedian and inveterate navel-gazer who muses on his own shortcomings and obsessions in his show, Hoot.

There are some hoots in Hoot, although the title refers less to laughter and more to Hamilton’s childhood memory about... No spoilers.

Hamilton’s stage persona and style of comic delivery shift at will from cheerfully chirpy to brusque, from vulnerable and insecure to abrasively smug and a bit too pleased with himself.

His move from Melbourne to Sydney is a key topic, as is his personal struggle with mild, floating depression that interferes with his life by keeping him trapped inside his own head.

If this all sounds too dark, remember that comedy often emerges from adversity or intimate revelations and Hamilton uses both.

After having a go at the familiar topics of exorbitant rents in Sydney, breakfast shows and the pervasive virus that is reality television, Hamilton tears a few strips off Warney and his new-found status on a celebrity TV show and his kids’ charity.

Cue groans and claps from the audience.

A large chunk of Hamilton’s comic material is devoted to people’s obsession with that other contagious virus called social media.

A big hit with the crowd is his rapid-fire routine that tracks one idiot’s sleepless, 24-hour social media cycle as he (Is it Hamilton?) tweets, likes, posts, rants and trolls his way through a day with no real social contact except buying his lunch - then photographing it.

Hamilton’s very cool, funny and youthful mum’s antics are a recurring topic while he also gets laughs from stories about his unconscious jaywalking, computer rage and booking Uber cars.

But Hamilton’s longest and most serious musings are about a lifelong devotion, from a distance and up close, to his musical hero, David Bowie and this final material is a moving, albeit not necessarily funny tribute to Bowie and his legacy.

Although his comic material and show structure need tightening, Hamilton’s passion for Bowie is perhaps his most attractive trait and shows this philosopher-comic in the most positive light.

By Kate Herbert

Wil Anderson in Fire at Wil, March 25, 2016 ****1/2

Melbourne International Comedy Festival
Comedy Theatre, until April 17, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ****1/2 
Review also in Herald Sun Comedy Festival web page today, Sat March 26, 2016. KH

It must be exhausting inside Wil Anderson’s head during his new show, Fire at Wil, in which he delivers a barrage of gags at the firing rate of an AK47.

Anderson’s head visibly vibrates with barely contained energy as he hurtles through 70 minutes of cunningly written comedy that illuminates current political and social issues with his inimitable wit and intelligence.

His gags target lefty hipsters and stuffy conservatives alike, but he begins with his lament over losing masses of great, topical comedy when Tony Abbott, that goldmine of comic material (onion-eating – say no more), lost the Prime Ministership to Malcolm Turnbull in 2015.

Despite Turnbull not doing any ridiculous stuff – in public, at least – Anderson still gets heaps of comic mileage out of him, starting with Turnbull’s memorable quote, ‘There’s never been a more exciting time to be alive’, an epithet Anderson reiterates throughout the show.

With exceptional comic skill, warmth and audience engagement (or is it clever crowd manipulation?), Anderson challenges the preconceptions and political views of his audience, tempering his jibes and criticisms with non sequiturs and absurd links to giraffes giving birth.

He reminds us of our love of the Long Weekend while challenging our views on Australia Day and the First Fleet or pointing out the common ground between Republicans and Monarchists in this country.

‘We (humans) work together’, he repeats, taking the crowd with him as he confronts us with issues about refugees and boat arrivals, rampant and irrational racism, the ill- treatment of Adam Goodes by football fans and a few sideswipes at Pauline Hanson, Andrew Bolt and Cory Bernardi.

Anderson generates belly laughs and giggles while craftily taking the crowd with him on a carefully structured journey to some glimmer of awareness of the spectrum of views on crucial social issues.

He zips between topics ranging from Halal food to David Jones and terrorism, then to lunatics ranting on Twitter and a rave about toasters.

Anderson keeps the audience on side with cunning twists and turns, reincorporation and gentle ribbing, social commentary and discreet targeting of individuals and issues.

Fire At Wil is an evening of huge laughs from a consummate comic talent with a social conscience – if you can keep up with his Eveready Bunny pace.

By Kate Herbert


Saturday 26 March 2016

Velvet, March 24, 2016 ****

Created by Craig Ilott
Presented by Organised Pandemonium, Melbourne Comedy Festival
Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, until April 17, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review also on Herald Sun Arts web page, Fri March 25, 2016.   KH

 Marcia Hines in Velvet
Hearing sultry Marcia Hines singing 1970s Disco hits sounds good enough but the addition of startling circus feats transforms Velvet from concert to cabaret spectacle.

The show, directed by Craig Ilott with musical direction by Joe Accaria, features a series of musical, dance and circus acts threaded together by a slim narrative.

A geeky bloke (Brendan Maclean) stumbles into a disco nightclub – loosely based on the hedonistic Studio 54 in New York – where he is confronted by a seductive world of glittering lamé, mirror balls and mildly transgressive behaviour.

Hines is commanding, elegant and voluptuous when she appears about 30 minutes into the show singing Never Knew Love Like This Before when her warm, honeyed tones, impeccable vocal control and bright timbre send the audience into paroxysms of disco delight.

She follows the crowd favourite, Craig Reid’s audacious, hilariously cheeky and camp hula hoop routine in which he wears tummy-hugging pink and yellow lamé and whirls hoops around his plump, sassy body to disco hit, Shake Your Groove Thing. He looks like a human slinky!

Hines reappears to deliver consummate versions of You, Enough Is Enough, It’s Raining Men, Last Dance and other hits.

Maclean’s versatile voice complements Hines well in their duets and he engages the audience with his passionate singing of If You Could Read My Mind, Thinking of You and a poignant, solo version of Stayin’ Alive on ukulele.

Marcia Hines & Brendan Maclean in Velvet
Accaria’s disco mixing and drumming are highlights and the singing chanteuses, Chaska Halliday and Rechelle Mansour, are vivacious and accomplished singer-dancers.

Mirko Köckenberger uses a cunningly new context for a handstand act, depicting a bellboy balancing on suitcases while he strips to disco hit, Le Freak.

Emma Goh’s aerial acts are sensual, graceful dances in the air while Stephen Williams, with his chiselled musculature, defies gravity and human limitations on aerial straps.

Overlaying a narrative onto circus/cabaret shows is always a fraught business and, in the production, the narrative, its related scene transitions and Maclean’s geeky character with his awkward physicality and ham acting are weaknesses.

The S and M club scene attempts to look raunchy but ends up a cheesy parody of bondage while Maclean’s character emerges in feathers and lamé like an escapee from Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

Ultimately, Velvet is an exhilarating cabaret show that will titillate some and entertain all.

By Kate Herbert
  Marcia Hines & Cast in Velvet
Director Craig Ilott
Musical director /mix master Joe Accaria
Marcia Hines
Brendan Maclean
Stephen Williams
Craig Reid
 Mirko Köckenberger
Chaska Halliday and Rechelle Mansour

Friday 25 March 2016

Comedy Festival reviews upcoming

Here are the shows I am currently booked to review in Comedy Festival:

Velvet, Cabaret/Circus featuring Marcia Hines, March 24. (Review to hit blog and H-Sun Comedy Fest review site today.)
Wil Anderson, Thurs March 25 (Review running March 26)
Justin Hamilton Hoot, Sat March 26 (Review running March 27)
Umbilical Brothers, Sat March 26 (Review running March 27)
Tripod 101 Hits, Sun March 27 (Review running April 1)
Ongals, Wed April 6 (Review running April 7.)  
Twins - Rhonda Burchmore & Trevor Ashley, Fri April 8 (Review running April 1) 

I may also do:
Putnam County Spelling Bee, Thurs March 31. 

Friday 18 March 2016

Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical, March 17, 2016 ****

Book by Dennis Kelly, Music & Lyrics by Tim Minchin
Based on Roald Dahl’s book
Produced by Royal Shakespeare Company & Louise Withers, Michael Coppel & Michael Watt
Princess Theatre, Melbourne, until July 31, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ****
This review also online at Herald Sun Arts on Thur March 17 & in print on Fri March 18, 2016. KH

Matilda The Musical bounds onto the stage in Melbourne in a flurry of books, bullies, battleaxes and boofheads.

Featuring Tim Minchin’s cunning music and lyrics and Dennis Kelly’s book, the musical is based on Roald Dahl’s 1988 children’s novel about five year-old Matilda Wormwood (Ingrid Torelli), a child prodigy with an alarming intellect and a remarkable interest in reading classic novels.

Matilda’s crude, neglectful and stupid parents (Marika Aubrey, Daniel Frederiksen) loath her braininess and send her to be tamed at the hellish Crunchem Hall, a Dickensian school run by the thuggish Miss Trunchbull (James Millar) who believes all children are maggots and are guilty of – well, everything.

Minchin’s ingenious, witty lyrics illuminate characters and nimbly advance the narrative while his tunes include chants, anthems, big choruses and forlorn ballads.

Two standout songs are Miracle (My Mummy Says I’m A...), the rollicking opening chorus, and Revolting Children, a boisterous, hilarious routine in which the children join forces and rebel.

The School Song is also enhanced by Peter Darling’s audacious choreography and Matthew Warchus’ direction, with kids clambering acrobatically over a prison-like iron gate.

Matilda’s obsession with books is embodied in Rob Howell’s eye-catching design comprising enormous bookshelves and giant building blocks decorated with letters and musical notes.

Ingrid Torelli is a wonderfully precocious sweety-pie as Matilda, and she effectively captures the poker-faced restraint of this neglected, unloved girl who is determined to be a champion of books, justice and honesty.
 Ingrid Torelli as Matilda

Friday 11 March 2016

The Distance, March 10, 2016 ***


Written by Deborah Bruce, by Melbourne Theatre Company
The Sumner, Southbank Theatre, until April 9, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on March 10, 2016
Stars ***

Review also published online in Herald Sun on Fri March 11, 2016 and in print thereafter. KH

 Nadine Garner, Susan Prior, Katrina Milosevic- photo Jeff Busby
The MTC production of The Distance almost didn’t make the distance on opening night when a technical problem plunged the stage into darkness only 15 minutes after the show started.

In the shadows, the adroit and audacious cast, while maintaining their characters and near-faultless UK accents, quipped about blackouts and, ‘Should we start from the beginning?’ until a disembodied voice announced the hitch was fixed.

It seemed appropriate in a play in which the characters’ lives and loves are riddled with hitches, the central catastrophe being Bea’s (Susan Prior) sudden return to England from Australia where she has abandoned her husband, Simon (Martin Blum), and her two boys under five.

The Distance, by UK playwright Deborah Bruce, challenges the assumption that all women take naturally to mothering and Bea’s closest friends – bossy, new mother, Kate (Nadine Garner), and single mum, Alex (Katrina Milosevic) – will not accept Bea’s decision.

The performances are accomplished, despite the limitations in Bruce’s writing and Leticia Cáceres’ direction.

The domineering Kate, rather than the more obvious Bea, becomes the pivotal character and Garner’s dynamic energy makes this bullying, judgmental, incessant talker more sympathetic than could be expected of an initially dislikeable character.
  Nadine Garner, Susan Prior, Katrina Milosevic- photo Jeff Busby

Tuesday 8 March 2016

Lugares, (Places) Impro Melbourne, Feb 28 2016 ***1/2

At Club Voltaire, 14 Raglan St, North Melbourne 
Sundays at 7:30pm, Feb 28th to March 20, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sun Feb 28
Stars: 3&1/2

 Jenny Lovell & Amy Moule - Grotesquely grinning, giant, moulded plastic Santa’s head 

I saw Lugares on its first night and had a hoot.

This improvisational format takes a story from an audience member then expands, illuminates, elaborates and improvises it into a one hour show that wanders to all kinds of places.

 On opening night, the audient told a childhood tale about spending time in her dad's garage where she and her friends lay down in an old, wooden trailer, tipped it back and pretended they had gone to parts unknown in space.

What followed was a series of episodic scenes, songs, monologues that ranged from the wildly entertaining to the gently amusing.

A highlight was the ensemble’s depiction of the grotesquely grinning, giant, moulded plastic Santa’s head (Jenny Lovell) that becomes grafted onto a dad’s head (Rik Brown) at Christmas. 

A dramatic, final monologue (Patti Stiles) paid tribute to dads who have passed away; it made even the cynical teary.

Performed by members of Impro Melbourne, the show will be a different kind of hoot each week, so get along.

Media Release:
'Lugares (Places) is directed by Patti Stiles (International Theatresports™ Institute and Impro Melbourne’s co-Artistic Director) and features members of the Impro Melbourne Ensemble and very special weekly guests. The Spanish translation of ‘places’, Lugares is the result of collaboration at the Wurzburg International Improvisation Festival in Germany between Patti Stiles, Felipe Ortiz, Michael Kennard and Jim Libby and the show was further developed in Bogota, Colombia. Impro Melbourne is proud to debut this show in Australia.' 

Tickets: $15 full | $10 conc. online and $20 full | $15 conc. at the door

Monday 7 March 2016

Violet, March 5, 2016 ****


Music by Jeanine Tesori, book and lyrics by Brian Crawley, based on The Ugliest Pilgrim by
Doris Betts, by Blue Saint Productions
Chapel off Chapel, until March 20, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ****

Samantha Dodemaide & cast. Photographer: Ben Fon

It is 1964 and an American televangelist and sham faith healer dupes a naive, young woman into believing that he can heal her horribly scarred face.

From the age of 15, the titular Violet (Samantha Dodemaide) suffers not only the facial disfigurement caused by an axe blade but also the accompanying bullying and ridicule of people in her small and bigoted North Carolina town.

In this spirited musical, the unsophisticated Violet embarks on a road trip to the Oklahoma chapel – really a TV studio – of the television Preacher (Jordan Pollard), seeking healing, a new face and a new sense of identity.

The talented ensemble, under Mitchell Butel’s assured and witty direction with playful choreography by Amy Campbell and evocative design (set by Simon Greer, lighting by Ross Graham), captures both the absurdity and tragedy of Violet’s quest.

The tight, six-piece band under Martine Wengrow’s accomplished musical direction, delivers a musical feast (music by Jeanine Tesori) that ranges from bluegrass and country tunes to gospel and soul numbers.

Dodemaide embodies Violet’s fragility and her feistiness and, through her impassioned performance, makes us ‘see’ Violet’s scarred face although the actor displays no actual facial disfigurement.

In Brian Crawley’s libretto (based on The Ugliest Pilgrim by Doris Betts), Violet is the pivot of the narrative and Dodemaide sings the role with commitment, passion and pain.

As Young Violet, Luisa Scrofani brings another layer to Violet’s character, providing both her childhood backstory and vocal harmonies.

Friday 4 March 2016

Picnic At Hanging Rock, March 2, 2016 ***

Adapted by Tom Wright from Joan Lindsay’s novel, by Malthouse Theatre
Merlin Theatre, Malthouse, March 2 until March 20, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
 This review is also online at Herald Sun Arts and in print on Fri March 4, 2016

This stage adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s compelling 1967 novel, Picnic At Hanging Rock, initially captures the enigmatic quality of the story that became part of Australian mythology after Peter Weir’s 1975 film version.

On a hot, St. Valentine’s Day in 1900, four schoolgirls and their mathematics mistress visit Hanging Rock for a picnic but only one hysterical girl returns after the others vanish while climbing the harsh, craggy rock.

In Tom Wright’s script directed by Matthew Lutton, five schoolgirls narrate this unfathomable tale in Lindsay’s evocative, impeccably crafted prose and conjure a parade of characters from the school and neighbouring town.

The five actors inhabit multiple characters, a device that heightens the sense of mystery and alienation and accentuates the illusive nature of Miranda, the fair-haired, ethereal beauty who leads the expedition up the Rock and whose name echoes hauntingly in our memory of the movie.

On a bare stage made even starker by Paul Jackson’s lighting, Lutton does not attempt to depict the Rock itself but paints with words locations such as the prim, English-style boarding school and the savage Australian landscape.

At the start, the performers address the audience directly but, as the baffling disappearance unfolds, they transform into various characters.

These include the preposterously haughty headmistress, Mrs. Appleyard (Elizabeth Nabben), Michael, an Englishman enamoured of Miranda (Amber McMahon), Sara (Arielle Gray), Miranda’s acolyte who missed the picnic, Albert (Harriet Gordon-Anderson), the earthy local boy, and Irma (Nikki Shiels), the dizzy heiress found unconscious on the Rock.

Taxithi – An Australian Odyssey, March 3, 2016 ***

By Helen Yotis Patterson
At fortyfivedownstairs, March 3 to 20, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Full review also online at Herald Sun Arts today and in print later. KH
 Maria Mercedes
Floods of hopeful Greek women of all ages migrated to Australia in the 1950s and 60s and Taxithi – An Australian Odyssey weaves their personal stories among the spirited songs of their distant homeland.

Writer, Helen Yotis Patterson, collected tales told by her Yiayias (grandmothers) and other Greek immigrant women whose intimate stories were previously untold or unrecorded.

Joining the warm and ebullient Yotis Patterson on stage to illuminate the lives and music of these myriad women are the inimitable Maria Mercedes and newcomer, Artemis Ioannides, all three of whom celebrate their own Greek heritage.

The narratives include those of angry exiles, unwilling proxy brides, knowing mothers, abused wives, hopeful girls, educated or unschooled women and deprived immigrants seeking the promised ‘streets paved with gold’ in Australia.

The performers, directed by Petra Kalive who shares their Greek background, deliver stories, inhabit characters and perform songs with sincerity, commitment and skill.

Yotis Patterson has a rich, bold vocal tone and feisty but motherly persona, Mercedes brings dignity, elegance and a subtle, emotional vocal delivery while Ioannides performs with youthful energy and a light-footed physicality.