Friday 23 June 2017

Blanc de Blanc, June 22, 2017 ****

By Strut and Fret Production House 
At Aurora Spiegeltent, at Map 57, St Kilda’s Winter Garden, until July 30, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Friday June 23, 2017, and later in print. KH

 Monsieur Romeo & cast in Blanc de Blanc
If your tastes lean toward saucy innuendo, bawdy burlesque and spectacular, aerial circus artistry, then Blanc de Blanc will be just the ticket for you.

The show is a mischievous evening of salacious cabaret conceived and directed by Scott Maidment with vivacious choreography by Kevin Maher and an upbeat and energetic selection of music (Steve Toulmin).

Debonair Frenchman, Monsieur Romeo, is the Maitre d’ and slick host of this champagne-themed evening that effervesces with 1930s glamour combined with modern chic and plenty of bubbles, both in the champagne flutes and floating in the air above the audience.

Between the main acts are slickly choreographed and titillating burlesque dance routines, most of which are warmly sensual with revealing and eye-popping costumes (James Browne), but some are blatantly lewd, rude and nude.
Hampus Jansson and Milena Straczynski
Several remarkable circus routines leave the crowd gasping open-mouthed, the most heart-stoppingly impressive being an aerial straps duo by real-life couple, Hampus Jansson and Milena Straczynski, who combine strength and grace with sensuality and romance – while spinning above a spa bath.
Cheeky and feisty Masha Teretieva, formerly of Cirque du Soleil, performs an innovative aerial act on an old-fashioned, hotel luggage trolley, swinging and spinning on its metal frame as it flies overhead, and she later wows us with her hula-hoop routine.
 Masha Teretieva
In an inventive clown act, J’aiMime performs a quirky seduction on herself, playing both the vamp in the sequinned gown and her mysterious seducer in a trench coat and hat.

Spencer Novich, an eccentric, scrawny and charming clown, reappears frequently to disturb the equilibrium of the poseur, Romeo, and his whimsical sound effects clown routine is both clever and hilarious.

The show could run straight through without a break to avoid losing impetus after interval, but Blanc de Blanc is sassy, skilful and funny and, if you like sexy and naughty, it’s right up your street.

By Kate Herbert 

Thursday 22 June 2017

Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. June 21, 2017 ***

By Alice Birch, by Malthouse Theatre 
At Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, until July 19, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert  on June 21, 2017

 Review also published in Herald Sun online on Thurs 22 June, 2017 and later in print. KH
 Elizabeth Esguerra, Belinda McClory, Ming-Zhu Hii_photo Pia Johnson

The feminists of the 1960s and 1970s attempted to revolutionise the world but some may question whether the 21st century is a better time for women.

In her play Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. British playwright, Alice Birch, rants furiously about breaking the rules and the roles and the language that govern the modern woman.

Birch’s angry rant is like unedited ‘word vomit’ that is spewed upon the page and the stage in a frenetic, often funny and sometimes melancholy series of scenes and snapshots of women revolting – or is that revolting women?

Birch states that the play itself should not be well-behaved and director, Janice Muller, takes her advice, hurling her cast of five into a feverish, intentionally messy and often confusing sort of stage hurricane.

Language is dissected, tortured, misinterpreted, misused and abused in satirical and scathing attacks on sex, the workplace, marriage, reproduction, family, violence and a flood of other issues.

Each of the first five scenes appears in a box-like space that looks like a cheap, motel room on wheels, and each scene illustrates a pithy slogan that is projected overhead.

The first scene, ‘Revolutionise the language. (Invert it.)’, a dialogue between a man and a woman (Gareth Reeves, Sophie Ross), challenges the language of sex and the dominance of the male.

In the scene titled ‘Revolutionise the work. (Engage with it.)’, a young woman (Elizabeth Esguerra) declares that she won’t work on Mondays anymore, while her bamboozled boss (Belinda McClory) scrambles to offer increasingly bizarre solutions.

‘Revolutionise the body. (Make it sexually available. Constantly.)’, depicts a woman (Ross) who lies down in a supermarket and pulls her dress over her head, but even more alarming is her desperate and distressing monologue that reveals her struggle to rationalise her own ‘sexual availability’.

The most poignant and affecting scene is McClory’s anguished outpouring of grief and confusion as a woman who cannot communicate with her daughter (Esguerra) or her own mother (Ming-Zhu Hii).
 Belinda McClory, photo Pia Johnson
This production is an assault on language, on the senses, on the rules that govern our behaviour, but its message remains unfocussed, perhaps in the same way that 21st century feminism is unfocussed and the rules for women remain blurred.

The final scenes are chaotic, almost hysterical, as the cast rushes around the space shouting slogans, throwing weird costumes on and off, questioning behavioural rules and telling us that words fail when there is no ensuing action.

With its feverish pace and crackpot attack on language, this play is oddly entertaining but its message is as fractured as its style and content.

By Kate Herbert
 Ming-Zhu Hii, Belinda McClory, Sophie Ross -photo Pia Johnson_

Wednesday 21 June 2017

Melbourne Cabaret Festival Gala, June 20, 2017 ****

Melbourne Cabaret Festival Gala 
At Chapel off Chapel on Tues June 20 only. Festival runs until July 2, 2017.
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review also published in Herald Sun online on Wed June 21, 2017 and later in print. See end of review for info about festival. KH
Dolly Diamond
The Melbourne Cabaret Festival Gala provides a taster plate of shows featured in the festival, so it is the ideal way to find a cabaret show to suit your entertainment desires.

Cabaret diva, Dolly Diamond, not only hosts the Gala and has her own show called The Lady is a Tramp, but she is also Artistic Director of the festival.

Dolly wears a figure-hugging, black gown and, with her wry and saucy repartee, introduces a parade of seven diverse and classy acts.

In an excerpt from her show, You’re My World – The Story of Cilla Black, Danielle O'Malley channels the rich voice and self-deprecating humour of Liverpool’s own 1960s pop icon, Cilla Black, singing Step Inside Love, Anyone Who Had A Heart and You're My World.

Australia’s Boys of Motown (Vincent Hooper, Richard Swanson, Barnaby Reiter) are a highlight, with snappy, 60s choreography and tight, three-part harmonies as they perform Get Ready (The Temptations) and a medley of songs by Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, featuring Hooper’s crystal-clear falsetto.

Reviving the brassy stylings of mid-20th century, Broadway star, Ethel Merman, Jon Jackson’s bold voice belts out Everything’s Coming Up Roses (from Gypsy), and a medley of musical theatre tunes by Cole Porter and Irving Berlin.

Pisca (Cameron Taylor) is a mesmerising and accomplished performer who almost defies description with his bird-like posture, white-feathered costume and quirky, physical clowning interspersed with eccentric singing, including an idiosyncratic version of Fly Me To The Moon.
Ginger and Tonic is a funny, a cappella quartet of sassy gals (Laura Burzacott, Rebecca Moore, Jane Patterson, Danielle O'Malley) who sing a clever, unaccompanied version of Eye of the Tiger before launching into two original, satirical numbers, one of which wickedly targets Shannon Bennett and Masterchef.
 Ginger & Tonic
The Gala closes with the exceptional, vocal powerhouse that is Queenie van de Zandt, who uses her thrilling voice and soaring range to explore the music of Joni Mitchell, starting with Woodstock and the poignant ballad, A Case of You, then closing the show with the upbeat, Big Yellow Taxi.

Go to the festival programme, stick a pin in a page and choose a show at random. They’ll all be a terrific night at the cabaret. Oh, and they’re all Australian!

By Kate Herbert
 Queenie van de Zandt

 Featured Shows:
Dolly Diamond: The Lady is a Tramp -Tues 27 June (preview) to Sat 1 July, 9pm
You're My World – The Story of Cilla Black -Tues 27 June (preview) to Sat 1 July, 6.30pm
Australia’s Boys of Motown - Wed 21 June (preview) to Sun 25 June, 6.30pm
Queen of Broadway – The Ethel Merman Story - Wed 21 June (preview) to Sun 25 June, 7pm
Pisca -Sat 1 and Sun 2 July, 5pm
Ginger and Tonic: For Love or Money -Wed 21 June (preview) to Sun 25 June, 8.30pm
Blue: The Songs of Joni Mitchell -Tues 27 June (preview) to Sat 1 July, 7pm

Festival Programme:

Monday 19 June 2017

The Haunting, June 16, 2017 ***

Adapted by Hugh Janes from Charles Dickens, by Prince Moo Productions 
At Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne, until July 1, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts Online on Monday June 19, 2017 & later in print. KH
Gig Clarke & Cameron Daddo
‘I wants to make your flesh creep’, says a character in Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, and Hugh Janes followed this advice when creating The Haunting, a stage adaptation of five of Dickens’ ghost stories.

The Haunting is a very conventional play with echoes of an Agatha Christie mystery merged with an old-fashioned, scary story about two men and a ghost, all set in the musty, dusty library of an isolated, English manor house.

The play is entertaining bunkum that may not raise the hairs on your neck, but it will provide a few giggles and remind you that Dickens spun a good yarn and that ancient, empty houses are always a bit spooky.

David Filde (Gig Clarke), a young, London book-dealer, travels to Lord Gray’s (Cameron Daddo) remote mansion to value His Lordship’s deceased father’s extensive, antique book collection.

Filde begins his seemingly routine task making an inventory of the books, but it becomes clear that all is not what it seems and that an unhappy, supernatural presence occupies the grumbling house.

The dialogue has the formal style of Dickens’ prose, and Clarke and Daddo make the most of the evocative language of the storytelling as their two characters try to comprehend their alarming circumstances.

Daddo is dignified and cool as the sceptical Lord Gray, although he lacks the plum-in-the-mouth accent and aristocratic demeanour that defines such a lord of the manor.

Clarke’s Filde is boyishly naive and seems terrified and mystified by the antics of the house and its ghostly resident, until Filde reveals his secrets in the final scenes.

Jennifer Sarah Dean’s production relies on myriad sound and lighting effects (Kyle Evans, Jason Bovaird) that include thunder and lightning, creaking floors, distant horses hooves, blood-curdling screams and eerie twilights.

Dusty volumes fly off the heavily laden shelves, candles spontaneously light, doors mysteriously lock and a wraithlike, corpse bride (Tehya Nicholas) materialises in the deceased Lord Gray’s favourite armchair.

While John Kerr’s stage design beautifully reproduces a grand library, its clutter reduces the available performance space and, combined with Dean’s static direction, forces the actors to stand and deliver their dialogue with limited stage action.

The production needs a greater sense of urgency, more dynamic range and varied pace to heighten its spookiness, and the characters’ fears need to be palpable to fully absorb and titillate a modern audience.

Perhaps the electrifying terror of 21st century horror movies has spoiled our ability to be frightened by a simple ghost story, but The Haunting takes us back to some old-style, round-the-campfire, ghost storytelling.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 13 June 2017

The Moors, June 11, 2017 ***

Written by Jen Silverman, Red Stitch Actors Theatre 
At Red Stitch, until July 9, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sunday June 11, 2017 
 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Tues June 13, 2017 and later in print. KH
 The Moors_Zoe Boesen_Alex Aldrich
 The Moors, by American playwright Jen Silverman, is a twisted version of a 19th century, English gothic romance blended with a modern black comedy and inspired by the lives and writings of the Brönte sisters.

In an isolated mansion on the bleak, wild moors of England, two eccentric sisters, Agatha (Alex Aldrich) and Huldey (Anna McCarthy), live with only their giant, Mastiff dog (Dion Mills), their maid (Grace Lowry) and their strangely absent brother, Branwell – until Emilie (Zoe Boesen), the pretty governess, arrives to break the monotony.

Stephen Nicolazzo’s atmospheric production draws on the style of melodrama and creepy horror movies, and its empty, black stage draped with dreary olive and black curtains, combined with the predominantly black costumes (set and costume, Eugyeene Teh) and spooky, floating mist, emphasises the gloomy lives of the sisters.

Silverman’s script satirises the sinister elements of the gothic horror genre, and teases the audience with the sexual tension and lust, power and subservience, despair and hope expressed by the various characters.

After the governess arrives, the grim secrets, perverse plans and barely masked desires of the occupants of the mansion are slowly revealed.

Aldrich is compelling and clearly understands the style of Nicolazzo’s production, effectively depicting the controlling, embittered sister, Agatha, with rigid physicality, a superior demeanour and a weird, cold power and sensuality that she uses to seduce the young governess.

McCarthy is childlike and otherworldly in her portrayal of Agatha’s submissive and miserable sister, Huldey, who is a romantic fantasist labouring under the fanciful misconception that she is a famous author – just like the Brönte sisters.

Boesen’s copper-haired governess provides a colourful and optimistic foil to the relentless misery and pessimism of the householders, and her final transformation from subordinate to mistress of the house is satisfying.

In a curious side plot, Mills’ depressed and lonely Mastiff falls in love with the Moor-Hen (Olga Makeeva), a sweet little bird that breaks its leg and must rely on the huge, scary dog to protect it.

Outlandish as this side narrative is, the acting skills of Mills and Makeeva make it is strangely engaging, with Mills’ Mastiff spouting philosophical and romantic monologues about depression and love, while Makeeva charms the audience as the dim-witted Moor-Hen who is wiser than we might think.

This parody runs out of steam after about an hour in this two-hour show, but Silverman’s play and Nicolazzo’s production are quirky and entertaining, and it is probably even more diverting for fans of the Bröntes.

By Kate Herbert
 The Moors_Dion Mills_Olga Makeeva
The Moors_Alex Aldrich_Dion Mills_Anna McCarthy_Zoe Boesen

Macbeth, June 9, 2017 ***1/2

By William Shakespeare, Melbourne Theatre Company
At Southbank Theatre, The Sumner, until July 15, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Fri June 9, 2017 
Stars: ***1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online & in print on Tues June 13, 2017.  KH
Jai Courtney, Kevin Hofbauer- pic Jeff Busby
The narrative of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is propelled by portentous predictions and ill omens, so it is not surprising that theatre people are superstitious about any production of the play.

The fateful divinations begin in the first scene when three witches (Jane Montgomery Griffiths, Shareena Clanton, Kamil Ellis) prophesy that Macbeth (Jai Courtney), a revered general in the army of Scottish King Duncan (Robert Menzies), will be King.

Thus begins Macbeth’s bloodthirsty and tyrannical path to the throne as he systematically murders every possible threat to his royal accession.

The story is epic and the language of Shakespeare’s play is as visceral, muscular, tough and dangerous as is the title character, and Courtney has certainly played modern, tough guy roles in his Hollywood career.

However, he is unconvincing in the demanding role of Macbeth, his interpretation lacks texture and nuance, he looks uncomfortable on stage, and does not illuminate the poetic language and complexity of Macbeth’s speeches that are some of Shakespeare’s greatest monologues.

From the opening scenes, his Macbeth lacks the charismatic and commanding power of a military leader, so Macbeth’s indecisiveness looks like weakness as he wrestles with his plan to murder Duncan.

Courtney is strongest in the scene immediately after Duncan’s body is found when his volatile reaction drives the scene, but this dynamic energy is missing later.

Geraldine Hakewill is a girlish Lady Macbeth, a choice that leaves her lacking the dangerous womanhood and manipulative, grasping cruelty of the character, and makes Lady Macbeth’s shift from ambition to power and finally to madness, less than credible.
 Geraldine Hakewill, Jai Courtney pic Jeff Busby
Simon Phillips’ casting of the two leads may be problematic, but his direction is inventive, action-packed and staged on an effectively stark, grim and almost glamorous, corporate design (Shaun Gurton).

Phillips’ contemporary interpretation is Macbeth for the smart-phone generation, with Macbeth’s military campaign being run from computers, while messengers make phone calls and letters arrive as texts.

The production has some visually compelling moments, such as the startling, opening image of a flaming, wrecked car and the atmospheric, candle-lit banquet at which Banquo’s ghost (Kevin Hofbauer) appears.

Soaring music (Ian McDonald) and evocative lighting (Nick Schlieper) complete the haunting mood.

The supporting ensemble is capable, but there are two exceptional, magnetic performances from Robert Menzies and Dan Spielman who illuminate Shakespeare’s text, connect to the language and inhabit their roles totally.

Menzies has dignity as Duncan and is hilarious as the Porter, while Spielman’s grief-stricken Macduff is impassioned, sympathetic and absolutely credible.

Montgomery Griffiths is also compelling as one of the witches and as Lady Macbeth’s Nurse.

In a time when world leaders clamour for power, grasp at peace or hurtle toward war, Macbeth is a timely, cautionary tale of blind ambition and its bloody path that leads to chaos.

By Kate Herbert
Jai Courtney pic Jeff Busby

Thursday 8 June 2017

Undercoat: A Parafoxical Tale, June 7, 2017 ***

Written by Cynthia Troup  
Presented La Mama
At La Mama Theatre, until June 18, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Thurs June 8, 2017 & later in print. KH
 L to R-Maude Davey, Caroline Lee

There is something peculiar, unsettling and oddly engaging about Undercoat: A Parafoxical Tale by local writer, Cynthia Troup.

Although the title of this play is inspired by Nicolai Gogol’s story, The Overcoat, the content is more directly influenced by Portugese writer Teolinda Gesão’s story, The Red Fox Fur Coat, in which a humble bank clerk buys a fur coat and gradually transforms into a fox.

Troup structures her poetic script as seven scenes, all of which are about foxes, their history, attitudes to humans, human responses to foxes and miscellaneous snippets and facts about things foxy.

The performance begins outdoors in the cold, dark back lane behind La Mama with the audience standing surrounded by rubbish bins and the faintly rotting aroma of old restaurant food – a perfect environment for the urban fox.

Out in the chill air, a sassy, foxy character AKA Ruber tha ruder Chicken Fox (Emma Annand) introduces the show with a rhythmic, poetic, rhyming rap prologue about ‘anthropogenic climate change’ that humans are causing on this planet.

In the relative warmth of the intimate La Mama interior, a woman (Caroline Lee) is trapped inside jumbled car parts as though she has had a car accident. She is like road kill as she peers out her damaged car window at the inquisitive foxes and, as she struggles to get free, she perversely recalls a fox caught in a trap.

There is no linear narrative but we are aware, as Lee struggles in her trap, that we are heading toward either her release, her death, her being eaten by foxes or her metamorphosis into a foxy creature of the night.

The direction by Bagryana Popov with Alice Darling is playfully physical, but the greatest strengths of this one-hour production are the performances of Maude Davey and Lee, two stalwarts of Melbourne independent theatre.

Each of the two has an individual, idiosyncratic style, exceptional interpretative skills and versatile and lyrical vocal quality.

Davey is wry, cool, elegant and slightly sinister as Fox Vobiscum, prowling the stage or silently slipping unnoticed into dim corners, and her magnetic presence draws the eye whenever she is on stage.

Lee is a wild, ensnared human who shrieks and writhes in her anguish, pain and despair and her intense delivery of the monologue, The Obligatory Dream, is filled with potent imagery.

Annand is a light-footed, cheeky fox while Jean Goodwin is watchful and sturdy as the third fox, Ranger, and both capture the spirit of foxiness, but neither has the charismatic quality of Davey’s fox.

Emily Collett’s inventive costumes hint at reddish, animal fur and her evocative design uses draped, tree-like tubes of sheer fabric lit from within (Lighting, Georgia Rann) and surrounded by scattered, leaf-like detritus.

Undercoat is a quirky investigation of the fox in our urban world and its final, mischievous rap routine with four foxes leaves the audience smiling.

By Kate Herbert
 L to R-Maude Davey, Caroline Lee

Caroline Lee
Maude Davey
Jean Goodwin
Emma Annand

Direction - Bagryana Popov with Alice Darling
Set & Costume - Emily Collett
Sound - Elissa Goodrich
Lighting - Georgia Rann

Monday 5 June 2017

1984, Headlong's Australian production, June 2, 2017 ****1/2

1984 written by George Orwell
Adaptation by Robert Icke & Duncan Macmillan
By Headlong, Nottingham Playhouse & Almeida Theatre (UK); produced by Ambassador Theatre Group, GWB Entertainment & State Theatre Company South Australia
Comedy Theatre, Melbourne, until June 10, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 2, 2017
Stars: ****1/2 
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Mon June 5, 2017 and later in print. (Probably June 6). KH

In a world plagued by ‘fake facts’ and abundant screens, where personal details are made public and social commentary is reduced to tweets, the reductive NewSpeak and Big Brother surveillance seem prophetic in George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984.

Headlong’s stage adaptation of Orwell’s 1949 novel conjures a compelling theatrical landscape that also provokes vigorous, socio-political discussion.

In this Australian remount of the original production, Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s direction is uncluttered and seamless and their adaptation synthesises Orwell’s message into a concise script and a searing narrative performed by a compelling ensemble.

The production is unnerving with its sense of impending doom, its mental torment and graphic torture.

As in Orwell’s book, Big Brother controls the lives of Winston (Tom Conroy), his lover, Julia (Ursula Mills) and the rest of society, monitoring their every movement and word via ubiquitous tele-screens and microphones.

Winston’s sins against the state include writing in a secret journal, desiring love, and having negative thoughts about Big Brother, making him a Thought Criminal.

In the world of 1984, such harmless transgressions are seditious and punishable by death or being ‘unpersonned’, meaning that Winston will be erased from all public records.

In Icke and Macmillan’s interpretation, Winston’s mind slips between reality and horrific unreality so that he cannot discern whether he exists in the oppressive world of 1984 or in the world of those who read his journal a century later.

Conroy is sympathetic as Winston, with his naive heroics and dogged rebelliousness, Mills seems dangerous as the passionate Julia, and Terence Crawford is quietly threatening as the smiling villain, O’Brien, who prowls corridors and peers through grimy windows.
 Tom Conroy in 1984
The capable ensemble creates a disquieting atmosphere of routine tinged with menace, playing characters such as the insidious spy, Martin (Renato Musolino), anxiously cheerful Mrs Parsons (Fiona Press) and her rambling husband, Parsons (Paul Blackwell), who are both afraid of their spying child.

Charrington (Yalin Ozucelik) is deceptively harmless, while Syme (Guy O’Grady) is awkward and nervous.

Chloe Lamford’s design looks like a benign, wood-panelled library but its grimy windows and secret doors seem sinister even before it transforms into the glaring torture cell, Room 101.

Heightening the ominous feeling are enormous video projections (Tim Reid), a pounding and buzzing soundscape (Tom Gibbons) and disturbing lighting (Natasha Chivers).

1984 makes one want to turn off the screens, read a classic novel or talk – in OldSpeak – to a loved one. Down with Big Brother!

By Kate Herbert 

Co-adapters and director - Robert Icke & Duncan Macmillan
Associate director Australia - Corey MacMahon

Cast: Tom Conroy, Paul Blackwell, Terence Crawford, Ursula Mills, Renato Musolino,
Guy O’Grady, Yalin Ozucelik and Fiona Press