Monday 26 February 2018

Hand to God, Feb 24, 2018 ***1/2

by Robert Askins
at Alex Theatre, St Kilda, until March 18, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 24, 2018
Stars: ***1/2

Review also published in Herald Sun Lifestyle online on Mon Feb 26, 2018 & later in print.
HAND TO GOD - Gyton Grantley credit Angel Leggas

Beware! When a foul-mouthed, blasphemous hand puppet takes possession of a shy, Texan teenager in Robert Askins' play, Hand to God, the stage becomes a dangerous and irreverent place.  

Askins' demented, Tony-nominated, black comedy mates Avenue Q-style, mischievous puppets with religious hypocrisy, then crossbreeds that with The Exorcist.

Gary Abrahams' production exploits the outrageous, laugh-out-loud comedy that depicts a church, puppetry workshop that goes terribly wrong when Jason's (Gyton Grantley) delinquent puppet, Tyrone, starts exhibiting demonic behaviour.

The first half is particularly funny as Grantley's geeky, immature Jason begins expressing his repressed alter ego through his wicked puppet, and Jason’s seemingly prim mother, Marjery, played with wild relish by Alison Whyte, reveals her uncontrollable, sexual appetite.

Grantley's performance is hilariously complex as he almost turns himself inside out shifting voice, tone and attitude in a nanosecond to switch between timid Jason and brash, crude Tyrone.

Grant Piro brings his impeccable timing and characterisation to Pastor Greg who tilts from pious, pompous churchman to Marjery's desperately needy but manipulative admirer.

Beware! When a foul-mouthed, blasphemous hand puppet takes possession of a shy, Texan teenager in Robert Askins' play, Hand to God, the stage becomes a dangerous and irreverent place.
HAND TO GOD - Jake Speer, Grant Piro, Gyton Grantley, credit Angel Leggas
Jake Speer as randy teenager, Timothy, and Morgana O’Reilly as the deceptively quiet Jessica, complete this totally bonkers, puppetry club.

The second half descends into comic chaos, violence and lurid, puppet-sex scenes, but the hectic pace lacks dynamic range, the comedy becomes hysterical and the rhythm feels a bit out of control.

Rather oddly by the very end, the hilarious havoc transforms into a morality play, and the slightly preachy ending dilutes the earlier comedy.

Hand to God is a funny and sacrilegious production and, if you don't take offence at spinning crucifixes or lewd, simulated human or puppet sex on stage, you'll find it divertingly subversive.

By Kate Herbert
Gyton Grantley - Jason /Tyrone

Alison Whyte - Margery

Grant Piro - Pastor Greg

Jake Speer - Timothy

Morgana O’Reilly - Jessica.

Creative Team
Gary Abrahams (Director), Jacob Battista (Scenic Design), Amelia Lever-Davidson
HAND TO GOD - Gyton Grantley & Alison Whyte, credit Angel Leggas

Friday 23 February 2018

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Feb 22, 2018 ****

Book by Douglas McGrath; Music by Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil
At Her Majesty's Theatre, Melbourne, until June 24, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 22, 2018
Stars: **** 
This review is not published in the Herald Sun. KH
Esther Hannaford (as Carole King)& Josh Piterman (Gerry Goffin) Beautiful - The Carole King Musical. Pic Joan Marcus
Carole King's dramatic and emotional music has touched the hearts and minds of so many people, and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, reveals the personal life of this gifted singer-songwriter.

Esther Hannaford's portrayal of King is thrilling, capturing King's youthful awkwardness and warmth, her Brooklyn accent, exceptional musical talent and her ebullient and charming presence as she grew into her life, her loves and her music.

It is the music of the 60s and 70s that makes Beautiful a thrilling and entertaining night in the theatre.

Hannaford channels King’s idiosyncratic vocal style when she sings It's Too Late, You've Got A Friend, A Natural Woman, and finally, Beautiful, which brought the entire, opening night audience to it's feet for a standing ovation.

Of course, the crowd wanted more, so Hannaford and the cast sang a rousing encore of I Feel The Earth Move.

It is not only King's music from her solo albums such as Tapestry that features in Beautiful, but also pop songs she wrote in the 60s with husband, Gerry Goffin (Josh Pitterman), and a catalogue of their hits performed by The Drifters, The Shirelles, Little Eva and even The Monkees.

The Australian cast of Beautiful The Carole King Musical. Photo BEN SYMONS
Completing the musical landscape of the 60s and 70s are songs by King and Goffin's dear friends, and fellow songwriters, Cynthia Weil (Lucy Maunder) and Barry Mann (Mat Verevis), whose hits included, You've Lost That Loving Feeling, On Broadway and We Gotta Get Out of This Place.

The orchestra, under musical director, Danny Edmonds, plays the classic pop and rock tunes with passion and skill.

Meanwhile, the stage is filled with characters in the music industry, including producer, Donny Kirshner (Mike McLeish), and the dance routines by The Drifters, The Shirelles and other acts are not only colourful, but often hilarious.

Beautiful is a vivid, entertaining, funny and often poignant depiction of life as Carole King, virtuoso of modern popular music.
by Kate Herbert

The Show Goes On, Feb 20, 2018 ****

By Bernadette Robinson & Richard Carroll
At Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne until March 11, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review also published in Herald Sun in print after Feb 20, 2018. KH

Bernadette Robinson_Bob King

Bernadette Robinson has a startling capacity to inhabit famous, female singers, and The Show Goes On showcases her virtuosic singing.

With remarkable skill, Robinson channels the idiosyncratic voices of exceptional divas: Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Patsy Cline, Shirley Bassey, Julie Andrews and Maria Callas, the operatic star who personifies the term 'diva'.

All these women found fame, most experienced anxiety and several suffered tragedy, and Robinson links their lives by singing the poignant tune, The Show Goes On, at intervals throughout the show.

In this production created with director, Richard Carroll, Robinson, wearing a simple, black cocktail dress, is alone on a nearly empty stage, accompanied by a trio of accomplished musicians.

She self-narrates the renowned singers’ stories, interweaving their signature tunes to construct a compelling sound and word picture depicting each woman’s complex emotional and musical life.

As Garland, she perches nervously on an armchair or teeters on high heels, recalling her childhood at MGM, and singing The Trolley Song with Garland's distinctive, bold tone.
Bernadette Robinson_Bob King
Robinson performs an exceptional feat, singing a 'duet' between Garland and Streisand – playing both women by shifting accent and vocal style in a beat.

Later, she presents a second, clever and funny 'duet' by Garland with Andrews, and the women’s vocal differences – Andrews’ toffy, rounded vowels compared with Garland's brash, American accent – generate laughs.

Robinson does not impersonate these women or attempt to replicate their exact vocal stylings, but she captures their tone, accent, timbre, rhythm and character to bring them to life.

Perhaps her most accurate vocal depiction is Piaf, whose steely tone and distinctive vibrato Robinson captures impeccably singing La Vie En Rose and Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.

Although The Show Goes On has no linear narrative, the common thread connecting these women is their love of music, passion for singing and the power of song in their lives.

By Kate Herbert
Bernadette Robinson_Bob King

Tuesday 20 February 2018

This Is Eden, Feb 15, 2018 ***1/2

by Emily Goddard 
at fortyfivedownstairs, until Feb 25, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ***1/2

Review also published in Herald Sun in print on Tues Feb 20, 2018 & online at Arts/Lifestyle. KH
This Is Eden-Emily Goddard-photo Justin Batchelor

If you've ever talked cheerfully about having convict ancestors, your attitude may change after seeing This Is Eden, Emily Goddard's play depicting the horrific conditions of incarcerated female convicts at The Cascades Female Factory in Hobart Town in 1839.

In Susie Dee’s moving and often funny production, Goddard, initially playing a gauche but well-meaning tour guide, gently introduces her audience to the history of the Factory and the women who were transported from England for trivial crimes.

This companionable engagement with the audience shifts dramatically when Goddard reappears as filth-covered, desperate young convict, Mary Ford, who languishes in isolation and silence in a tiny, dank cell (design, Romanie Harper).

Goddard is a skilful chameleon, transforming physically and vocally from naive tour guide to tortured victim fighting to retain her humanity and identity.

As the convict, Mary, Goddard delivers vicious parodies of her tormentors, using the black comic style of Bouffon, the grim, mediaeval, French clown that attacked Church and State through brutal imitation.

The first target of Mary’s vitriol is an upper class, settler's wife who used Mary as a servant – or should we say slave?

Goddard's second venomous parody is a pompous, fire-and-brimstone Reverend, who threatens the girls with hellfire for their petty sins, and her final target is the blustering Factory superintendent who justifies his inexcusable actions with, ‘I'm just following orders’.

The less gruelling scenes with the tour guide relieve the pressure of the punishing scenes of Mary in her darkened cell, but the dynamic range of the show, including the shifts between Mary and the tour guide, are sometimes awkward.

This is Eden is on the VCE syllabus, and audiences of secondary school students will be engaged and challenged not only by Goddard's skilful performance, but also by the confronting details about the Cascades Factory and our dark history.

By Kate Herbert

Friday 16 February 2018

Good Muslim Boy, Feb 14, 2018 ***

Adapted by Osamah Sami & Janice Muller from Sami's memoir 
Produced by Malthouse Theatre and Queensland Theatre Company
At Malthouse Theatre, until March 11, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts/ Lifestyle on Friday Feb 16 2018. KH
Rodney Afif & Osamah Sami - Good Muslim Boy - pic Tim Grey

If you've ever cursed governmental red tape, Good Muslim Boy by Osamah Sami will make you thank your stars that you’ve never confronted Iran’s obstructive bureaucracy.

In this stage play adapted from his memoir by Sami and director, Janice Muller, Sami plays himself in a distressing but often funny, true tale about wrangling Iranian bureaucrats so he can transport his father’s body home to Australia after he dies suddenly on holiday in Iran.

During his four-day ordeal, Sami travels from office to office and city to city, facing a parade of characters ranging from the grotesque and manipulative to the tragic and ordinary.

Rodney Afif is particularly effective in multiple roles, including a hilarious cab driver, a surly clerk, a jaded cop, and a helpful Imam. Nicole Nabout plays other minor characters, including a moving portrayal of a philosophical, homeless woman sleeping on a snow-laden street, although her male roles are less successful.

Sami himself may have limited stage-acting skills, but he relies on the truthful emotion of personal experience, and his final scenes, dealing with his father’s exodus, are touching.

Some dialogue sounds too prose-like, as if lifted directly from the memoir, while the series of short scenes and Sami's direct-to-audience self-narration, lack dynamic range. However, the Aussie colloquialisms, local references and linguistic confusions provide plenty of comedy.

A simple but versatile design (Romanie Harper) uses a large, transparent, tram shelter that transforms into multiple locations in Melbourne and Iran, including mosque, morgue, embassy, airport and government offices.

Despite its flaws, the story grabs us with its depiction of the passionate commitment of a son trying to honour his departed father, a scenario many will recognise.

By Kate Herbert

BY / Osamah Sami, adapted for the stage by Osamah Sami and Janice Muller
DIRECTION /Janice Muller        
CAST / Rodney Afif, Nicole Nabout, Osamah Sami
SET & COSTUME DESIGN / Romanie Harper

Thursday 15 February 2018

The Children, Feb 13, 2018 ****

by Lucy Kirkwood, Melbourne Theatre Company with STC
Southbank Theatre, The Sumner, until March 10, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts / Lifestyle on Thursday Feb 15, 2018. KH
L-R: Sarah Peirse, Pamela Rabe, William Zappa.
How do you live a carefully planned, comfortable, serene and healthy retirement when you are forced to live on the edge of a Fukushima-like nuclear catastrophe?

In Lucy Kirkwood’s confronting and unsettling play, The Children, married couple Hazel (Pamela Rabe) and Robin (William Zappa), two retired nuclear physicists who used to work at the nearby nuclear plant, have had to move to their isolated cottage on the English coast where they survive on ‘less’: less food, less electricity, less everything.

When Rose (Sarah Peirse), their old friend and fellow physicist, arrives unexpectedly and uninvited, the three must confront not only their shared past, but also a grim future and a challenging, ethical dilemma.

Kirkwood’s witty, pithy dialogue challenges our views of ageing, social responsibility, and the ethical issue of bringing children into a dangerous world.

Set in a realistic, farmhouse kitchen (design, Elizabeth Gadsby), Sarah Goode’s compelling, naturalistic production boasts an exceptional cast of three of Australia’s finest actors in Rabe, Peirse and Zappa.

Rabe is brisk and blunt as the sensible, active, and always busy Hazel, whose life is turned upside down by the nuclear disaster, but who is even more distressed and destabilised by Rose’s sudden arrival after decades of absence.

Zappa brings a touch of playful, relaxed blokiness to Robin, her husband, but he later shifts into a darker state of vulnerability and quiet desperation.

Peirse, as Rose, is the grit in their well-oiled machine, and her wild edginess and chaotic lifestyle bring a sense of danger that leads to the startling but inevitable reason for her visit. No spoilers here.

In a contemporary world unable to successfully resolve most natural and man-made disasters, Kirkwood’s play is a potent reminder that our past is unchangeable, our present is fragile and our future riddled with uncertainty.

By Kate Herbert

Monday 5 February 2018

HIR, Feb 4, 2018 ***

By Taylor Mac, by Red Stitch Theatre
At Red Stitch Theatre, until March 4, 2018
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts On Tue Feb 6 or Thu Feb 8, 2018. KH
HIR_Jordan Fraser-Trumble, Belinda McClory, Harvey Kaska Zielinski_c Teresa Noble
The disarray and domestic chaos on stage in HIR, a play by Taylor Mac, is a reflection of the dysfunctional relationships and peculiar behaviour of the family of four.

Playwright, Mac, is a renowned American artist whose performance and stage persona defy definition, and the issue of refusing to be defined in ‘normative’ terms is at the core of HIR.

In a rundown house built on landfill, Paige (Belinda McClory) lives with Arnold (Ben Grant),  her stroke-victim husband, and Max, (Harvey Zaska-Zielinski), her teenage transgender son who was, until recently, her daughter.

When older son, Isaac (Jordan Fraser-Trumble), returns from war service, he upsets Paige’s frenetic, new, domestic ‘order’ that involves drugging and tormenting her formerly violent husband and cultivating new, bizarre activities to support her rather confused transgender son.

The performances are strong in Daniel Clark’s frenzied production, but watching it is a distressing, anxiety-inducing, sometimes enraging experience because of the aggressive, almost demented behaviour of characters who are inherently dislikeable, despite each occasionally garnering our sympathy because of their predicaments.

Each member of this battered family is in transition, but each is experiencing a different type of change; no one understands or accepts the others’ evolving identities and ideologies, and everyone seems totally unaware of his, her or hir (Max’s gender-neutral pronoun) own failings or transgressions.

McClory is compelling as Paige, balancing carefree cavorting, rule-breaking antics and muddled views on gender theory, with frantic, uber-controlling behaviour and her frightful abuse of Arnold.

Grant captures both the childlikeness and latent violence of Arnold, while Fraser-Trumble manifests the troubled psyche of a war veteran in Isaac, and Zaska-Zielinski expresses Max’s gender fluidity.

The most disturbing element in HIR is that the characters exhibit no positive evolution of gender roles, merely replacing one abuser with another. Let’s hope that’s not Taylor Mac’s solution to alter the patriarchal paradigm of straight, white male power.

By Kate Herbert
Hir_Belinda McClory, Ben Grant, Jordan Fraser-Trumble_c Teresa Noble

Hir_ Harvey Kaska Zielinski, Jordan Fraser-Trumble_c Teresa Noble