Saturday 31 March 2018

Gillian English in Giant and Angry, March 30, 2018 ***


International act (Canada) 
Stars: *** 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review also published in Herald Sun online Comedy Festival Reviews on Sat March 31, 2018. 
Gillian English

Gillian English is feisty and fierce, and her fast-paced stand-up show, Giant and Angry, explains how her Canadian upbringing made her that way.

She grew up on a farm in isolated, rural Nova Scotia in eastern Canada, and her routine starts by milking the comedy inherent in her idiosyncratic parents: her dad is Shrek, and her mother is an assertive, feminist headmistress.

English was 5 feet 11 inches by the time she was 14, so being a ‘giant’, as she describes herself, features in much of her comic material.

When she was a child, men and boys assumed she was much older than her years, so her dad, who never met a problem that couldn't be solved with well-placed violence, decided to – wait for it – teach his daughter how to kill! Well, English describes it as learning how to 'incapacitate and run away'.

We are left gaping and laughing at the range, inventiveness and brutality of the methods her dad taught her to use to disable potential attackers.

Things start to get weird when English, as a teenager, decides to try to be more ‘feminine’, so she participates in beauty pageants – but losing makes her even angrier.

During her uni years, she was a casino showgirl, dressing up as Betty Boop and Marilyn Monroe, and some of her biggest laughs come from her stories about men who tried to put their hands on her when she was playing her showgirl characters. Her antics made her a casino legend!

English’s delivery is sometimes so rapid that we miss important dialogue, but she is engaging, funny and angry, so it seems appropriate that, hanging on the wall behind her, there’s a portrait of a manic-looking Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Now he’s angry!

At Fad Gallery, 14 Corrs Lane, Melbourne, until April 21.

Friday 30 March 2018

Fleabag, March 29, 2018 ****


Maddie Rice in Fleabag 
International act (UK) 
Stars: ****  
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review also published in Herald Sun Comedy Festival (Arts) online on Fri March 30, 2018. KH
Maddie Rice in Fleabag - credit Richard Davenport
Maddie Rice’s character in the comic-tragic monologue, Fleabag, is a hypersexual, boozy 20-something who is vulgar, funny, dislikeable, deeply flawed – and seriously sad.

Almost everything she says or does is offensive, and it is difficult to repress howls of horror or hilarity – depending on your perspective – as she describes her drunken hook-ups, bizarre behaviour, dysfunctional relationships and her shameful secret.

Rice’s performance is audacious and her delivery seamless in this theatrical piece written, and originally performed, by UK comedy wunderkind, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who then transformed it into a hit TV series of the same name.

Fleabag is a self-absorbed, self-confessed ‘bad feminist’ who is obsessed with sex – meaningless sex – and who calculates her self-worth by her ability to attract men – any men, lots of men – no matter how little she fancies them.

Rice perches on a stool for the entire hour, relating Fleabag’s outrageous narrative that introduces us to her guinea pig themed cafe that she ran with her best friend, Boo, until recently when Boo met her untimely and startling death.

She populates the story with characters from Fleabag’s life: her nervy, successful sister; her negligent father; Harry, her absent lover; the rodent-faced bloke she picks up on a train; and old Joe, the relentlessly cheerful, regular cafe customer.

Fleabag’s audacity and grotesquery will leave you gaping, so be prepared to laugh, or be appalled, or both.

At The Coopers Malthouse, Sturt St. Southbank, until April 22.

WRITTEN BY / Phoebe Waller-Bridge
PERFORMED BY / Maddie Rice
DESIGNER / Holly Pigott
DESIGN / Elliot Griggs

Saturday 24 March 2018

Abigail’s Party, March 22, 2018 ****

By Mike Leigh, by Melbourne Theatre Company
At Southbank Theatre, The Sumner, until April 21, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Fri March 23, 2018 & later in print. KH
Zoe Boesen, Katherine Tonkin, Pip Edwards-MTC ABIGAIL'S PARTY photo Jeff Busby
The booze pours faster, lips get looser and the flirting more outrageous in Abigail’s Party, Mike Leigh's acerbic, 1970s satire about London's middle class, and, by the end, you could cut the desperation with a knife.

It is circa 1977 in London, and saucy Beverly (Pip Edwards) plays hostess at her ill-conceived drinks party attended by her resistant husband, Laurence (Daniel Frederiksen), new neighbours, twitty Angela (Zoe Boesen) and her monosyllabic husband, Tony (Benjamin Rigby), and divorced mum, Sue (Katherine Tonkin).

Leigh's original play was wildly successful on British stage and television, and although written 40 years ago, his larger-than-life characters and their achingly awkward relationships at this boozy party seem strangely relevant today.

Set in a garish, 1970s, orange shag pile conversation pit (design, Anna Cordingley), Stephen Nicolazzo’s production of this audacious tragicomedy highlights the grotesquery of Leigh’s broadly comical characters as they embarrass themselves, and humiliate, bully or seduce each other.

Leigh developed his scripts through improvisation with his cast, and the depth and quirkiness of each character in Abigail’s Party is testament to the effectiveness of this method of playwriting.

Edwards is both repellent and oddly sympathetic as the grinning, flirtatious but desperate hostess, Beverly, who bosses her guests into having fun as she sloshes alcohol into glasses, and writhes about like a tormented cat.

Beverly and husband, Laurence, snipe at each other with nasty jibes or blatant criticism, and Frederiksen effectively captures Laurence’s social clumsiness and his aspirational but fumbling interest in the highbrow arts.

Boesen’s twitty but well-meaning Angela is eagerly agreeable, under-confident, and mercilessly bullied by her seemingly harmless husband.

Rigby’s Tony is initially reserved until he downs enough booze to give him sufficient confidence to slaver over Beverly and snap at his wife.

Tonkin gains our sympathy as beleaguered Sue, the well-spoken, unremittingly polite divorcee who seems keen to leave but can’t, because her teenage daughter, Abigail, has taken over Sue’s home to have a loud party.

Beverly and her guests appear to yearn for Abigail’s party because it embodies all the youthful fun and sensuality they no longer experience.

Abigail's Party is hilarious, uncomfortable and depressingly familiar in its depiction of ugly suburbia that seems to have changed so little in four decades.

By Kate Herbert

Zoe Boesen (The Moors), Pip Edwards (Ghosts), Daniel Frederiksen (Matilda: The Musical), Benjamin Rigby (Alien: The Covenant) and Katherine Tonkin

Director Stephen Nicolazzo

Set Designer Anna Cordingley

Costume Designer Eugyeene Teh

Lighting Designer Katie Sfetkidis

Composer & Sound Designer Daniel Nixon

Voice & Dialect Coach Geraldine Cook-Dafner

Tuesday 20 March 2018

Colder, March 18, 2018 ***

Written by Lachlan Philpott, by Red Stitch
At Red Stitch Theatre, until April 8, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online & in print  on Tues March 20 2018. KH
 Ben Pfeiffer, Caroline Lee, Brigid Gallacher - photo  Teresa Noble Photography
A mother’s worst fear is realised when she loses her little boy for seven hours at Disneyland, but her despair is compounded when, decades later, her son goes missing again as an adult in Sydney.

In Lachlan Philpott's play, Colder, David's (Charles Purcell) trail goes cold when he is a child, and even colder when he disappears as an adult, when his mother, Robyn (Caroline Lee), lover, Ed (Ben Pfeiffer), and friend, Kay (Brigid Gallacher), seem frozen into inaction.

Philpott effectively uses a fragmented, non-linear narrative structure to repeatedly shift timeframes between the young Robyn (Marissa Bennett) who frantically searches for her son at Disneyland, to Lee's older Robyn before and after David's disappearance as an adult.

In Alyson Campbell’s production, Lee’s fragile and friable Robyn almost vibrates with anxiety as she tries to maintain contact with her emotionally distant son, a task that is frustratingly difficult when he is present but impossible when he disappears.

As young Robyn, Marissa Bennett is rigid with fear as she pleads for help to find her lost son, and these scenes provide history for older Robyn that explains her obsessional need to store her possessions in Tupperware containers to avoid losing them.

Philpott’s language is abstract and poetic, rhythmic and sometimes choral, with overlapping and repetitive dialogue that echoes the shared panic and frustration of David's mother and friends, although the structure and language create a jerky and awkward rhythm to the play.

The theme of emotional distance runs through the play, epitomised by David who, until he meets the sensitive Ed, is emotionally detached, even cold, unable or unwilling to engage in more than anonymous sexual liaisons with men, all played by the versatile James Wardlaw.

However, in an attempt to capture David's emotional distance, Purcell's delivery of dialogue is sometimes uncomfortable and disconnected.

Colder keeps the audience at arm's length from the characters' pain as they wait for news of the missing David, but this makes it difficult to engage emotionally with the story or characters and leaves one strangely unmoved by the end.

By Kate Herbert

Cast: Marissa Bennett, Brigid Gallacher, Caroline Lee, Ben Pfeiffer, Charles Purcell, James Wardlaw.

Set & Costume Design Bethany J Fellows
Lighting Design Bronwyn Pringle
Sound Design Chris Wenn
Assistant Director Sarah Vickery
Stage Manager Brittany Coombs
Assistant Stage Manager Thomas Crawford

Friday 16 March 2018

Calamity Jane, March 14, 2018 ***1/2

Adapted by Ronald Hanmer & Phil Park, from play by Charles K. Freeman, After Warner Bros film written by James O'Hanlon
Lyrics by Paul Francis Webster, music by Sammy Fain
At Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, until March 25, 2018  (Return season 13-23 Dec 2018) 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts in print on Fri March 16, 2018 & online(date TBC) KH
Tony Taylor, Viriginia Gay, Anthony Gooley

Virginia Gay and a small cast take their audience on a wild ride to the Wild West in this cheerful, unembellished version of Calamity Jane, the musical made famous by Doris Day in the 1950s movie.

Gay portrays Calamity both comically and sympathetically as an awkward, lovelorn gal wrapped uncomfortably inside a tough, bragging, mannish exterior, and her feisty performance, in tandem with a cavalcade of memorable tunes, makes this rollicking entertainment.

In Richard Carroll's intimate, idiosyncratic production, some audience sit on stage at tables in the Golden Garter Saloon, participating in the action; one unwitting man is even cast – very successfully – as Joe, the barman.

Gay engages directly and warmly with her audience, inviting responses, treating us as part of the Deadwood City community, and gaining sympathy and support as she blunders clumsily around the saloon.

The songs by Paul Francis Webster (lyrics) and Sammy Fain (music) include unforgettable musical theatre hits: The Deadwood Stage, Windy City, a lilting, unaccompanied rendition of The Black Hills of Dakota, and the romantic ballad, My Secret Love.

There is no orchestra in this pared down production, just Nigel Ubrihien playing upright piano in the saloon, and cameos by cast on ukulele, guitar, trombone and even a tuba.

The show features some quirky characterisations such as Anthony Gooley’s slightly camp Wild Bill Hickock and Rob Johnson’s nervy musical artiste, Francis Fryer, (who looks weirdly like Judith Lucy when he dons a scruffy wig).

Other characters include Laura Bunting as pretty, aspiring singer, Katie Brown, Christina O'Neill as saloon gal, Susan, Tony Taylor as hapless saloon owner, Henry Miller, and Matthew Pearce as manly Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin.   

While the second act of this diverting production is less cohesive than the first, Calamity Jane is a fun romp that showcases Gay’s charismatic performance.

By Kate Herbert

Presented by Arts Centre Melbourne with One Eyed Man Productions, Neglected Musicals & Hayes Theatre Co

Director Richard Carroll
Musical Director Nigel Ubrihien

Calamity Jane - Virginia Gay
Katie Brown -Laura Bunting
Wild Bill Hickock -Anthony Gooley
Francis Fryer -Rob Johnson
Susan a/ Adelaide - Christina O'Neill
Lt Danny Gilmartin - Matthew Pearce
Henry Miller -Tony Taylor

Choreographer -Cameron Mitchell
Production Designer -Lauren Peters
Lighting Designer -Trent Suidgeest
Wig Designer -Ben Moir

Tuesday 13 March 2018

A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer, March 8, 2018 ****

Written by Bryony Kimmings & Brian Lobel with Kirsty Housley
Produced by Complicité (UK) 
At Malthouse Theatre until March 18, 2018
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on March 8, 2018

Review also published in Herald Sun Arts/Lifestyle online on Fri Mach 9, 2018 & later in print. (Date TBC). KH
Bryony Kimmings, Lara Veitch, Lottie Vallis, Eva Alexander_ Photo by Mark Douet
You’ll probably smile or even laugh at the beginning of Bryony Kimmings' peculiar narrative and musical exploration of cancer, but by the end you'll be dripping with tears, so bring tissues.

A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer begins gently, messily and without confrontation, with Kimmings describing how she pitched her idea for a musical about cancer to UK Theatre company, Complicité, then developed the play with research, patient interviews and earnest tomes about cancer.

Pulsating, gyrating rock tunes about cancer, performed by four versatile actor-musicians (Eva Alexander, Gemma Storr, Lottie Vallis, Elexi Walker), pepper the excerpts of interviews with cancer sufferers and quotes from experts.

The show, directed by Kirsty Housley, then cunningly morphs into a more confronting, profoundly emotional and personal experience, when Kimmings introduces on stage Lara Veitch, a real cancer victim whose life is constantly threatened with returning cancer.

The loud and wacky songs disappear when we listen to Veitch’s stories of repeated bouts of cancer and ruinous chemotherapy that leave her bedridden and wretched.

As Kimmings and her cast discover, there is no guide to deal with cancer, no hard and fast rules, no fixed pathway or sage advice to fit all situations; every person's experience is different.

Most audience members will have some connection with cancer, and will be thinking of those close to them who are living with cancer or who have passed away.

Kimmings own understanding of what she calls ‘The Kingdom of the Sick’ expands when she confronts a family illness of a different kind.

This show is not for the faint-hearted, and it is a stark reminder that cancer is a beast that leaves people sick, weak, angry and despairing, and it doesn't make heroes of its sufferers or necessarily make you a better person.

By Kate Herbert 

Originally a co-production with the National Theatre in association with HOME Manchester.

WRITTEN BY / Bryony Kimmings and Brian Lobel with Kirsty Housley
MUSIC BY / Tom Parkinson
DIRECTED BYKirsty Housley 
CAST / Eva Alexander, Bryony Kimmings, Gemma Storr, Lottie Vallis, Lara Veitch, Elexi Walker
SOUND DESIGN / Lewis Gibson

ORIGINAL COSTUME DESIGN / Christina Cunningham

Friday 2 March 2018

The Sound of Falling Stars, Feb 28, 2018 ****1/2

Written & directed by Robyn Archer
Presented by Arts Centre Melbourne & Smartartists Productions 
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, until March 3, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ****1/2
Review also published in print in Herald Sun Arts on Fri March 2, 2018. (Poss online later.) KH
Cameron Goodall, photo by Claudio Raschella

Cameron Goodall's performance in The Sound of Falling Stars is both remarkable and alarming as he portrays 31 popular, male singers of the 20th century, all of whom died young.

The honour roll of deceased talent includes Elvis, Hank Williams, Sam Cooke, Jim Morrison, Otis Redding and John Lennon, while the list of hits includes Are You Lonesome Tonight, Try A Little Tenderness, La Bamba, and Light My Fire.

On a large stage and supported by two accomplished, charming musician-singers (George Butrumlis, accordion; Enio Pozzebon, keyboard), the vocally versatile and chameleon-like Goodall opens the show as bolshy Cockney, Sid Vicious, then inhabits the spirit, vocal style and character of this parade of phenomenally talented artists.

Some of these singers died in plane or car crashes, others of drug or alcohol abuse, some of natural causes and others suicided.

All this may sound maudlin, but Robyn Archer's cunningly written script balances witty repartee with poignant revelations and sound bites from the singers’ diverse repertoires.

Goodall bleeds from one character to another with a shift of accent, posture and vocal quality, the addition of a shirt or jacket, a flick of his hair, a smile or a crafty sneer.

Highlights include his sassy Sam Cooke medley, Jim Morrison's smouldering presence and distinctive vocal style, Jeff Buckley's vulnerability and Bon Scott's audacious performance of Highway to Hell.

Goodall teases us with a false ending ­– Sid Vicious singing My Way – then closes with Kurt Cobain's angry presence, distinctive personality and voice singing Nirvana’s anthem, Smells Like Teen Spirit.

Goodall's performance is passionate, effortless and masterly in its characterisation and vocal versatility, and The Sound of Falling Stars is a memorable tribute to these exceptional and tragic singers.

By Kate Herbert 
-Cameron Goodall, photo by Claudio Raschella