Monday 30 April 2018

Antony & Cleopatra, April 27, 2018 ***

Written by William Shakespeare, Bell Shakespeare Company
At Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, until May 13, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Mon April 30, 2018 & later in print. KH
Catherine McClements & Johnny Carr
Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra are like a middle-aged Romeo and Juliet, but with an overwhelming lust for power that accompanies their long-standing love.

The play occurs between 40BC and 30BC when the powerful triumvirate of Antony (Johnny Carr), Octavius (Gareth Reeves) and Pompey (Lucy Goleby) form an alliance to rule the Roman Empire, but this unity eventually dissolves into war.

Performed on a pastel design (Anna Cordingley) that merges corporate lounge with plush hotel room, Peter Evans’ production omits any visible signs of military action or violent warfare, focusing instead on the backroom machinations and boozy revelry of Antony, Cleopatra, Pompey, Octavius and their retinues.

This modern perspective provides insight into the corporatised decision-making of war, but it leaves the production lacking a sense of danger, with the only bloodiness occurring at the death of Antony.

Dressed in a modern pants suit, Catherine McClements is engagingly mischievous and manipulative as the vain, powerful Queen Cleopatra, capturing her insecurity in love and her capricious rage when crossed.

Evans eliminates any sense of Cleopatra’s exoticism and beauty, and he also diminishes Cleopatra’s role as the sole powerful woman in this story by transforming the male Pompey into a woman far more powerful and glamorous than Cleopatra.

Johnny Carr effectively depicts Antony's dissolute behaviour and his later disillusionment, but his portrayal emphasises Antony's weakness, with no sense that he was ever powerful in the past. Carr seems miscast as Antony, looking more like a hipster barista rather than a powerful, ageing Roman General.

Ray Chong Nee is commanding as Enobarbus and the richness of his voice and his magnetic presence may well have suited the role of Antony.

There is little romantic chemistry between McClements and Carr, so the passion that is essential between this ardent couple is sadly missing.

Strangely, the most passionate scene in the production is the dying farewell between Cleopatra and her serving women, Charmian (Zindzi Okenyo) and Alexas (Janine Watson), capturing as it does their love and grief.

This contemporary interpretation of Antony and Cleopatra successfully depicts the backroom power plays but its modern interpretation lacks passion and coherence.

By Kate Herbert

Catherine McClements, Johnny Carr, Ray Chong Nee, Joseph Del Re, Lucy Goleby., Ursula Mills,  Zindzi Okenyo, Gareth Reeves, Steve Rodgers, Jo Turner,Janine Watson 
Designer Anna Cordingley
Lighting Designer Ben Cisterne
Composer & Sound Designer Max Lyandvert
Movement & Fight Director Nigel Poulton

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Right Now, April 22, 2018 ***

Written by Catherine-Anne Toupin, translated by Chris Campbell, by Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre
At Red Stitch, until May 20, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert (on Sunday April 22, 2018) 

 Review also published in Herald Sun online on Mon April 23, 2018 and in print later. KH
Christina O’Neill, Joe Petruzzi

Reality can be slippery and elusive, and so it is in the world of Right Now, a play by Canadian writer, Catherine-Anne Toupin.

From the beginning of the play, it seems that all is not right between Alice (Christina O’Neill) and her husband, Ben (Dushan Phillips), but their apparently shaky relationship is tested to its limits when their peculiar neighbours start to intrude on their lives.

The three neighbours’ family name is ‘Gauche’, and their interfering, critical and rude behaviour soon proves them to be gauche not only by name but also by nature.

The production, directed by Katy Maudlin, has a creeping, portentous, horror movie feel that is sometimes too heavily underscored by its ominous soundscape.

The strange abstraction and unreality of this story sometimes seems overblown and the performances a little too clownish, but there is a pay off at the end when all becomes clear.

Juliette, played with relentless, intrusive cheerfulness by Olga Makeeva, is the first interloper to get her foot inside Alice and Ben’s apartment, then she hauls in her idiotic son, Francois, played by Mark Wilson as a gawky, grinning man-child.

Joe Petruzzi effectively plays Gilles, the last but most forbidding member of the Gauche family, as an older man who exerts a quietly menacing, seductive power over O’Neill’s timid, anxious Alice.

Ben and Alice seem to be rats in a laboratory experiment, being studied, analysed and tested by this weird and obnoxious family that seems to accept its own dysfunction and thrive on the discomfort of others.

Toupin’s short, episodic scenes are like snapshots of Alice and Ben’s life as it spirals out of their control, and it is difficult not to shout, ‘Get rid of them!’ to the couple to make them evict these neighbours who have inveigled their way into Ben and Alice’s lives.

Right Now is an unsettling play that succeeds in making its audience uncomfortable and blurring the lines between reality and – well, you’ll have to go and see it.

By Kate Herbert

Set & Costume Design Emily Barrie
Lighting Design Richard Vabre

Sound Design Daniel Nixon

Assistant Director Harvey Zielinski

Saturday 14 April 2018

Fanny Bouffante in French Women Do Everything Better, April 12, 2018 ***

Coopers Inn, 282 Exhibition St, Melbourne, until April 22, 2018
Stars: *** 
Australian act
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Review also published in Herald Sun online on Fri April 13, 2018. KH
Fanny Bouffante believes totally, completely and modestly in the superiority of the French woman's innate and unquestionable ability to do everything better than, well, everyone else, particularly Australians.

Fanny, the alter ego of Kate Hanley Corley, is the mistress of style when she arrives prancing jauntily through the audience, wearing a chic mini dress under an elegant, little Chanel jacket.

On stage, she poses and pouts, wiggles saucily and dances provocatively, all the while instructing the Aussies in Fashion, Food and Sex. Fanny identifies as a style icon, and her style Bible is her own book, French Women Do Everything Better, with each chapter providing more bizarre advice to the hapless Aussie.

It is refreshing to see some character-based comedy instead of stand-up, and there are some very funny moments, and some sassy and outrageous advice in Fanny’s routine.

Fanny sings several goofy, original songs (composer Emma Hart) from her album, My Fanny Sings, each with the flavour of La Belle France, including accordions, lilting tunes and silly lyrics about – you guessed it – food, fashion and sex.

She accompanies her smart and sassy lecture with large screen projections of – you guessed it again – food, fashion and sex!

Evidently, Australian women fail on all counts of style and beauty, while our men need flirting lessons, which Fanny is only too willing to provide.

A few jokes get lost when the tag lines rush by too quickly, while others seem like filler that could be trimmed, but Fanny is at her liveliest and funniest when responding to the audience, and, when she loosens up and lets her material relax, the character comes to life.

By Kate Herbert

Monday 9 April 2018

Judith Lucy & Denise Scott in Disappointments, April 8, 2018 ****1/2


Comedy Theatre, 240 Exhibition St Melbourne until April 22, 2018 
(April 7, 8, 14, 20, 21, 22 only)
Star Review: ****1/2 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
 Review also published in Herald Sun online April 9, 2018. KH

Never fear, die-hard but ageing and slightly weary fans of this wickedly funny comedy duo, you’ll be home in time for your favourite telly programs after these late arvo, weekend-only shows by Judith Lucy and Denise Scott.

Disappointments is laugh-out-loud funny, even for younger members of the mostly over-fortyish crowd who laugh their noggins off at every age-related ailment or life-related complaint that Lucy and Scott have experienced over their decades-long comedy careers.

They start as 'lie-down' comedians, propped up in beds, but graduate from flannelette nighties to sparkly, green and black dinner jackets when they transition to 'stand-up'. Later, they appear in something far more revealing, but no spoilers here.

Both are inclined to over-share, and there are gasps and roars of laughter as they trade routines about menopause and dry bits, bowel screening and IBS, and other bodily functions of the over 50s and 60s. It's identification comedy for the middle-ageing.

Scott's stories of her debilitating arthritis get howls of laughter from fellow sufferers in the crowd, and tales of successes and failures in their respective careers and relationships ring bells (or alarms, in the case of Lucy) for many.

Scott and Lucy trade gags and insults, playing off each other with ease, and shifting the focus from one to the other when they are not engaged in riotous dialogues.

They are wry and laconic, and their material is audacious and rude, but, strangely, never offensive, perhaps because of its outright, heart-on-sleeve honesty.

These two masterly comics spill their guts with no holds barred in this mischievous and outrageous testimony to being bloody resilient as we age. Testify sisters!

Saturday 7 April 2018

Matt Okine in The Hat Game, April 5, 2018 ***

Melbourne Town Hall, Supper Room, until April 22, 2018 
Star Review:*** 
Australian act 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review also published in Herald Sun online on Friday April 6, 2018. KH

Matt Okine looks comfortably casual in his jeans, sneakers, black t-shirt and cap, and his attitude and physicality is just as casual and loose throughout his show, The Hat Game.

He strolls across the stage, riffing on iPhones, bus tickets, peanuts, and how you can use credit cards to buy just about anything, anywhere. He rants about social media, idiots that populate that online world, Facebook ads, and Big Data.

Okine identifies himself as 'brown' then sticks the boot into racism in general, and, specifically, Australian political racism exhibited by One Nation.

His running story about seeking dual citizenship with Ghana (his father’s Ghanaian) has a comic pay-off by the end. Another running story dates from 10 years ago when he was barely scraping a living as a novice comedian, and his visits to the casino at that time provide material about winning and losing – and losing again.

His routine includes some tightly structured gags with clever tag lines and pay-offs, but he also wanders into some long, slow and relatively unformed lead-ups to jokes that don't always generate laughs, and its all riddled with expletives.

One gag makes the entire audience simultaneously laugh and groan with disapproval (or disgust?), because it is essentially a bit offensive. He admits he loves this gag, then spends the next 5 minutes analysing its comedic value.

Okine often delivers his material to the ceiling, which disengages him from his audience, and he wastes his final minutes unnecessarily listing his performance resumé, from his past as a struggling stand-up to his recent TV success.

While Okine’s blokey casualness obviously appeals to his audience and he has comedic skill, his material and delivery can be uneven.

Friday 6 April 2018

Link to Comedy Festival reviews, Herald Sun 2018

See link to otehr Comedy Festival reviews by lots of reviewers:

Thursday 5 April 2018

Stephen K Amos in Bread and Circuses, April 4, 208 ***1/2

Athenaeum Theatre, 188 Collins St, Melbourne, until April 22, 2018 
Stars: ***1/2 
International act (UK) 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Thurs April 5, 2018. KH

Each generation finds ways to distract itself from the politics and other horrors of its era, and, in Bread and Circuses, Stephen K Amos gets comedy mileage by contrasting his childhood distractions with those of the tech-savvy millennials.

The Ancient Romans distracted disgruntled citizens with food (bread) and gladiatorial fight clubs (circuses), and Amos's own childhood diversions included board games such as Cluedo, whereas young people today immerse themselves in iPhones, Facebook, Instagram and Reality TV.

To prove his point, a young woman seated in front of this reviewer kept scanning her Facebook feed then played a video of another idiot cooking muffins! Really! Bring back the gladiators, I say!

Amos lounges casually, leaning on his microphone stand and mercilessly teasing audience members who call out inanities, or take four seconds too long to get at a joke. He gets laughs out of hassling the crowd for messing up his ‘rhythm’.

He has a mischievous grin as he rambles comfortably from topic to topic: Donald Trump, traffic jams, redheads, guinea pigs, Bob Katter, Barnaby Joyce, and Amos’s own dad's inability to wrangle technology.

Hollywood and Harvey Weinstein get a big serve of criticism, and Amos also provides an interesting take on the superhero movie, Black Panther, and on other race-related issues.

Amos's comedy is intelligent but sometimes scathing and, even when the audience response is not what he expects or desires, he laughs at himself and the crowd, then gets back into the rhythm again.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 4 April 2018

Lano and Woodley in Fly, April 3, 2018 ****1/2


Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, until April 22 (later, Hamer Hall, Aug 10 & 11). 
Star Review: ****1/2
Australian act
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

 Review also published in Herald Sun online, Wed April 4, 2018 and in print on Thurs April 5, 2018. KH
Lano and Woodley
Get ready to hold onto your aching sides, because Lano and Woodley are still ridiculously funny and idiotic in Fly, their much-anticipated reunion show after 12 years apart.

Colin (Lano) is determined to stage a serious bit of theatre, a play about the flying Wright brothers, but Frank (Woodley) keeps tilting the show into the 'stupid, silly nonsense' for which Lano and Woodley are renowned, and which the crowd is slavering to see.

In front of a gloriously complex wall of geometric design (Charles Davis), eclectic projections (Neil Sanderson) and exploding lights (Verity Hampson), this beloved comic duo frolics from one madcap idea to another, creating their signature style of comedy mayhem.

Wearing a smoking jacket and tasseled hat, Colin narrates his play like an earnest BBC host, but repeatedly interrupting his artsy plan are bursts of electrocution, silly songs about the Wright brothers’ dead boring lives, or spontaneously erupting tunes from The Lion King.

Meanwhile, Frank keeps hilariously, and possibly unintentionally, sabotaging Colin’s arty ambitions, by deviating from the script with references to the duo’s ‘break up’, the Jeff Goldblum film, The Fly, and other horror movies that he recreates with spooky sound effects from the audience.

Lano and Woodley’s slapstick comedy is almost vaudevillian in style, and they are masters of cunning reincorporation, hilarious put-downs, and the endless postponement of gags and payoffs, all of which have the audience cheering and howling with laughter.

There’ll be no more spoilers here, but it is hard to spoil such an eccentric, screwball performance by two of our greatest virtuosos of comedy. Welcome back, lads!

PS: Colin, you have created a ‘beautiful’ piece of theatre!

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 3 April 2018

Nikki Britton, Grandma Is Not Growing Up, April 3, 2018 ***

Powder Room, Melbourne Town Hall, until April 15, 2018
Star Review: *** 
Australian act 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review also published in Herald Sun Comedy Festival online, Tues April 3, 2018. KH
Nikki Britton

 Nikki Britton's Grandma gleefully recreates the childhood dreams and ambitions of young and old alike, in her 'Realisation Station'.

Grandma, who is of a type not seen since early Edna Everage days, sports a silvery wig, glasses, pearls and a polyester frock, and she has a significant problem with gaseous eruptions that cause hysterics in the young audience.

She also has a hearing issue, which creates a running gag when she can't hear the names of her child volunteers, who she calls such loony names as 'Mushroom' and 'Batteries Not Included'.

Britton's Grandma is goofy and disinhibited, engaging easily with audience members, drawing them onto the stage to join her as backup rap dancers for Grandma's unforgettable Soup Rap, a number to which she could easily add another verse.

The kids share with her their dreams: being a Popstar, a Rockstar, a YouTuber, and even a kid who wants a proper job – as a Vet.

Grandma's shiny, red, shopping jeep holds all her dreams of being a magician, a rap artist, a scientist and, most bizarre of all, she wanted to be a frankfurt sausage – with her very own human rotisserie made out of dads from the audience. Beware dads!

Using her ‘Realisation Station’, Grandma conjures the children’s dreams as cute, little drawings on a screen immediately the children describe them to her. It's a clever and magical element to the show.

The kids obviously got Grandma's message, as was made loud and clear by a child calling out at the end, 'Never stop dreaming!' So, dream on people, and don't grow up.

Impromptunes, April 3, 2018 **1/2


The Completely Improvised Musical 
At Trades Hall, Music Room, Victoria St Carlton, until April 22, 2018 
Star Review: **1/2 
Australian act 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
 Review also published in Herald Sun online on Tues April 3, 2018. KH

A good musical requires a talented musician, cleverly constructed and tunefully sung songs, and a really sharp narrative with good dialogue and characters.

In its Completely Improvised Musical, Impromptunes manages to do the first two items very well, but, on this night, their musical called Hot Chocolate comes unstuck because of a shabby narrative, awkward dialogue and inconsistent characters.

After an overture by their versatile and inventive musician, the show’s title, provided by an audience member, is the cue for a classic, peppy, musical theatre opening song, ‘Hot Chocolate, Yahoo!’, sung by the cast of five.

The story is bumpy, but deals with the staff of Hot Hot Hot Industries that makes hot chocolate, but is also a hotbed of envy, ambition and lust.

Peter, the brown-nosing executive, sings about hot chocolate being a metaphor for his life, and the finale is the rousing chorus, 'Life is like hot chocolate. It's best shared with those you love.'

The songs sound like musical theatre tunes, complete with harmonies and cheesy dance routines and, on this night, there were plenty of love songs: a duet called ‘You and I, Me and You Together’; 'Maybe This Is The Moment', a quartet by two couples; and 'Sometimes Love Makes You Sweat'.

‘Trapped’ is a clever tune sung by all cast members, and the rapid-fire, uptempo ‘Sugar Song’ is a hoot.

It's exciting to witness singer-improvisers scrambling to create songs, story and characters, and you'll certainly get a different show every night, with good music and capable singers – and the narrative might be amazing on another night.

By Kate Herbert

Cast of Hot Chocolate:
Emmet Nichols
Hollie James
Morgan Phillips
Amberly Cull
Roland Lewis

David Peake