Monday 29 April 2019

The Miser, Bell Shakespeare, 28 April 2019 ***1/2


By Moliere with English translation by Justin Fleming 
Produced by Bell Shakespeare
At  Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, until May 12, 2019 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
This review is NOT published in, or written for, the Herald Sun. KH
The Miser Damien Strouthos, John Bell, Harriet Gordon-Anderson pic Prudence Upton
John Bell is spider-like as the mean-spirited, stingy Harpagon, a wealthy, Scrooge-like skinflint and moneylender who spends his time hiding his cache of cash in his weird, little garden.

The Miser, by French playwright Moliere, was first performed in 1668 and is a comedy that relies on chaotic stage action, social satire, missed opportunities, power plays and caricature rather than social commentary or psychological insight.

Justin Fleming’s English translation, with playful direction by Peter Evans, captures the spirit of Moliere’s rhyming verse in a rhythmic, smart, modernised text.

Sean O’Shea is louche and ingratiating as Harpagon’s servant, La Flèche, while Jessica Tovey is a seductive and dignified Valère.
L-R Sean O'Shea, Harriet Gordon Anderson, Jessica Tovey, John Bell, Elizabeth Nabben, Michelle Doake, Russell Smith pic Prudence Upton
Bell, in his welcome return to the stage, is a compelling presence, playing Harpagon as an obnoxious, grasping, scruffy, grotesque old geezer who lusts after a much too young wife, Mariane, (Elizabeth Nabben) and uses his stash of money as weapon to control his son, Cléante (Damien Strouthos), and daughter, Élise (Harriet Gordon-Anderson).
Some of the other performances feel laboured or even a bit hysterical at times as thy try to make the characters come to life with the very wordy play.

They rely on sometimes laboured delivery of dialogue, overwrought physicality or awkward slapstick, instead of allowing the characters - or caricatures as most are - to play the comedy.

Anna Tregloan’s sleek, stylish set design provides an open space with multiple doors that allow for those predictable, comic exits and entrances that are a signature of the French farce.

This is a suitably frivolous and intentionally camp production of Moliere’s farce that, despite some flaws, is entertaining and true to its origins as a light, social satire.

by Kate Herbert
John Bell
Director Peter Evans
Designer Anna Tregloan
Lighting Designer Matt Cox
Composer & Sound Designer Max Lyandvert
Movement & Fight Director Nigel Poulton
Voice & Text Coach Jess Chambers

 ohn Bell - Harpagon

Michelle Doake – Frosine
Harriet Gordon-Anderson – Elise 
Elizabeth Nabben - Mariane
Sean O’Shea - La Fleche / Signor Anselm
Jamie Oxenbould – Master Jacques
Russell Smith – Master Simon/Commissioner of Police
Damien Strouthos – Cleante son
Jessica Tovey - Valere

Tuesday 9 April 2019

Single Asian Female, April 6, 2019 ***

By Michelle Law, production by La Boite, Brisbane
At Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne until April 21, 2019 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert (reviewed on Sun 7 April 2019)
This review also published in Herald Sun in print on Tues 9 April 2019, & online at H-Sun Comedy Festival Reviews on Mon 8 April, 2019. KH
Courtney Stewart, Hsiao-Ling Tang, Jing-Xuan-Chan_Photo Dylan Evans

Michelle Law’s comedy-drama, Single Asian Female, may be about an Asian-Australian family named Wong, but other Aussie families of all backgrounds share many of the socio-cultural issues and expectations confronting the Wongs.  

Pearl (Hsiao-Ling Tang), over-protective matriarch of the Wong family, struggles to keep her Chinese restaurant afloat after her messy divorce, while wrangling her Australian-born daughters, Zoe (Jing-Xuan Chan) and Mei (Courtney Stewart).

Zoe, a 29-year old concert violinist, faces moving home to live with mum on the Sunshine Coast while dabbling in disastrous online dating. Meanwhile, 17-year old Mei, desperate to be accepted by the mean girls at school, tries to deny, or even delete, her Asian heritage.

Law’s play deals with stereotyping of Asian immigrants and objectification of Asian women, as well as the often hilarious consequences of living in a mixed cultural family landscape.

Littered amongst the many laughs are more telling moments concerning racism, sexism, bullying, anxiety and political bias as well as internal issues arising in Asian-Australian families.

The play is most successful when it stops playing stereotypes – both Asian and Aussie bogan – and allows characters to inhabit their story and expand the narrative. This happens in the final 20 minutes of the play, which is a bit late.

The characters are under-developed and remain two-dimensional until the latter part of the play, but the problem is that early scenes often reference the Australia of 40 years ago.

The dialogue – both comic and dramatic – often feels laboured, particularly when it shoehorns information about characters or social issues into scenes.

Claire Christian’s direction pushes the comic elements of Law’s script by aiming for slapstick and a situation comedy style, but the performances do not always reach the requisite comic heights.

Single Asian Female may be no masterpiece, but it is identification theatre that allows Asian-Australians to laugh at themselves – and this Melbourne audience certainly laughed.

by Kate Herbert