Tuesday 30 July 2019

Last Words, July 26, 2019 ***

Written, co-devised and performed by Joseph Sherman, produced by La Mama 
At La Mama Courthouse, until Aug 4, 2019  
Reviewer: Kate Herbert (on Fri July 26)
Stars: ***

Review also published in Herald Sun Arts, Tues July 30, 2019. KH
Joseph Sherman, Last Words, pic by Paul Dunn
Joseph Sherman’s Last Words is a gentle, poignant and intensely personal performance about Sherman’s Russian-Jewish parents’ journey from Odessa to Nunawading, followed by his father’s heartbreaking decline into dementia.

In this show, directed unobtrusively by John Bolton, Sherman roams around a display of black-and-white family photos, telling tales of his parents, Rebecca and Michael’s fraught marriage, mismatched families and quirky business ventures.

Initially, the piece is conversational and intermittently humorous, as the photos and Sherman’s childhood memories spark stories of Odessa, his parents and grandparents, and Stalinist Russia.

Sherman recalls the writings of a dissident poet, Odessa’s Black Market that was actually a market, and a street that changed its name from Karl Marx Street to Hitler Street.

But all is not well between Rebecca and Michael before they leave Odessa in 1974 to travel to Melbourne, where they divorce a few years later.

Memory is key in Sherman’s family saga, and he gently reminds us from the beginning that both his parents died with Alzheimer’s.

The more playful, early narration gives way to a short, compelling, but light-hearted lecture – complete with chalkboard diagrams and a wire model of the brain – about the damage done by Alzheimer’s as it destroys the capacity to create new memories or imagine the future.

By the final scenes, the performance becomes more theatrical as Sherman transports us to a darker place where he is immersed in his father’s confusion, disorientation, and loss of memory and identity.

Accompanied by Christopher Bolton who plays piano while eerily chanting lyrics, Sherman speaks Russian almost exclusively in the last scene, giving the audience some sense of his ailing father’s bewilderment.

We take memory for granted, whether it is to remember the good or the bad in our lives and, in Last Words, the pain of a son watching his father fade from the world is palpable.

by Kate Herbert

Directed and co-devised by John Bolton
Music Composition and Performance by Chris Bolton
Designed by Brian Lipson
Lighting Design by Shane Grant

Joseph Sherman, Last Words, pic by Paul Dunn

Monday 29 July 2019

Coming tomorrow: My review of Last Words

I'll post my review of Last Words by Joseph Sherman, tomorrow. Tues 30 July 2019.
I need to wait till it drops in Herald Sun print. KH
Joseph Sherman in Last Words

Tuesday 23 July 2019

Much Ado About Nothing, July 21, 2019 ***

By William Shakespeare
Bell Shakespeare
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, until July 27, 2019 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: *** 
This review also published in Herald Sun Arts in print on Tues July 23, 2019. KH
Much Ado About Nothing_Duncan Ragg_Zindzi Okenyo- pic Clare Hawley
In Shakespeare’s romantic comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, there is indeed much ado in a plot that is riddled with deception, false accusations, cowardly behaviour and loves lost and regained.

Sharp-tongued Beatrice (Zindzi Okenyo) and the acerbic Benedick (Duncan Ragg) trade witty, caustic insults that mask their true feelings for each other, while Benedick’s fellow soldier, Claudio (Will McDonald), falls in love and plans to marry Beatrice’s sweet-natured cousin, Hero (Vivienne Awosoga).

Of course, it all goes terribly wrong when the villainous Don John (Paul Reichstein), vindictive, illegitimate brother of Don Pedro (Danny Ball), tells Claudio porkies about Hero being unfaithful.

James Evans’ production is spirited and entertaining, but uncomfortably reframes the nature of Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship by portraying Benedick as an unsophisticated, gawky clown, going against the commonly held view of him as a rakish womaniser with a scathing wit.

Ragg is hilarious as this physically clownish interpretation of Benedick and almost steals the show with his comic business.

However, because his Benedick is so cleverly comical, he overshadows Shakespeare’s buffoon, Dogberry (Mandy Bishop), a pompous policeman who misuses words and clumsily stumbles upon criminals.

The first half is the more successful and cohesive, setting up the return of the soldiers from battle, introducing Beatrice and Benedick’s mocking banter, revealing Don John’s villainy, and exposing Claudio and Don Pedro’s weakness and sexism.

Okenyo plays Beatrice with a contemporary sass and toughness, while Awosoga allows the usually submissive and naive Hero some vivacity.

McDonald’s Claudio has a coltish, youthful physicality, Ball captures the vanity of the princely Don Pedro, while David Whitney is dignified as Leonato, and Reichstein is suitably dislikeable as the malicious Don John.

Although this production feels unbalanced with its shift of emphasis to make Benedick the central clown figure, it will engage and divert an audience not expecting its Shakespeare to adhere to a more traditional interpretation.

By Kate Herbert

A Room of One’s Own, July 18, 2019 ***1/2

Adapted by Peta Hanrahan from Virginia Woolf, by Sentient Theatre
At fortyfivedownstairs, until July 28, 2019 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert (on Thurs 18 July 2019) 
Stars: ***1/2
This review also published in Herald Sun Arts on Tues 23 July 2019. KH

A Room Of One's Own - Marissa O'Reilly_Pic by Tommy Holt

If you had a secure income and a room of your own in which to write uninterrupted, could you be a fiction writer?

Perhaps not, but according to Virginia Woolf in her 1928 essay, A Room of One’s Own, money and a private space might allow a woman to have a jolly good crack at it.

Peta Hanrahan adapts Woolf’s inspired analysis into gentle, perambulatory musings on the conditions confronted by women who wanted to be writers, from the Elizabethan period up until Woolf’s own time in early 20th century England.

With audience on two sides of a space empty but for a scruffy sofa and a table, four actors (Anthea Davis, Marissa O’Reilly, Anna Kennedy, Jackson Trickett) deliver Woolf’s intelligent, incisive and challenging opinions on the obstacles faced by women writers.

Although this hour-long performance is essentially a lecture, the cast is relaxed and engaging as they stroll about, opining on matters including famous men’s contradictory views on women, Shakespeare’s fictional sister’s doomed writing career, women having no access to personal funds, and the rigid rules forbidding them from studying at universities such as Cambridge.

Although all the words are Woolf’s, each actor imbues the dialogue with an individual, identifiable tone and character. Davis is edgy and teacherly as she questions the matters raised, while O'Reilly attacks the issues with girlish enthusiasm, sensitivity and emotion.

Conversely, Kennedy’s attitude is restrained, sceptical maturity, while the fourth actor, Trickett, provides a subtle counterpoint as the sole, male voice.

Women writers finally came into their own in the 18th century with the rise of the novel, a new form that women such as the Brontes and George Elliot embraced with relish.

There is warmth, humour and cheerful cynicism in Woolf’s analysis of women in fiction writing, and the concerns she raises about gender inequities are still, sadly, relevant today.

by Kate Herbert

Saturday 20 July 2019

Come From Away, 13 July 2019 *****

Book, Music & Lyrics by David Hein & Irene Sankoff
Comedy Theatre, until Oct 27, 2019 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert (reviewed at preview performance on Sat 13 July 2019)
Stars: ***** (5)  
This review NOT published in Herald Sun. KH

Melbourne Cast of Come From Away-photo Jeff Busby
Come From Away is a remarkable, exhilarating and joyous celebration of the human spirit at its best, and the audience leapt to its feet in a standing ovation at the finale. This show is a rare creature you should not miss.

On September 11 2001, 38 planes were diverted to a tiny town in Newfoundland, Canada, almost 7,000 passengers were met with warmth and open-hearted generosity.

On that dark day, the 10,000 residents of Gander and neighbouring towns gave shelter, solace and a warm hearth to complete strangers displaced by the events of 9-11. These people shared their lives. Remember sharing?

In their electrifying and outstanding musical, writers, David Hein and Irene Sankoff, condense 16,000 stories from real interviews into a narrative set over five days, with dozens of quirky characters portrayed by an exceptional ensemble of twelve.

Hein and Sankoff weave an uplifting and compelling tale, about the passengers who start in a state of panic, despair and ignorance, and the extraordinary residents of Gander who rally to make them welcome. As news filters through from New York, these strangers commune and a new, short-term community takes shape.

With Christopher Ashley’s deft direction, actors transform into multiple characters with only the change of a jacket and an accent. On a stage sparsely decorated with wooden chairs and slender tree trunks, they transport us from claustrophobic plane to crowded sleeping quarters or a rowdy pub.

Ashley sets a vivacious pace that never tires the audience, but keeps us energised and on the edge of our seats, because we care about these people.

We wait anxiously for news of Hannah’s (Sharriese Hamilton) fireman son in New York, Captain Beverly Bass’s (Zoe Gertz) pilot friend, wonder if this odd couple (Nathan Carter, Katrina Retallick) will get together, and will the gay partners, Kevin and Kevin (Doug Hansell, Nicholas Brown), split up?

With precision and style, Hein and Sankoff thread dialogue amongst the spirited, witty lyrics and complex, choral harmonies of their songs, to inform story, characters and relationships.

The signature tune, Welcome to the Rock, provides a stirring anthem about Newfoundland that is reminiscent of a Les Miz chorus, while the rousing Celtic, folk-rock score, featuring a live band (fiddle, guitar, bass, bodhran, accordion), supports the ebullient performers.

City slickers and foreigners start to realise they won’t be robbed or killed in this gentle, surprisingly tolerant, isolated island, although some of Muslim faith are carefully screened.

Come From Away has an unlikely story for a musical, but it works and its celebratory story renews one’s faith in humanity. I’d wanted to watch it all over again immediately it finished. If you see nothing else this year, see this. It’s worth it.

By Kate Herbert
COME_FROM-AWAY-Zoe Gertz - pic Jeff Busby
COME_FROM-_AWAY_Nathan Carter Katrina Retallick -pic Jeff Busby

Zoe Gertz - Captain Beverly Bass
Richard Piper - Mayor of Gander (and other characters)
Sharriese Hamilton- (Hannah)
Doug Hansell – Kevin T
Nicholas Brown - Kevin
Kolby Kindle –Bob
Emma Powell - Beulah
Katrina Retallick – Diane
Kellie Rode-  Bonnie
Sarah Harrision -Janice
Nathan Carter – Nick
Simon Maiden – Oz, Rabbi

Director - Christopher Ashley
Musical Staging -Kelly Devine
Musical Director -Luke Hunter
Musical Supervisor -Ian Eisendrath

Monday 15 July 2019

Come From Away - review coming

I can't post a review yet as the official opening is 20 July.

However, see this show! Comedy Theatre, Melbourne. Kate

FROM MEDIA RELEASE (i.e. not my words. KH) 

'The ground-breaking new musical is based on the incredible real-life events in the wake of the September 11 tragedy when 38 planes carrying nearly 7,000 people from over 100 countries were redirected to Gander, Newfoundland, almost doubling the population of the remote Canadian town.
'Capturing the generosity and hospitality of the small community of Gander who invited the“come from aways” into their homes, it is an inspirational story of hope and humanity.'

Friday 5 July 2019

Solaris, Malthouse, July 3 2019 ****

Solaris by David Greig, adapted from Stanislaw Lem’s novel, 
By Malthouse Theatre 
At Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, until July 21, 2019 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ****
Leeanna Walsman & Keegan Joyce_photoPiaJohnson

In space someone can hear us dream, or so it seems on the watery planet Solaris where the memories and dreams of humans have a life of their own.
Matthew Lutton and an accomplished cast deliver a compelling, thought-provoking interpretation of David Greig’s play, Solaris, adapted from Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 novel. (Yes, there were also movies by Tarkovsky and Soderbergh.)

When Dr. Kris Kelvin (Leeanna Walsman) arrives at the space station orbiting Solaris, she encounters two agitated, secretive scientific researchers, Dr. Sartorius (Jade Ogugua) and Dr. Snow (Fode Simbo), who have lost communication with earth.

Solaris is a seething, oceanic planet that seems to have its own consciousness that seeks to communicate with the humans, and Kelvin, like her colleagues, starts to experience strange visitations of a person from her past. Is this mysterious entity benign or predatory?

Kelvin slowly immerses herself in a relationship with Ray (Keegan Joyce) on the pretext of researching this physical manifestation of her dreams, but Sartorius vigorously argues for scientific rationality, treating Ray as a mere specimen to be studied.

Greig's masterly script is a gripping, sc-fi thriller that explores human nature and our need for contact, communication and togetherness while paradoxically craving separateness and solitude.

The entire cast is credible in this ‘other world’: Walsman’s Kelvin evolves from a logical scientist into a romantic escapee from her real world, while Joyce is affecting as her lovelorn, partially formed and confused dream lover.

Ogugua brings a brittle quality to Sartorius that masks her inner pain and loss, while Simbo is both charismatic and delightfully funny as Snow.

Appearing only on video, Hugo Weaving gives a consummate and intimate performance as the late Dr. Gibarian.

Solaris is poignant, absorbing and guaranteed to draw you into its atmospheric, gravitational pull.

by Kate Herbert 

Leeanna Walsman as Dr Kris Kelvin
 Keegan Joyce as Ray
Jade Ogugua as Sartorius
Fode Simbo as Snow
Hugo Weaving on screen as Gibarian

Fode Simbo and Leeanna Walsman_photoPiaJohnson