Friday 30 August 2019

Tchekov at the House of Special Purpose, Aug 29 2019 ***

Written by Rosemary Johns 
At La Mama Courthouse, Aug 28 to Sept 8, 2019 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ***
This review NOT published in Herald Sun, but only on this blog. KH
Jim Daly, Gregory J Fryer.-pic by Laura Owsianka.
In Tchekov at the House of Special Purpose, the last days of the Romanovs, the Russian Tsar’s family, intersect intriguingly with Anton Chekhov’s play, The Three Sisters. 

Rosemary Johns’ play takes place in an isolated house – the House of Special Purpose - where the Romanovs, Nicholas (Jim Daly), his wife, Alexandra (Roxana Păun Trifan), their four daughters (Joanna Halliday, Meg McKibbin, Natalia Rozpara, Kandice Joy), and a servant (Gregory J. Fryer), are held prisoner by Bolshevik guards, while the family awaits their return to Moscow for Nicholas’s trial. 

During their stay, three of the daughters talk about performing a Chekhov play to fill the empty hours and distract them from the steaming, mosquito-ridden, summer days in their house of detention.

Neither of these anticipated events ever happens; we know the dreadful fate that will befall the Romanovs at the hands of the Bolsheviks. Johns’ narrative is not factual but extrapolates on the Romanovs’ experiences in detention before their deaths.

The play echoes Chekhov’s style, with its ordinariness of daily life, characters’ inability to achieve their dreams, unrequited love, feelings of isolation and being cut off from the luxuries of life. Some of Chekhov’s actual dialogue is inserted into the script which is a special treat for those very familiar with his plays.

Daly is moody and distracted as ‘Citizen’ Nicholas, providing a still centre to the family. As his wife, Alexandra, Trifan is suitably haughty but slightly crazed in her obsession with her now-dead spiritualist ‘friend’, Rasputin. 

The intrinsic role women played in the Revolution is represented here by two female Guards: Anita Torrance plays Oxana, former chambermaid to the Romanovs, who is torn by her newfound power over the family, while Maria Paula Afanador is the much tougher, crueller Guard.

Although some of the acting is uneven, Alex Menglet’s spirited and skilful direction makes the most of the large cast of 12, harnessing the enthusiasm of the young women playing the four sisters.

Peter Mumford’s evocative design merges rough-hewn packing crates and wooden panels with elegant, tapestry luggage, and adds some Russian Constructivist design, the combination of which encapsulates visually the cultural clash between peasantry and royalty.

There are moments of beauty, such as the choreographed minuet in an early scene, and the photographic tableau that bookends the play, presaging the fate of this family.

Surprisingly, there is not a strong sense of impending doom in this production, and the audience is somewhat disengaged from the characters’ predicament, not sympathising with them as much as might be expected.

Some vocal issues arise, with a few actors pushing their voices, shouting and becoming incomprehensible in the vocally ‘bouncy’ space of the Courthouse. There are also some moments when the story and characters could engage more compellingly.

Despite some weaknesses, Tchekov in the House of Special Purpose provides an interesting perspective on both the fate of the Romanov family and Chekhov’s plays.

by Kate Herbert

L-R Maria Paula Afandor & Adam May pic Laura Owsianka

Director: Alex Menglet

Actors: Jim Daly, Roxana Păun Trifan, Gregory. J. Fryer, Anita Torrance, Adam May, Phil Roberts, Joanna Halliday, Huw Jennings, Maria Paula Afanador, Meg McKibbin, Natalia Rozpara and Kandice Joy.

Production Design: Peter Mumford

Lighting Designer: Shane Grant

Sound Designer: Zac Kazepis

Stage Management: Julian Adams

Photography/program image credit: Peter Mumford in homage to Lazar Markovich Lissitzky

Three Romanov sisters-
pic Laura Owsianka
Jim Daly & Cast-
pic Laura Owsianka
Huw Jennings, Natalia Rozpara, Gregory J Fryer-pic Laura Owsianka

Thursday 29 August 2019

Coming soon: Review of Tchekov at the House of Special Purpose

I'm reviewing Tchekov at the House of Special Purpose today at a matinee at La Mama Courthouse. 

It will be filled with VCE students because the show is on the VCE Theatre Studies List. 

The production is dedicated to Peter Stratford and his final stage performance as Dr Botkin in Tchekov at the House of Special Purpose.
Peter was also a cast member in my play, Sex, Drugs and Walking Frames.

Production photo: Laura Owsianka

Wednesday 28 August 2019

The Other Place, to 8 Sept 2019 NO REVIEW

I'm not seeing or reviewing this show now but you may be interested as it is a play about Betty Burstall who started La Mama in Melbourne. KH

Written by Christopher Bryant
Produced by Theatre Works and Before Shot
At TheatreWorks
August - 8 September 2019
The Other Place- Cast-pic Sarah Walker

'Carlton, 1967.
Schoolteacher Betty Burstall begins sketching plans for what will eventually become La Mama Theatre: the pre-eminent independent home of new, experimental and previously unseen Australian work.

'Stratford-upon-Avon, 1975. Politically charged director Buzz Goodbody – founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s The Other Place, a theatre of new, experimental and previously unseen theatre – is about to begin rehearsing her production of Hamlet.'

Directed by Jessica Dick
Set Designer Ella Butler

Saturday 17 August 2019

Golden Shield, 16 Aug 2019 ****

By Anchuli Felicia King, by Melbourne Theatre Company 
At Southbank Theatre, The Sumner, until Sept 14, 2019 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ****

This review NOT published in Herald Sun Arts, but only on this blog. KH
 Sophie Ross, Yuchen Wang, Nicholas Bell, Fiona Choi, Yi Jin -pic Jeff Busby
Global corporate greed is supported by international law, or so says lawyer Julie Chen (Fiona Choi) when she takes a US digital technology corporation  to court for providing the Chinese government with a new internet firewall that compromises the privacy and liberty of Chinese citizens.

In Golden Shield, playwright Anchuli Felicia King, courageously and successfully tackles risky global, political and personal issues facing the lawyers and their respective clients in both China and the US.

King’s writing is intelligent, exceptionally well-informed, sensitive to the range of issues, and often very funny as it provides insight into the foibles - both dangerous and innocuous - of the characters.

The determined lawyer, Chen, engages her sister, Eva (Jing-Xuan Chan), as her translator in this risky, international legal battle, and they must confront not only the corporate, legal minefield, but their own fractious and fractured past.

Sarah Goodes’ production, is imaginative, evocative and beautifully paced, and is staged on a brutal, grey, monumental set (The Sisters Hayes) reminiscent of a soaring, corporate building that accentuates the unemotional territory of corporations, the law, the internet and the Chinese government.

The play explores issues of communication, not just in relation to digital technology, but communication between siblings, husband and wife, lawyers within the justice system, corporate colleagues, and between foreign cultures.

The translation and interpretation of verbal and non-verbal language is crucial throughout the play, and Yuchen Wang as the Translator, provides intelligent, humorous and often poignant interpretations and observations on these convoluted and emotionally charged inter-relationships.

The story of Li Dao (Yi Jin), the dissident who was imprisoned for five years, is fascinating and horrific, while the relationship between Eva and the Australian, human rights activist (Sophie Ross) seems to be bolted on and unnecessary.

Josh McConville is suitably smug, driven and unfeeling as the chief engineer and architect of the firewall, who he becomes an unwitting but ruthless, cunning and amoral villain as he strives to create a perfect digital world with no concern for human consequences. Meanwhile, Nicholas Bell captures the cool, insensitivity and obsession with profit of Larry, the corporate boss.

Had the play stopped with the revelation of the outcome of the court case, it would have had a much more satisfying ending. However, King chooses to tie up all the relationships in a series of short scenes that drive the play slowly past its climax, denouement and obvious ending. This leaves us with an unsatisfying, unnecessary and anti-climactic final 15 minutes.

However, Golden Shield is a challenging, provocative production that leaves the audience with much to think about. It is timely and deeply disturbing, given the circumstances currently unfolding in Hong Kong with the Chinese government stopping protests and stamping on democratic rights.

by Kate Herbert

Nicholas Bell
Gabrielle Chan
Jing-Xuan Chan
Fiona Choi
Yi Jin
Josh McConville
Sophie Ross
Yuchen Wang

Friday 16 August 2019

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, REVIEW, Aug 15, 2019 ***1/2

Based on Roald Dahl’s book 
Music by Marc Shaiman, Lyrics Scott Wittman & Marc Shaiman; Book by David Greig 
Additional songs by Leslie Bricusse & Anthony Newley (from 1971 movie)
At Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, until Nov 3, 2019 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert  at opening on 15 August 2019
Stars: ***1/2
This review is NOT published in Herald Sun but only on this blog. KH
Lenny Thomas, Tony Sheldon - PIC  HEIDI VICTORIA
Take a bite from this sugar-coated delight that is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the vibrant, family-friendly musical based on Roald Dahl’s book.

In addition to the mountains of chocolate and candy in Willy Wonka's (Paul Slade Smith) factory, the audience is also treated to the sweetness and charm of Lenny Thomson, the Melbourne boy who plays the optimistic Charlie Bucket with naive and vivacious playfulness.

Charlie lives in cheerful poverty with his hard-working mother (Lucy Maunder) and his two sets of ancient, invalid grandparents. Charlie's adoring Grandpa Joe (Tony Sheldon) stimulates Charlie's imagination with tall tales of his own past - mostly fictional - adventures.

Slade Smith, who also played the role of Willy Wonka on Broadway, is spry, arch and mercurial as he leads the motley parade of Golden Ticket winners through his factory that is choc-full of edible deliciousness, including a chocolate river, candy flowers and a tasty giraffe.
The songs are singable, particularly those made familiar in the 1971 movie and especially Pure Imagination, Willy's signature tune about creativity and chocolate.

The first appearance of the Oompa Loompas elicits laughter and applause from the audience, and each of their mischievous songs heralds the awful but comical maiming of another unpleasant child in the factory, in inimitable Roald Dahl fashion.

The vividly colourful set integrates digital imagery into the stage design (Mark Thompson), making this a production for the 21st century.

Although Jack O’Brien’s direction and Joshua Bergasse’s choreography are spirited, some scenes feel awkward, lacking pace or not quite as 'magical' as others..

Intermittently, Slade Smith, who is clearly skilful, well-cast and comfortable in the role, loses some warmth, mischievousness and complicity with audience, shifting into automatic – as if he has performed the role too many times, perhaps?

Ultimately, it’s audience reaction that counts, and the children sat on the edge of their seats during this production that is also a tasty treat for big kids.

by Kate Herbert

Paul Slade Smith (US) - Willy Wonka
Tony Sheldon -Grandpa Joe
Mrs Bucket -Lucy Maunder
Lenny Thomson -Charlie Bucket on opening night
Jake Fehily - Augustus Gloop
Octavia Barron Martin - Mrs Gloop
Karina Russell - Veruca Salt
Stephen Anderson -Mr Salt
Jayme-Lee Hanekom - Violet Beauregard
Madison McKoy - Mr Beauregard
Harrison Riley - Mike Teavee
Jayde Westaby - Mrs Teavee

Charlie played on various nights by:
Benjamin Belsey (10 years of age, from Point Cook), Elijah Slavinskis (10, Ashburton), Edgar Stirling (10, St Kilda), Lenny Thomas (12, Bonbeach), Lachlan Young (13, Camberwell).

Creative Team:
Director Jack O’Brien
Music Marc Shaiman
Lyrics Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
Book by David Greig
Choreography- Joshua Bergasse
Additional songs - Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley from 1971 movie.
Scenic and costume design- Mark Thompson
Lighting design-Japhy Weideman
Sound design Andrew Keister
Projection design -Jeff Sugg
Puppet and illusion design -Obie and Basil Twist
Music supervision -Nicholas Skilbeck.
Johanna Allen, Sheridan Anderson, Hayden Baum, Kanen Breen, Bayley Edmends, Bronte Florian, Todd Goddard, Madison Green, David Hammond, Sasha Lian-Diniz, Aaron Lynch, Jordan Malone, Kassie Martin, Phoenix Mendoza, Joseph Naim, Adam Noviello, Glen Oliver, Danielle O'Malley, Jackson Reedman, Emma Russell, Taylor Scanlan and Thalia Smith.

Producers: John Frost, Craig Donnell, Warner Bros Theatre Ventures, Langley Park Productions and Neal Street Productions

Thursday 15 August 2019

Charlie and the Chocoloate Factory opens tonight

 Lenny Thomas - Melbourne Aug 2019 - PIC HEIDI VICTORIA

 Lenny Thomas & Paul Slade Smith - Melbourne August 2019 PIC CREDIT HEIDI VICTORIA

Wednesday 14 August 2019

Sunday in the Park with George- Photo only

 I am not reviewing this show but it is one of my favourite musicals. KATE

Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; Book by James Lapine
By Watch This
Whitehorse Centre, 9 & 10 August 
Geelong Performing Arts Centre, 15 – 17 August
Lawler Theatre – Southbank Theatre, 21 – 24 August

Nick Simpson-Deeks & Vidya Makan. Credit - Jodie Hutchinson

From media release:

'In Paris, 1884, George Seurat strives to transform the way we see. While he sketches in a park, preoccupied with composition, balance, light and harmony, his subjects are busy wrestling with life in a changing world – in
particular, his muse and mistress, Dot, who feels both alive and invisible within his gaze.
'A century on, another visual artist – also named George – faces a similar dilemma as he attempts to forge a new direction amidst the pressure of high-end commissions and the merciless glare of New York critics.'

Director: Dean Drieberg & Sonya Suares
Musical Director: Ned Wright-Smith
Choreographer: Zoee Marsh

Featuring: Nick Simpson-Deeks, Vidya Makan, Jackie Rees & Anton Berezin
Set Designer: Sarah Tulloch
Costume Designer: Rhiannon Irving
Lighting Designer: Rob Sowinski
AV/ Animation: Milked Studios