Wednesday 22 January 2020

Cats (Youth Production), Jan 18, 2020 ****

Book by T.S. Eliot; Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; additional material by Trevor Nunn & Richard Stilgoe; by Young Australian Broadway Chorus (YABC) 
at National Theatre, St. Kilda, until Jan 25, 2020 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 

 Review also published in Herald Sun in print only on Wed 22 Jan 2020.  Pics: Kit Haselden Photography
YABC_CATS_Left Mungojerrie-Matthew Casamento_Right Rumpleteazer-Adeline Hunter

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s enormously successful musical, Cats, is the ideal vehicle for these youthful, talented performers who hurl themselves heart and soul into Robert Coates’ production for the Young Australian Broadway Chorus (YABC).

Lloyd Webber, Trevor Nunn and Richard Stilgoe based their rather flimsy narrative on T.S. Eliot’s collection of poems, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, but added plenty of lively music, songs, and quirky, feline characters.

The tribe of Jellicle cats lives and frolics away from prying human eyes. On this night in the Jellicle world, Old Deuteronomy (Harrison Dart) will choose one cat to be reborn into a new life on the Heaviside Layer.

The clever design (Dann Barber) sets this production in a dilapidated theatre, and the cats wear extravagant, vivid costumes (Sean Rentero), with tattered Edwardian gowns and top hats mixed with 1920s flapper frocks and kitty make-up.

With 80+ in cast and orchestra, all aged 8 to 18 years, Coates’ direction is imaginative and deft, and the vivacious energy of this youthful chorus is undeniable. Like their animal counterparts, these felines are alert and nimble, with Jacqui Green’s effervescent choreography being a highlight.

Occasionally, the stage seems overcrowded, which is to be expected when you are - well - herding cats.
Cast of Cats YABC
Suzannah Bourke is compelling as Grizabella, the former Glamour Cat who is now shabby, stooped and grizzled, and her powerful soprano does justice to the moving song, Memory.

Praise goes to other leads, including: Kristen Robertson as Jennyanydots; Patrick Rogers as Skimbleshanks; Matthew Casamento and Adeline Hunter as acrobatic duo, Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer; Tim Bland as Gus the Theatre Cat; Declan Ahern as magical Mr. Mistoffelees; and Nathan Derix-Brown as villainous, elusive Macavity.

Cats has adoring fans worldwide, although its critics believe the flaws outweigh its successes. People love or hate Cats, but die-hard fans of the stage show should be delighted with this energetic production.

by Kate Herbert 

Grizabella-Suzannah Bourke

Wednesday 15 January 2020

Alice in Wonderland, Jan 10, 2020 ****

by Lewis Carroll, adapted by Glenn Elston
at Rippon Lea House & Garden, until Jan 26, 2020 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ****

Darcy Dann &Ayesha Gibson_Alice in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is nifty nonsense and Glenn Elston’s theatre adaptation is a nutty, chaotic and nonsensical blend of rhymes, characters and songs for little kids and their parents.

Alice (Ayesha Gibson) goes on an adventure that is all terribly, terribly English as she encounters the White Rabbit (Darcy Dann) who is always late, visits the Mad Hatter’s (Dennis Manahan) Tea Party, meets the Duchess (Claire Nicholls), and plays Croquet with the oversized Queen of Hearts (Madeleine Somers).

Directed by Otis Elston, this playful, vividly colourful, outdoor (but under cover) performance provides participation at every opportunity, with the children singing along, shouting ‘He’s behind you!’ and calling out the time on the clock.

The wacky characters keep coming, and the children giggle and shout at Humpty Dumpty, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Caterpillar and the grinning Cheshire Cat.

Even the adults join in, dressing up as playing cards for the Queen’s Croquet match while the tiny tots crawl through their legs like croquet hoops.

As Alice, Gibson is suitably na├»ve, pert and clever in her blue and white frock, while Dann’s White Rabbit is a posh, smartly dressed bunny that snaffles picnic food while people are watching the croquet.

Manahan is delightful as the Mad Hatter, engaging the audience and leading songs, and his signature tune, I’m Mad!, is a highlight for young and old.

Nicholls has fun as the Duchess, revelling in her frightening song, ‘Speak roughly to your baby’, as she tosses her tiny baby doll in the air and feeds it pepper.

The eccentric costumes (Karla Erenbots) and cartoon-like set (Sarah Tulloch) are vibrant, candy-coloured and almost edible.

This vivacious, participatory performance is perfect for littlies and their parents who can enjoy the entertainment and the idyllic garden surroundings of Rippon Lea.

by Kate Herbert

Wednesday 8 January 2020

Hamlet, Jan 4, 2020 ***1/2

By William Shakespeare, Australian Shakespeare Company 
At Botanical Gardens, Southern Cross Lawn, until Jan 31, 2020 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert  
Stars: ***1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun in print (not online) on Wed Jan 8, 2020. KH
Hamlet - Andre de Vanny-Photo by Nicole Cleary
While Hamlet is not the usual cheery, Shakespearean comedy-romance in the Gardens, here’s your opportunity to catch one of Shakespeare’s most famous and much-quoted tragedies – all while sipping wine and snacking under the stars.

Hamlet has all the human drama of a high-end soap opera: beloved father dies; traumatised son grieves; mother marries uncle much too quickly; son suspects foul play, feigns madness and alienates loved ones; chaos and tragedy ensue.

There is a ghost, a fool, an acting troop, a spurned lover, a suicide, sword fighting, poisonings and a final scene littered with bodies.

The moonlit, natural environment heightens the thrilling, relentless path to tragedy and intensifies Shakespeare’s superb poetic language.

Although the acting is uneven across the cast, Glenn Elston’s production is dynamic and deftly directed, with several standout performances.

Andre de Vanny’s Hamlet is a boyish, mercurial, energetic and brooding prince, and he makes sense of Hamlet’s many long, philosophical monologues as the character negotiates his rocky path from bereaved son to avenger of his father’s murder.

Brian Lipson’s old Polonius is daffy but believable, and his performance is delicately nuanced and a delight to behold, with his every verbose speech being delivered with clarity and intense joy. It is a lesson in performing Shakespeare.

As Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, Alison Whyte shifts effortlessly and credibly from stately matriarch to grief-stricken queen, while Dion Mills plays the Ghost of Hamlet’s father with quiet dignity, and Matthew Connell’s Horatio is composed and understated.
Hamlet - ASC - Alison Whyte and Dion Mills, Photo by Nicole Cleary
Emily Goddard’s Ophelia is feisty but lacking subtlety, Andrew Coshan looks uncomfortable as Laertes, while Mark Wilson understudies the role of Claudius until further notice (Greg Stone in unable to perform the role due to illness).

Despite some shortcomings, Elston’s production brings clarity to Shakespeare’s language and characters, providing a rare opportunity for those unfamiliar with the Bard to immerse themselves in the world of Hamlet without the strictures of a traditional theatre.

by Kate Herbert

Friday 3 January 2020

The Choir of Man, Dec 30, 2019 ****1/2

Presented by Andrew Kay and Nic Doodson
At Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, until Jan 12, 2020 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ****1/2
Review also published in print ( not online) in Herald Sun on Friday Jan 3, 2020. KH
Front_George Bray, Ben Langridge_image credit David and Chris Cann
The Choir of Man is just the ticket if you’re after a rollicking, musical night of singin’, talkin’, dancin’ and drinkin’ in the New Year.

Nic Doodson’s vivacious, uplifting and celebratory 80-minute production is set in an old-fashioned, English pub called The Jungle in which nine multi-talented blokes – AKA The Choir of Man – dance, spin yarns and sing a repertoire of pop songs, rock anthems, pub and folk tunes.

The show is filled with thrilling harmonies and a cappella singing that will raise the hairs on your arms, inspired musical arrangements (Jack Blume) of instruments including guitar, piano, banjo, trumpet, clarinet and violin, as well as the foot-stomping, percussive rhythms of a tap dancer (Guy Salim).

The audience is encouraged to participate, not only by singing along, but also some lucky bodies are invited on stage to drink beer, be serenaded one-on-one, or included in a raucous rendition of The Proclaimers’ 500 Miles.

Doodson’s direction is inventive, assured, complex and seamless, while the poetic, social commentary (Ben Norris) spoken by Narrator, George Bray, laments the loss of pubs to luxury apartments – ‘the easy casualties of time’ – and encourages us to value community and communication.

This joyous show has many highlights: a soaring and moving rendition of Adele’s anthemic song, Hello (Johnny Sheehy); a raunchy version of Queen’s Somebody to Love (Tom Gadie); a rousing You’re the Voice (Mikey Shearer) with singalong; and Sia’s Chandelier, sung a cappella.

The nine men display their musical versatility in an instrumental number, three men sing a goofy trio standing at a urinal, and Bray delivers the poignant melody, Dance With My Father.

This vibrant production not only entertains but also urges us to preserve the spirit of those close-knit communities that used to meet at their local for a few brews and some yarn-spinning – until developers bought the block!

By Kate Herbert
Front-George Bray_image credit David and Chris Cann

The Wind in the Willows, Dec 27, 2019 ****

by Kenneth Grahame, adapted by Glenn Elston
at Botanical Gardens, Gate F, until Jan 26, 2020 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Review also published in Herald Sun in print ((ot online) on Friday Jan 3, 2020. KH
 The most treacherous creatures for outdoor children’s performers are the kids themselves, and actors in The Wind in the Willows in the Botanical Gardens sometimes contend with little ones mobbing the stage.

Their participation is encouraged, albeit controlled, in Otis Elston’s production of Kenneth Grahame’s beloved story of Toad of Toad Hall (Ryan Hawke) and his creature cronies.

The enthusiastic children sing ‘Waggle your ears, wiggle your nose,’ and ‘Quack quack quackady-quack’, roar laughing at the antics of Weasel (Paul Morris) and Head Chief Rabbit (Callum O’Malley) , then go on a dangerous mission with Ratty (Isaac Broadbent) and Badger (Chris Asimos) to rescue little Portly the Otter (Cierra Shook/Kempton Maloney) from the Wild Wood.

This 2020 production includes some recasting, new comic bits and some more updated pop songs with witty lyrics for the adults.

Morris is the hilariously sly and sleazy Weasel who invades Toad Hall with his weasel mates, wielding giant water pistols filled with ‘weasel wee’, to the children’s delight.

O’Malley hosts the show as a youthful and charming Head Chief Rabbit, leading songs, playing guitar and, with Morris as Weasel on mandolin, entertains the parents with witty new lyrics to pop tunes.

Wearing a suitably gaudy green and pink outfit, Hawke is gleefully flamboyant as the vain and manipulative twit, Mr. Toad, who is obsessed with every sporty fad from canoeing to motorcars and gets himself arrested and sentenced to 40 years for car theft.

Broadbent is playful as the down-to-earth, river-dwelling Ratty who loves ‘messing about in boats’, while Alex Cooper plays Otter as well as a smug Policeman and a doddery Judge.

Asimos is suitably pompous and long-winded as the black and white Badger who – according to Weasel – looks like a renegade from Kiss or, worse, a Collingwood supporter, while Chloe Bruer-Jones is sprightly as the timid Mole.

Willows is ideal summer family entertainment so, pack a picnic, but guard your snacks and wine with your life, because Rabbit and Weasel will raid your hamper.

by Kate Herbert