Wednesday 28 June 2023

Is God Is REVIEW 27 June 2023 ***


Written by Aleshea Harris, by Melbourne Theatre Company & Sydney Theatre Company

At Southbank Theatre, Sumner, until 15 July 2023

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Stars: ***

This review is published only on this blog. I’ll present a radio review on Arts Weekly on 3MBS on Sat 8 July 2023. KH

Henrietta Enyonam Amevor, Cessalee Stovall, Masego Pitso-photoPiaJohnson

There is horror in this house – well, in two houses, actually – in Is God Is, the award-winning play by African-American playwright, Aleshea Harris.


Twin sisters, Anaia (Henrietta Enyonam Amevor) and Racine (Masego Pitso), lived in Southern USA in cruel foster care after their brutal father intentionally set fire to their mother (Cessalee Stovall) and caused horrific injuries to the toddler twins. The two believe their mother, who they call God, died that day until, 18 years later, she summons them to a nursing home where she lies dying, and sends them on an epic quest to wreak vengeance on their father (Kevin Copeland).


Following God’s instructions, Anaia and Racine go first to LA to interrogate their father’s former lawyer, the drunkard, Chuck Hall (Patrick Williams), then travel to a northern state where they find their father’s current wife (Clare Chihambakwe) and 17-year-old twin sons, Riley (Grant Young) and Scotch (Darius Williams).


The tall Amevor and pocket-sized Pitso make eccentric, clearly non-identical twins and effectively create an intimate and symbiotic relationship between these damaged sisters. Amevor brings an awkward, lovable and fragile quality to the more sensitive Anaia, while Pitso is a firecracker as the bolder, more violent Racine.


The violence the pair perpetrates is stylised and abstracted – no blood here, fake or real – but the sense of menace and horror is palpable. Meeting both of the twins’ alarming parents explains some of Anaia and Racine’s dysfunction and their escalating trail of carnage.


Harris’s play, co-directed by Zindzi Okenyo and Shari Sebbens, has echoes of Greek tragedies and ironic tilts at cowboy movies. Her writing incorporates self-narration for many characters that sounds like complex stage directions combined with character back story, and her dialogue crackles with Southern US idiom, and a rhythmic, repetitive poetic style a little reminiscent of the Beat poets.


The ingenious set design (Renée Mulder) is like another character, with a plywood house that the actors manipulate by opening doors, panels, windows and shutters to change locations.


The opening scenes are compelling, from our first encounter with the sisters with their scarred bodies – represented by tattoo-like designs on their skin-coloured costumes (Mulder) – to the almost religious revelation of their mother, surrounded by candles, propped upright in a bed with tubes keeping her alive. Stovall’s performance as the formidable mother is disturbing, edgy, sometimes comical and always vocally dexterous.


However, in the latter half of this production, the direction lacks the balance of the early scenes, there are some awkward scene changes and some of the stylised violence feels contrived.


Is God Is challenges the audience with its style and content and is definitely a play that reflects its origins in America.


by Kate Herbert




Anaia Henrietta Enyonam Amevor
Angie Clare Chihambakwe
Man Kevin Copeland
Racine Masego Pitso
She Cessalee Stovall
Scotch Darius Williams
Chuck Hall Patrick Williams
Riley Grant Young


Creative Team

Co-Director Zindzi Okenyo
Co-Director Shari Sebbens
Set & Costume Designer Renée Mulder
Lighting Designer Jenny Hector
Composer & Sound Designer Joe Paradise Lui
Intimacy Coordinator Amy Cater
Fight Choreographer Lyndall Grant
Assistant Director Kuda Mapeza
Community Engagement Lead Effie Nkrumah
Community Engagement Team Member Lydia Tesema
Community Engagement Team Member Noah Da Costa
Voice Coach Lisa Dallinger
Accent Coach Amani Dorn
Accent Coach Rachel Finley

Henrietta Enyonam Amevor, Masego Pitso-photoPiaJohnson

Tuesday 27 June 2023

MIDNIGHT– The Cinderella Musical REVIEW 25 June 2023 **1/2


Music & Lyrics by John Foreman & Anthony Costanzo, one song by Kate Miller-Heidke

Book: Dean Murphy and Pip Mushin

At Comedy Theatre, Melbourne, until 18 July 2023

Reviewer: Kate Herbert


This review is published only on this blog. I’ll present a radio review on Arts Weekly on 3MBS on Sat 8 July 2023. KH

Midnight the Musical_photo PiaJohnson
Midnight – The Cinderella Musical, is a new Australian musical with plenty of potential and several exceptional musical theatre performers including Lucy Durack, Verity Hunt-Ballard and Matt Lee. However, the star power does not disguise the limitations of the production as an adaptation of the Cinderella story with its lead character, Ella (Brianna Bishop).


The conceit of the production is that a young girl is reading the Cinderella story and adapting the content and characters as she reads. Dean Murphy and Pip Mushin’s book attempts to update the fairy tale to make it a modern commentary on class, money, power and a corrupt monarchy.


Unfortunately, the book is clumsy, undercooked and lacking a coherent narrative through-line. The original Cinderella has a clear plot, characters and relationships so, to mess with those, there needs to be a very strong spine to the revamped story line. The adaptation could include the contemporary issues in the original story, but that requires more skilful and cunning plotting.


Sadly, the dialogue is also trite and cheesy, with too many glib lines, and modern lingo and colloquialisms such as 'Great!', 'OK’ or 'Fine' that clash with the period of the production, its characters, social structures and even the costumes.


The music, by John Foreman and Anthony Costanzo, has a few singable songs but, overall, the music is derivative and the lyrics are predictable. Along with the problems with the book, the direction, also by Murphy and Mushin, is unimaginative. Their biographies emphasise screen direction and writing so perhaps this points to the problem: a lack of experience with stage and specifically musical theatre direction.


Ella repeatedly talks about the King’s (Shane Jacobson) crippling taxes that cause the poverty, hunger and deprivation of the commoners. She spouts modern views on class, power, feminism and rebellion, but these never come to fruition. Although she finds Prince (Thomas McGuane) – whose name is Charming – weak, entitled, indulged and generally a spoiled brat, she still falls head over heels for him the moment she meets him in the marketplace, and pursues him, on the pretext that she wants to urge him to use his power and privilege for the good of the people. She inevitably compromises for love in the end.


The highlights of this production are the performances of those aforementioned stalwarts of musical theatre, although they cannot compensate for the limitations of the production.


The charismatic Hunt-Ballard is a vivid villainess as Ella’s stepmother who becomes wicked eventually, and her outstanding voice makes her song, My Time, livelier and more compelling. Durack, in her inimitable way, is perky and adorable as Ms Madrina, even though this fairy godmother doesn’t make an appearance until act two and her main song, You Are the One, would make more sense as a love duet between the leads.


The greatest highlight is Lee’s exhilarating and comical song and dance, Stuffed!, that has the crowd cheering – partly because they were thoroughly entertaining but also because they were thrilled to finally see an outstanding musical theatre turn.


Bishop is engaging, has a fine voice and plays Ella with cheekiness, while McGuane is suitably boyish and smug as Prince.


Midnight is crying out for more magic, not only in the story, but in the composition, writing and directing. We want more Australian musicals, but this one needs a big red pen and some rigorous dramaturgical assistance before it hits the stage for a second season. 


by Kate Herbert 



Brianna Bishop - Ella

Shane Jacobson – The King

Thomas McGuane - Prince

Lucy Durack – Ms Madrina

Verity Hunt Ballard – Madame Bellington

Matt Lee - Andre

Kristie Nguy – Rosalie Bellington

Melanie Bird – Tiffany Bellington

Father – Raphael Wong

Stella – various children

Alessandra Merlo – Princess of Verona

Lyall Brooks – Emperor Cloverbelli


Creative Team

Music and lyrics by John Foreman and Anthony Costanzo & featuring an exclusive song by Kate Miller-Heidke

Direction/Book: Dean Murphy and Pip Mushin

Choreography: Kelly Aykers

Musical Direction: Anthony Barnhill

Set Design: James Browne

Costumes: Harriet Oxley

Lighting: Trudy Dalgleish

Midnight the Musical_photo PiaJohnson

Sunday 25 June 2023

Shhh - No Review -Red Stitch 2023


Written by Clare Barron, by Red Stitch

At Red Stitch, St Kilda until 16 July, 2023

This is NOT a review but just an alert for the show. KH

Hayley Edwards, Jess Lu -image Jodie Hitchinson

Jessica Clarke

Hayley Edwards

Caroline Lee

Jess Lu

Peter Paltos

Sunanda Sachatrakul

Creative Team

Writer: Clare Barron

Director: Emma Valente

Set & Costume Design: Romanie Harper

Lighting Design: Giovanna Yate Gonzalez

Sound Design & Composition: Emma Valente

Production Dramaturg: Noemie Huttner-Koros

Stage Manager: Jemma Law

Saturday 24 June 2023

Kate Herbert RADIO REVIEWS Arts Weekly, 3MBS on Sat 24 June 2023

On today's short radio spot (which was very brisk and brief), I review three shows, the first two of which were part of Rising Festival 2023:  

Hide the Dog is a cross-cultural children's show;  

Masterclass by Adrienne Truscott and Feidlim Cannon (with Brokentalkers in Dublin) a hilarious satire about gender politics in performance; and  

Underneath Ms Archer by Louise Siversen & Peter Houghton, a totally bonkers work with a flight attendant and a mediaeval knight.

See written reviews on this blog. 

Click this Youtube link (9 min 40sec):

Parrwang Lifts the Sky - PREVIEW coming 7 & 8 July 2023

Created by acclaimed Yorta Yorta soprano Deborah Cheetham Fraillon AO for Short Black Opera.

*Based on an original story from Wadawurrung Country told to the children of the Wathaurong by community Elder, the late Uncle David Tournier.

 Friday 7 Jul 6:30 PM; Saturday 8 Jul 2:00 PM, 6:30 PM

Running Time 50 minutes

Cast of Parrwang Lifts the Sky-Image by Mel Sergeant
Youtube trailer:

From Media Release:

Parrwang the Magpie is the hero in this family opera based on a traditional Wadawurrung story.

Did you know that the Magpies created the first dawn?*

A long time ago….
The sky was a blanket on the land. The earth was in darkness and the people were afraid. It was a very sad state of affairs and would have stayed that way except for the courage of Parrwang the Magpie.

Tjatja and Koki are young, adventurous and tired of living in the dark. When they manage to climb to the highest branches of an ancient gum tree they discover an exciting new world and a steadfast friend in Parrwang - who decides to help the young humans lift the blanket of darkness from the ground.

A plan is devised - but can Parrwang convince Mr Waa and the Great Council of Birds to agree?



Friday 23 June 2023

Underneath Ms Archer REVIEW 23 June 2023 ***1/2


Written & performed by Louise Siversen & Peter Houghton

At Irene Mitchell Studio, 44 St Martin’s Lane, Sth Yarra, until 16 July 2023

Reviewer: Kate Herbert


This review is published only on this blog. I’ll present a radio review on Arts Weekly on 3MBS on Sat 24 June 2023. KH.

Louise Siversen, Peter Houghton -Underneath_Ms_Archer_image by Darren_Gill

After she allegedly slaps a recalcitrant passenger on a long-haul flight, Australian flight attendant, Kelly Archer (Louise Siversen), takes refuge in her late mother’s London flat to escape the social media trolls and paparazzi hounds who pursue her brutally, relentlessly and, of course, often anonymously.


Siversen’s Kelly paces frenetically and fiercely, grumbling and growling about the unfairness of it all, when suddenly and altogether weirdly, a mediaeval knight (Peter Houghton) appears, bloodied and reeking of 800-year-old sweat and grime.


And so begins this bizarre blend of absurdity, time-travelling sci-fi and social commentary that challenges issues of truth-telling, history, family connection, loyalty, cowardice, cancel culture, social media abuse, summary judgement and just plain silliness.


Any description of this production cannot do it justice because it just sounds mad – which it is, but in a good way.


Siversen is electric as the manic, blunt, bolshy and brusque Kelly, shifting from fearful, defensive, resistant and angry to reflective and self-aware. Meanwhile, Houghton as our knight errant, William Marshall, begins his birthing from the sofa with howls of rage and confusion, ranting in Old English that, although incomprehensibly Germanic and guttural, makes sense because of Houghton’s nuanced playing of each moment, attitude and emotion.


Despair not if impenetrable Old English be not your thing, because William’s lingo inexplicably becomes comprehensible English, so the pair can then negotiate their shared space, shared history and common experiences. In the end, despite their 800-year cultural differences, their humanity, relationships and family draw them together and allow them to find common ground.


Peter Houghton directed the production, which is a tall order when you are also the writer and performer, but associate director, Anne Browning, provided an effective outside eye. The set design (Sophie Woodward, Jacob Battista) is an elaborate and realistic depiction of a dusty, old London flat, the costumes (Karine Larché) cunningly wrought, while the lighting (Bronwyn Pringle) and sound (J. David Franzke) are evocative and complex.


Underneath Ms Archer is witty, intelligent, audacious and ridiculous – a fine formula for a new Australian play that the creators hope will have a future in larger, more salubrious venues. All hail the knight!

by Kate Herbert



Lou Siversen – Kelly Archer

Peter Houghton – William Marshall

Creative team

Lou Siversen & Peter Houghton -Writers

Peter Houghton - Director -

Anne Browning -Associate Director

J. David Franzke - Composer & Sound Designer

Bronwyn Pringle -Lighting Designer

Karine Larché - Costume Designer

Natasha Marich -Stage Manager

Sophie Woodward & Jacob Battista - Set Designers

Chris Mead- Dramaturgy


Louise Siversen, Peter Houghton -Underneath_Ms_Archer_image by Darren_Gill


Monday 19 June 2023

Hide the Dog REVIEW 15 June 2023 ***


Co-written by Tasmanian playwright, Nathan Maynard, (trawlwoolway pakana) & Aotearoa writer, Jamie McCaskill (Māori)

Rising Festival & Performing Lines

At Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne until Sat 17 June 2023

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Stars: ***

This review is published only on this blog. I’ll present a radio review on Arts Weekly on 3MBS on Sat 24 June 2023.

Hide the Dog-image Pat Stevenson_supplied

Hide the Dog, directed by Isaac Drandic, is a children’s show that is a tale of friendship and cultural connection between Niarra (Najwa Adams Ebel), an indigenous Australian girl, and her friend Te Umuroa (Poroaki Merritt-McDonald), a boy of Maori descent who has little knowledge of his Maori culture or language. The friends rescue Tigs (Glory Tuohy-Daniell), a Tasmanian Tiger, from the hunters that pursue her, by building a canoe and paddling her to Aotearoa (New Zealand).


The audience of 5-10 years old were captivated (with only a few exceptions in the row in front of me) by the story of the creation of the Tassie Tiger, the vivid characters and evocative projections of ocean and landscape. The kids squealed with delight at Niarra and Te’s playful antics and every time one of them said “poo”, and roared laughing at the Maori Wind God’s (Tyler Wilson Kokiri) fart gags. Lisa Maza plays the imposing First nations spirits.


The most enthralling performance in this production is the gentle, graceful and lyrical movement of (Tuohy-Daniell) as Tigs. Costumed in a dog’s head with striped back and large bouncing tail, Tigs is a favourite with the children.


The show is co-written by Tasmanian playwright Nathan Maynard (trawlwoolway pakana) and Aotearoa writer Jamie McCaskill (Māori). Their cross-cultural collaboration extends to the narrative itself. This play raises issues about the importance of knowledge of one’s own culture and of acceptance of the culture of others. It does so through the broad, comic characters and their personal stories and through the representations of traditional elements from both cultures.


This cross-fertilisation of the two cultures is a significant and successful collaboration, and a first for a children’s show and perhaps for theatre in general.


by Kate Herbert




Cultural References


Lisa Maza

(Mer/ Yidinji/ Dutch)

Multiple characters, First Nations spirits

Tyler Wilson Kokiri


Multiple characters, Māori spirits

Najwa Adams Ebel



Poroaki Merritt-McDonald


Te Umuroa

Glory Tuohy-Daniell

(Indjalandji-Dhidhanu/ Alyewarre)



Hide the Dog-JacintaKeefePhotography-

Director | Isaac Drandic (Noongar)

Co-Writer | Nathan Maynard (Trawlwoolway / pakana)

Co-Writer | Jamie McCaskill (Ngāti Tamaterā/ Te Ati Haunui a Pāpārangi/ Ngā Puhi)

Director | Isaac Drandic (Noongar)

Assistant Director and pakana Cultural Advisor | Nathan Maynard (Trawlwoolway / pakana)

Cast | Tyler Wilson Kokiri (Māori), Najwa Adams Ebel (Birri-Gubba), Poroaki Merritt-McDonald (Māori), Lisa Maza (Mer/ Yidinji/ Dutch) and Glory T Daniell (Indjalandji-Dhidhanu/ Alyewarre)

Set Designer | Jane Hakaraia (Ngāti Raukawa ki te Tonga)

Sound Designer | Maaka McGregor (Māori)

Lighting Designer | Ben Hughes

AV Designer | Keith Deverell

Costume Designer | Sabio Evans

Sound and Vocals | Katanya Maynard

Associate Designer and pakana Guide | Deni Proctor (pakana)

Boat Techincal Design | Greg Methe

Additional Cultural Advisor | Maakarita Paku

Muyini Song Lyric Contributor | Kaninna Langford (First Nations) and Jordy Gregg (Murrie)

pakana Cultural Advisor | Nathan Manynard (Trawlwoolway / pakana)

Additional Māori Advice | Maaka McGregor (Māori)

pakana Visual Advisor | Denni Proctor (pakana)

Additional Cultural Advice | Maakarita Paku

Education Kit | Dr Meg Upton with Theresa Sainty (pakana) and Kimo Winiata (Māori)

Producer | Performing Lines (TAS)

Masterclass REVIEW 17 June 2023 ****


Written by Feidlim Cannon, Gary Keegan (Brokentalkers) & Adrienne Truscott.

Rising Festival

At Malthouse Theatre, until 17 June 2023

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Stars: ****

This review is published only on this blog. I’ll present a radio review on Arts Weekly on 3MBS on Sat 24 June 2023.KH

Masterclass-Adrienne Truscott & Feidlim Cannon-pic supplied.

Masterclass is a cunning two-hander that is an inspired merging of hilarity, satire and parody with a clear-eyed, often punishing commentary on gender politics in performance.


Feidlim Cannon, part of Dublin company, Brokentalkers, and New York, feminist performer, Adrienne Truscott, wage a head-on assault on the fraught topic of gender issues in theatre. Truscott hilariously assumes the role of “a great male artist” whose style is “Hemingway-esque”, and who proves himself to be a self-important, abusive misogynist. Cannon plays his fawning interviewer – clearly a besotted fanboy – who skips and stumbles, gesturing histrionically as he recaps the “great artist’s” work and career, his critics’ comments, his violent male characters, his victim female characters, and claims of his violence against women.


The artist retorts that the violence is against his female characters, not against women. Well, if it were just the occasional female character then that argument might wash, but when it’s all of his female characters? Nah!


The broad comedy of the initial interview, with its ridiculously, intentionally amateurish wigs and costumes, segues into a disturbingly real re-enactment of his aggressive rehearsal techniques during which Truscott, as the “great artist”, throttles Cannon who plays the interviewer who, in turn, is playing a female actor. The shock and menace are real, but we are better equipped to process such violence against women because a woman is playing the male aggressor. Clever. Our response, and any commentary, can be about the issue of male violence rather than about the specific, violent event.


The political argument escalates until it becomes a battle between Truscott and Cannon about the making of this show, Cannon’s unwillingness to “do the work”, read the feminist books and, more broadly, engage with the political issues of gender in art. Meanwhile Cannon is sliding into self-doubt and the entire interaction comes to a head when Truscott states that Cannon – and, in fact, all men – must leave the stage to make space for those who have been side-lined for – well – forever.


Truscott and Cannon are versatile and exceptional theatre performers, and this collaboration of Truscott, Cannon and Brokentalkers is provocative, virtuosic and inspiring. In just 60 minutes, this pair makes us laugh, think, gasp and argue. You’ll be mentally wrestling with this performance all the way home.


by Kate Herbert

Writers | Feidlim Cannon, Gary Keegan and Adrienne Truscott

Cast | Feidlim Cannon, Gary Keegan and Adrienne Truscott

Creative Producer | Rachel Bergin

Movement Director | Eddie Kay

Costume Design | Sarah Foley

Lighting Design | Dara Hoban

Set Design | Ellen Kirk

Sound Design | Jennifer O'Malley