Monday 28 August 2023

Moulin Rouge! The Musical REVIEW 24 Aug 2023 ****


Book by John Logan, Music-various with additional lyrics by Justin Levine

At Regent Theatre, Melbourne until 31 December 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 16 Sept 2023. KH

Alinta Chidzey, Des Flanagan & cast in Elephant Love Medley - Credit Michelle Grace Hunder


Moulin Rouge! The Musical is a jukebox musical with a difference and it is a vivid, vivacious and exhilarating night in the theatre. On opening night of this return season in Melbourne, the crowd clapped like seals and leapt simultaneously to their feet at the spectacular finale.


John Logan’s book for the musical is based on Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 movie, Moulin Rouge, and the musical, like the film, is set in the iconic Moulin Rouge night club in 19th century Paris. It follows the poignant love story of Christian (Des Flanagan), a young, American aspiring songwriter seeking inspiration and success in Paris, and Satine (Alinta Chidzey), an exotic, beautiful and much-desired courtesan and nightclub performer who, of course, is dying from consumption. The tale is all very romantic and operatic and has echoes of La Boheme, Camille and La Traviata.


The opening scene of the musical is an electrifying scene featuring sassy, raunchy, vivacious and eclectic choreography (Sonya Tayeh), including a Can Can, all set to the disco hit, Lady Marmalade, sung by the entire multi-talented chorus.


Justin Levine’s music is an inspired collision of eclectic music, snatches of lyrics and entire pop songs that create not only a ‘guess that tune’ effect for the audience, but also an imaginative and innovative approach to telling a love story through music.


The most cunningly inventive song is a love duet between Satine and Christian; it is an argument about the positives and negatives of love comprised of lyrics from multiple, well-known love songs. It’s a delight to hear the excerpts from lyrics re-contextualised to create a dialogue in song.


However, the most moving scene is Bert la Bonté as the feisty artist and rebel, Toulouse-Lautrec, singing the heart-breakingly beautiful ballad, Nature Boy, as a tender love song about his longstanding, unrequited love for Satine. It was the most intimate and compelling moment in the show.


The over-the-top, eye-popping stage design (Derek McLane) brings to technicolour life locations including the Moulin Rouge nightclub, Satine’s boudoir  (inside a five-metre-high elephant), and Christian’s attic apartment, all boldly coloured in vivid crimsons, rich indigos and, in the absinth scene, glittering greens. There are neon signs and atmospheric lighting (Justin Townsend), decorative balconies and trapezes flying.


The extravaganza of costumes (Catherine Zuber) includes sexy cabaret outfits of silks and lace, scarlet feathers, skimpy corsets, stockings and suspenders, revealing gowns and plenty of flashing limbs and flesh. In total contrast, one scene features elegant and dignified period costumes harking back to My Fair Lady.


Chidzey is a classic ‘triple threat’ in musical theatre – she can sing, dance and act – and her Satine is sassy and passionate, vibrating with anxiety about her failing health and the grim future that compels her to become the Duke of Monroth’s courtesan in order to survive.  


Flanagan has a warm and bright upper register with a fine vibrato and, as Christian, his callow, awkward American boyishness remains credible and, surprisingly, not annoying throughout.


James Bryers has a fine voice and is suitably sultry, supercilious and manipulative as the Duke. Simon Burke is wacky, mischievous and ribald as Harold Zidler, owner and host of the Moulin Rouge, while the ebullient and skilful ensemble fills the stage with characters, songs and dance.


Moulin Rouge! The Musical boast a talented, energetic cast and the production is a wild and exhilarating ride with a touch of pathos at the very end.


by Kate Herbert



Alinta Chidzey Satine

Des Flanagan Christian

Simon Burke AO Harold Zidler

James Bryers The Duke of Monroth 

Bert la Bonté Toulouse-Lautrec

Ryan Gonzalez Santiago

Samantha Dodemaide -Nini

Olivia Vásquez Arabia

Chaska Halliday La Chocolat

Christopher J Scalzo Babydoll


Creative Team

Book  John Logan

Director  Alex Timbers

Choreographer  Sonya Tayeh

Music Supervisor, Orchestrator, Arrangements & Additional Lyrics  Justin Levine

Scenic Designer  Derek McLane

Costume Designer  Catherine Zuber

Lighting Designer  Justin Townsend

Sound Designer  Peter Hylensk



Sunday 27 August 2023

Becoming Eliza REVIEW 26 Aug 2023 ***1/2


Written & performed by Anna O’Byrne

Comedy Theatre, 26 August, one performance only

 Reviewed by Kate Herbert

This review was published in The Age Arts online on Sunday 27 Aug and in print on Monday 28 August 2023. I will also talk about it on Arts Weekly on 3MBS radio on Sat 2 Sept 2023. KH

BECOMING ELIZA _L-R-Michael Tyack, Anna O'Byrne_photo Jeff Busby

Anna O’Byrne boasts a stellar international career spanning opera and musicals and has become Australian musical theatre royalty having played Christine Daaé in Love Never Dies and in Phantom of the Opera in the West End. But it is her becoming Eliza Doolittle in Opera Australia’s 2016 production of My Fair Lady, directed by the original Eliza, Dame Julie Andrews, that is the substance of this solo, self-narrated musical journey.


Dressed in a simple, loose-fitting, purple pants suit – a stark contrast to the exquisite Cecil Beaton gowns that she wore in My Fair Lady – O’Byrne addresses her doting audience directly, charming and enthralling them with evocative descriptions of her career with all its soaring successes and some soul-destroying failures.


The simple but effectively constructed, chronological narration, written by O’Byrne, is peppered with backstage anecdotes and coloured with vivid, often lyrical language. She interweaves excerpts of songs from My Fair Lady and other musicals between true tales from her long, chequered and arduous path to playing Eliza: the audition process, the waiting, the crushing initial rejection call, meeting the warm and generous Julie Andrews again, then the unexpected offer to play Eliza that was both exhilarating and terrifying.


What follows is the gruelling rehearsal process with all its ups and downs and self-doubt, and O’Byrne describes how, on her path to becoming the character of Eliza, she experiences the fictional Eliza becoming her real and constant companion. This type of confessional, revelatory solo performance could veer into the mawkish or self-indulgent, but O’Byrne thankfully avoids that by remaining down to earth and relatable.


O’Byrne’s soprano has a thrilling upper register and a fine vibrato. Her voice can be bold and powerful, warm and enchanting or sweetly delicate, making it perfectly suited to the repertoire of songs that includes favourites such as I Could Have Danced All Night, Wouldn’t It Be Loverley?, My Favourite Things, In My Own Little Corner and I Have Confidence.


Sharon Millerchip, a doyen of musical theatre herself, directs the show unobtrusively, with outstanding musical accompaniment on piano by celebrated musical director, Michael Tyack, with violinist Roy Theaker, cellist Kalina Krusteva and Katri Tuomennoro on double bass. The musicians not only play the tunes but underscore the narration, establishing atmosphere for each episode of O’Byrne’s story.


Becoming Eliza is a backstage musical story without the actual musical, and O’Byrne captivates the audience with her revealing personal stories, impeccable voice and her convivial onstage presence. It is a show for O’Byrne fans and aficionados of classic musicals.


by Kate Herbert 


Anna O’Byrne – performer & writer


Sharon Millerchip – director

Michael Tyack  – musical director, & piano

Roy Theaker – violin

Kalina Krusteva – cello

Katri Tuomennoro – double bass


Enda Markey – producer


Julius Caesar REVIEW 25 Aug 2023 ***1/2


Written by William Shakespeare 

By Melbourne Shakespeare Company

At fortyfivedownstairs until 3 Sept 2023

Reviewed by Kate Herbert

This review was published in The Age Arts online on Sunday 27 Aug and in print on Monday 28 August 2023. I will also talk about it on Arts Weekly on 3MBS radio on Sat 2 Sept 2023. KH

L-R-Matthew Connell (back), Malith, Natasha Herbert, Jacqueline Whiting, Mark Wilson, Mark Yeates, Leah Baulch, Annabelle Tudor_image by Chelsea Neate

When Natasha Herbert’s Marc Antony howls, “Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war,” her passion and vocal power rouse volatile Romans to violent action, sending a thrill through the audience. Shakespeare’s play may be entitled Julius Caesar, but the characters driving the action are Antony and Brutus (Matthew Connell): Antony who remains Caesar’s trusted right hand and Brutus who is Caesar’s political ally until Brutus’s defection.


The play opens with statesman and general, Caesar (Hunter Perske), arriving in Rome to a triumphal parade after his military defeat of rival, Pompey. With feigned humility, Caesar thrice rejects Antony’s offer of a crown. This confirms Cassius’s (Mark Wilson) fears for the Roman Republic, so he exhorts Brutus to join a plot to assassinate Caesar to save and restore freedom, peace and liberty.


What follows is a galloping escalation of intrigue and treachery, political crisis, murder, divisiveness and civil war under opposing leaders: honourable but indecisive Brutus and gifted orator, Antony. The Roman public is fickle, violence simmers, government is fragile, and leaders are not necessarily altruistic.


Richard Murphet’s deft, inventive, streamlined direction propels narrative and main characters from conspiratorial beginning to bloody end. His interpretation of Shakespeare’s text is crystal clear, emphasising the humanity of the characters, while the intimacy of their relationships heightens the sense of betrayal.


Herbert’s gripping portrayal of Antony is the beating heart of this production as she transforms from grief-stricken friend to impassioned orator and, finally, astute and dispassionate military strategist. Her textual interpretation, and physical and vocal technique are impeccable, and her delivery of Antony’s “Friends, Romans, countrymen” speech is thrilling.


Although Connell is a more youthful Brutus than is common, he captures Brutus’s nobility, self-doubt and indecision as he faces the enormity and inexorability of his actions. While the quality of the cast’s acting is uneven, Wilson vibrates with rage as “lean and hungry” Cassius, Mark Yeates captures Casca’s roguish wit and cunning and Perske’s robust physique lends substance to the ageing, weakening Caesar who fears ill omens.


Kris Chainey’s atmospheric lighting and Grace Ferguson’s evocative soundscape enhance Dale Ferguson’s inspired design that incorporates the basement venue’s distressed brick walls, rough-framed windows and wooden floor, utilising its wide space for a colonnade of scaffolding poles, and three, low steps depicting the site of Caesar’s murder.


Murphet’s intelligent production of Shakespeare’s play invites comparisons with contemporary, geo-politics that sees some leaders surf a wave of popularity to become Caesar-like autocrats.


by Kate Herbert


Artemidorus Michael Sakinofsky

Brutus Matthew Connell

Caesar Hunter Perske

Calpurnia Michelle Perera

Cassius Mark Wilson

Casca Mark Yeates

Decius Jacqueline Whiting

Cinna Malith

Ligarius Leah Baulch

Lucius Sebastian Li

Marc Antony Natasha Herbert

Metellus Annabelle Tudor

Octavius/Popilius Terry Yeboah

Portia Aisha Aidara

Lepidus Tony Reck

Flavius Anthea Davis


Creatives & Crew

Director Richard Murphet

Producer Michael Mack

Artistic Director Jennifer Sarah Dean

Production Designer Dale Ferguson

Sound Designer Grace Ferguson

Lighting Designer Kris Chainey

Stage Manager Harry Dowling

Assistant Stage Manager Finn McLeish

Marketing Coordinator Seamus Allan

Saturday 19 August 2023

RADIO REVIEWS-Arts Weekly-3MBS-SAT.19.AUG.2023



KATE HERBERT-Arts Weekly-3MBS-SAT.19.AUG.2023

KATE HERBERT-Arts Weekly-3MBS-SAT.19Aug2023

In this radio show, I review the MTC double bill of Caryl Churchill plays, Escaped Alone and What if If Only, and Monument by Emily Sheehan at Red Stitch Theatre. Arts Weekly producer, Nick Tolhurst, joins me to chat about these shows.

It's about 13 minutes duration. 

Click the link. It is video without images.


Friday 18 August 2023

Cactus REVIEW 17 Aug 2023 ***1/2


Written by Madelaine Nunn

Live Stream from La Mama Courthouse on Thurs 17 Aug 2023

Live season runs until 27 Aug, 2023 then on La Mama On Screen (dates TBC)

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Stars: ***1/2

VCE Play List

This review is published only on this blog. KH

Cactus__L-R Fran Sweeney-Nash, Georgia Heath-Darren Gill

Cactus, by Madelaine Nunn, is an audacious, episodic play that peers into the secret lives of two teenage girls and unmasks their various obsessions, passions, tribulations, transgressions and ambitions.


The play, directed deftly by Katie Cawthorne, begins with a graphic monologue by Abbie, played by Georgia Heath, who is shocked to find her first period has arrived in an alarming, grotesque and vivid flood.


What follows is a series of over 20 short, chronological scenes, with Abbie and her bestie, PB, played by Fran Sweeney-Nash who also appears in cameos as various other characters from the girls’ lives.


Nunn’s well-observed and candid dialogue captures the unexpurgated conversations between these two teenagers who are facing the end of their school years and an unknown but exciting future. They share their fantasies about boys and imagine having sex for the first time. Of course, when it does happen, it is not all that they expected, but neither is going to tell the truth about that, are they?


They gab about teachers, schoolwork, assessments, other girls, parties and drinking. They plan pranks, including egg-bombing a teacher’s car, and share hopes, dreams and secrets.  Their behaviour shifts between the childish and the adult, while their conversations are a hotch-potch of naive opinions, misinformation, absurd assumptions generalisations – often based on social media posts – and intermittently mature views. PB trots out hilarious snippets of cod psychology and proffers simplistic health remedies for Abbie's condition – "Take fish oil!" They seem to be joined at the hip, as teenage girlfriends can be.


Cactus__L-R Georgia Heath- image Darren Gill

When Abbie’s period pain becomes unbearable, her life changes; she faces a major and ongoing gynaecological problem that will alter the rest of her life.


Heath is credible as Abbie, effectively portraying her fantasies and fears as she struggles to accept and negotiate her bumpy path to womanhood. In contrast, Sweeney-Nash’s ebullient performance embodies the optimism of a young woman who has yet to confront trauma or pain and fails to understand Abbie’s sudden distance after her diagnosis and treatment.


The stepped, artificial turf-covered set design (Nunn & Cawthorne) provides multiple levels and locations for the many scenes, and Kris Chainey’s evocative lighting establishes a variety of atmospheres and frames the action.


Cactus is on the VCE Drama Studies playlist, so 16-18-year-olds will be an ideal audience for this work. It is challenging and exposing, and parents and teachers would be advised to see it. You may suspect that there are secrets you will never know about your teens.


by Kate Herbert



Abbie - Georgia Heath (she/her)

PB - Fran Sweeney-Nash (they/them)


Written by Madelaine Nunn (she/her)

Directed by Katie Cawthorne (she/her)

Lighting Design by Kris Chainey (he/him)

Sound Design by Rachel ‘Stoz’ Stone (all)

Production and Stage Manager Sian Halloran

Costume Design &

Original set design by Madelaine Nunn & Katie Cawthorne

Associate Set Design by Angelica Rush (she/her)

Produced by Madelaine Nunn



Thursday 17 August 2023

Monument REVIEW 16 August 2023 ***1/2


Monument by Emily Sheehan ***1/2

At Red Stitch Theatre, St. Kilda, until September 3, 2023

Reviewed by Kate Herbert

This review was first published in The Age Arts online in Live Reviews section of Arts on Thur 17 Aug, then was in print in The Age on Fri 18 Aug 2023.  I will also talk about it on Arts Weekly, 3MBS, on Saturday 19 Aug at about 10.45am. 

Click this link to see The Age Arts page review: Monument The Age  KH

Julia Hanna, Sarah Sutherland, photo by Jodie Hutchinson

For some mysterious reason, women disclose their intimate lives to beauty therapists, but when the client has a position of political power, a public profile and high status, the stakes are significantly higher, and indiscreet disclosures are potentially perilous.


Such is the scenario in Emily Sheehan’s play, Monument, directed by Ella Caldwell. Recently elected Prime Minister, Edith Aldridge (Sarah Sutherland), wakes in her pink-draped, luxury hotel suite to find Rosie (Julia Hanna), an unfamiliar, young make-up artist, perkily preparing cosmetics to transform Edith into a glamorous, powerful icon for her first speech as Prime Minister.


What follows is an intense, sometimes hilarious status struggle between pert millennial Rosie and brusque, entitled, demanding Edith. Brick by brick, Edith’s walls collapse as Rosie cajoles and advises about image, make-up, hair and outfit, countering the decisions of Edith’s absent advisers and husband who are stuck in Melbourne.


For 100 minutes, we witness in real time Edith’s transformation from bare skin and bed hair to fashionista powerhouse. Watching the minutiae of cosmetics application, colour palette choices, contouring and blending is fascinating.


Sheehan’s well-observed dialogue is often funny, and her characters’ vastly differing foibles, flaws and talents make them fine foils for each other.


Sutherland is compelling and credible as Edith, shifting from pursed-lipped and haughty to vulnerable, exposed and desperately anxious, then to critical and suspicious, and finally to confident and fiercely ambitious.


Hanna is youthfully buoyant as Rosie who is obliging, occasionally confrontational and has a pithy quote, meme or Kardashianism for every situation.


Monument sees modern women wrangling complicated power dynamics with their men: Edith lives in the shadow of her late father’s political legacy and hides her dysfunctional marriage, while Rosie infantilises herself for her controlling boyfriend.


However, Sheehan misses opportunities to incorporate the inadvertent leaking of politically sensitive information, or to tackle broader socio-political and feminist issues.


In the closing scenes, Sheehan introduces a short-lived, negative turn in the relationship that seems contrived and, because this conflict is played so aggressively, the rapid reconciliation seems equally unlikely. If the argument were played less overtly, with supressed disagreement and suspicion, their rapid appeasement might be more credible.


Edith’s backstory leaves questions unanswered: the timeline of her elevation to party leader and ensuing election to Prime Ministership is unclear, and it is unlikely her minders would not arrive well before her maiden speech.


Despite some shortcomings, Monument is diverting theatre that features fine performances and explores society’s expectation for powerful women to be political dynamos and show ponies.


by Kate Herbert



Julia Hanna – Rosie

Sarah Sutherland - Edith Aldridge


Writer: Emily Sheehan

Director: Ella Caldwell

Set & Costume Design: Sophie Woodward

Lighting Design: Amelia Lever-Davidson

Sound Design & Composition: Danni Esposito

Asst. Director: Ibrahim Halacoglu



Sunday 13 August 2023

Escaped Alone**** What If If Only*** REVIEW 11 Aug 2023

Escaped Alone
★★★★ and What If If Only ★★★ 

Written by Caryl Churchill

Melbourne Theatre Company 

Southbank Theatre, The Sumner, until September 9, 2023

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

This review was first published in The Age Arts online on Sat 12 Aug 2023 and in print on Mon 14 Aug 2023. I’ll present a radio review on Arts Weekly on 3MBS on Sat 19 Aug 2023. KH

Click the link below to read the review in The Age Arts Live Reviews:

Escaped Alone/What if if Only

MTC_EscapedAlone_04-L-R Helen Morse, Deidre Rubenstein, Kate Hood, Debra Lawrance-photo by Pia Johnson.

This unique double bill of short plays, Escaped Alone and What If If Only, typifies UK playwright Caryl Churchill’s work over her prolific, six-decade career. Both works, directed by Anne-Louise Sarks, are non-naturalistic, experiment with dramatic form and structure, incorporate eclectic styles and shifts in time and place. They ask probing questions, address disquieting subjects, shock us into awareness and demand our attention.


In the 45-minute Escaped Alone, the domestic intersects with the global and epic, and the absurd collides with the tragic and horrific. In designer, Marg Horwell’s idyllic garden with blooms peeking from amongst tall grasses, four older women (Helen Morse, Deidre Rubenstein, Kate Hood, Debra Lawrance), engage in banal, afternoon tea chatter about their ordinary, daily lives.


Morse’s Mrs Jarrett is the outsider, the spectator, an interloper invited into the inner circle of neighbours with a shared history. She is wiry, spare and disconcertingly birdlike, pecking out her occasional, terse contributions to the chit chat.


It is heartening to see four female characters over 70 on stage, and these captivating actors relish the challenge of Churchill’s carefully crafted, poetic, rhythmic language. Their tightly cued, crisp, often hilarious dialogue ebbs and flows, veering into non sequiturs or song, overlapping and interrupting like old friends’ conversation. Suddenly and surprisingly, their serene nattering tilts into intense monologues, revealing despair, fears and dark secrets; just as abruptly, it tilts back to the banal.


Morse’s alarmingly grim but restrained monologues punctuate the play. She emerges alone from unnerving total blackout to dispassionately describe a chilling, apocalyptic world of global disease, famine and death that collides with the tranquillity of the neighbourhood garden and the women’s tepid chatter. This collision of styles and ideas exemplifies Churchill’s work.


What If If Only, a shorter work of 25 minutes, is the less successful of the two plays, although the first ten minutes are gripping. Alison Bell is a woman, known only as S, shattered by grief at the loss of her partner and grasping at any possibility that her late beloved will communicate with her. Her grief is palpable and heart-wrenching.


In the first minutes, Bell sits alone, silently eating a boiled egg at her kitchen table, while Paul Jackson’s cunningly designed lighting suggests time passing, day shifting into night and into day – again and again.


However, the impact of this intense, intimate portrait of loneliness and loss is dissipated, then completely lost, when multiple actors enter, representing the woman’s possible, unlived futures. This splits the focus by crowding the stage with over a dozen actors: some silent, others bombarding her with images of dystopian or utopian futures, damaged worlds or lost dreams. Churchill’s script does not name characters or specify gender, and the number of actors is at the director’s discretion, but fewer actors might crystalise the woman’s existential predicament thus focussing our attention.


Churchill’s playwriting remains intelligent, innovative, incisive and insightful and her themes resonate with contemporary audiences. Churchill devotees will be enthralled by these two works, while the uninitiated may leave bemused, but the compelling performances of the leads in both plays are memorable highlights.


By Kate Herbert

MTC_WhatIfIfOnly_Alison Bell_photo PiaJohnson


Lena Kate Hood
Vi Debra Lawrance
Mrs Jarrett Helen Morse
Sally Deidre Rubenstein



F Lucy Ansell
S Alison Bell
P Steve Mouzakis
Fs Anna Francesca Armenia
Fs Iopu Auva’a
Fs Sepideh Fallah
Fs Kate Hood
Fs Debra Lawrance
Fs Helen Morse
Fs Jalen Ong
Fs Tomas Parrish
Fs Deidre Rubenstein
C Teja Kingi
C Caleb Lee
C Imogen Premraj
Fs Aubrey Flood
Fs Aram Geleris
Fs Jonty Reason



Director Anne-Louise Sarks
Set & Costume Designer Marg Horwell
Lighting Designer Paul Jackson
Composer & Sound Designer Jethro Woodward
Voice & Text Coach Geraldine Cook-Dafner
Assistant Director Brigid Gallacher