Sunday 21 July 2024

KATE HERBERT Arts Weekly3MBS Sat20July2024

My review spot on Sat 20 July 2024 on Arts Weekly on 3MBS.


In this radio review spot, I talk with Arts Weekly producer, Nick Tolhurst, about Macbeth (an undoing) by Zinnie Harris at Malthouse and A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams at MTC.

Friday 19 July 2024

A Streetcar Names Desire REVIEW MTC 13 July 2024 ***1/2

Written by Tennessee Williams

By Melbourne Theatre Company

At Playhouse Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne until 17 August 2024

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Stars: ***&1/2

This review is published only on this blog. I’ll present a radio review on Arts Weekly on 3MBS on Sat 20 July 2024. KH

Nikki Shiels A Streetcar Named Desire - Photo Pia Johnson
A Streetcar Named Desire is a classic American play by Tennessee Williams set in 1940s New Orleans. Any production of Streetcar faces direct comparison with the incomparable performances by Vivien Lee and Marlon Brando in Elia Kazan’s 1951 movie.


Anne-Louise Sarks’ production for MTC alters the tone and temperature of the play from its most common interpretations. Blanche Dubois is the core of the play as she descends into mental chaos. In this production, Nikki Shiels’ compelling performance of this challenging role is nuanced and complex and Shiels uses the musicality of her vocal range to shift Blanche’s emotional temperature.


Blanche is a former privileged Southern belle who suffered the loss of her formerly wealthy family’s home after the profligate spending of her male relatives.


She is deeply disturbed, fearful and lives behind a veil of lies, embellishments and self-deception, representing herself as a proper, cultured, educated, sober and chaste lady. In reality, she exists in a cloud of booze, genteel poverty and secret ‘intimacies’ with strangers.


When Blanche escapes her hometown and her damaged reputation to live with her married sister Stella (Michelle Lim Davidson) in a shabby two-room apartment in New Orleans, her world comes crashing down and she descends into delusion and a total mental breakdown by the end of the play. Her exit is one of the most famous lines from the play: “I have always relied on the kindness of strangers.”


Blanche may be a Southern belle with delicate sensibilities, but she has fallen far from her own standards in order to survive in a world outside her control. Shiels’ Blanche is more overtly and consciously manipulative and controlling than the usual interpretation of the character.


The ending of the play loses its tragic focus when Blanche walks out of the flat under her own steam, determined and in control rather than delusional and shattered. She is depicted as fearful of Stanley after he sexually assaults her, which is reasonable and real. However, to be true to Williams’ play, Blanche could be far more broken, having lost her grip on reality.


The casting of certain roles works against the play’s intentions at times: Blanche’s benign suitor, Mitch (Steve Mouzakis), describes himself as 6ft 1in, 270 pounds and muscled, but the actor is the opposite; Mark Leonard Winter captures Stanley’s roughness and toughness, but he is less imposing, lusty and overpowering and his boyish buoyancy works against the sense of danger in the man; Davidson’s Stella could be more sensual, passionate and doting to make sense of her obsession with Stanley and her blindness to his faults.


There could be a stronger sense of the passion between Stella and Stanley, the sweltering heat and claustrophobic quality in the apartment and more clarity and tragedy in Blanches’ escalating delusions.


The upstairs neighbours appear frequently in windows, giving some sense of the claustrophobic environment of Stella and Stanley’s flat, but they distract from the main narrative. The appearance of a guitarist/singer upstairs is a bizarre inclusion, and the wandering woman in mourning is another oddity.


Despite its drawbacks, this is an interesting production that relies heavily on Shiels’ compelling portrayal of Blanche Dubois.

By: Kate Herbert.



Gee Gee / Nurse Gabriella Barbagallo
Young Collector / Doctor Kaya Byrne
Stella Michelle Lim Davidson
Pablo Stephen Lopez
Mitch Steve Mouzakis
Flower Seller Veronica Pena Negrette
Blanche Nikki Shiels
Eunice Katherine Tonkin
Stanley Mark Leonard Winter
Steve Gareth Yuen



Director Anne-Louise Sarks
Set & Costume Designer Mel Page
Lighting Designer Niklas Pajanti
Music Stefan Gregory
Intimacy Coordinator Amy Cater
Voice & Dialect Coach Geraldine Cook-Dafner
Fight Director Nigel Poulton
Assistant Director Joe Paradise Lui
Assistant Set & Costume Designer Bianca Pardo

Stage Manager Pippa Wright




Thursday 18 July 2024

Macbeth (an undoing) REVIEW 10 July 2024 ***


Written by Zinnie Harris, by Malthouse Theatre

At Merlyn Theatre Malthouse until 29 July 2024

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Stars: *** (3)

This review is published only on this blog. I’ll present a radio review on Arts Weekly on 3MBS on Sat 20 July 2024. KH

Macbeth (An Undoing)_Natasha Herbert, Johnny Carr, Bojana Novakovic_c Jeff Busby


It is common – perhaps expected? – for contemporary directors to shift the context and location of Shakespeare’s plays and/or interpret characters to make the plays more palatable to a modern audience.


Others adapt or edit the scripts ferociously. Tom Stoppard very successfully chose two minor characters in Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and depicted their actions when they are off-stage and out of the action, as well as incorporating the scenes from Hamlet in which they appear briefly.


Playwright of Macbeth (an undoing), Zinnie Harris, has taken a much longer and bolder leap than Stoppard by transforming Macbeth into a play focussing its attention on Lady Macbeth rather than her husband, giving both the play and her character a feminist, contemporary tilt. This risky and audacious attempt to ‘improve’ on Shakespeare, only partly succeeds as a script and as a production by Matthew Lutton.


Harris’s version of the story has not revealed new depth and breadth in the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and her reworked narrative is inconsistent and coherent. It does not effectively balance Shakespeare’s language with the contemporary dialogue and the colloquial idiom Harris uses often feels inappropriate, intrusive or distracting.


Natasha Herbert’s laconic and mysterious narrator who opens the play, is the most compelling and successful element in this production; we eventually discover this shabby creature is one of the three witches. This character is a cunning, dramatic innovation. Herbert commands our attention, enlivening the character, claiming the stage and expanding the story. Her performance makes this character seem best suited to the mix of classical and modern language.


David Woods is another highlight – however briefly – as a determined and gruff Macduff, and a silently surly murderer, while Jim Daly is suitably bluff and dotty as King Duncan.


Most of the performances are underplayed, presumably at the direction of Lutton, which gives an atmosphere of ordinariness overlaying – even masking – the bloody horror. However, this sometimes undramatic and pedestrian tone drains the language and narrative of power and passion.


In the early scenes, Bojana Novakovic portrays Lady Macbeth as strong, brittle and domineering as she wrangles her husband, the castle and its various noble and servile inmates. Unfortunately, the tragedy of her psychological fracture is absent in the later scenes.


Harris extrapolates new scenes that are not in Shakespeare’s play, an idea that has plenty of potential to explore and illuminate Lady Macbeth. However, this exploration of the woman as she is when “off-stage”, falls short of its potential, leaving us with a completely different, and perhaps less interesting character who remains in control until suddenly she starts ranting about more contemporary issues of women, feminism and gender roles.


Johnny Carr plays Macbeth as an ordinary sort of bloke who is out of his depth, which could be an interesting choice, but unfortunately, much of Macbeth’s inner turmoil is lost in this script and the character has a very limited journey.


The production style and the script lack dramatic tension or clear intention and diminish the tragedy and horror. Even the bloodied bodies of Banquo, Lady Macduff and Duncan are reminiscent of B-grade schlock movies. The constantly revolving, grim, grey castle is interesting for a few scenes but becomes repetitive and irritating.


The ending of the play is a strange choice that sends the narrative shooting off in an unsatisfying direction (partial spoiler) that dodges Lady M’s suicide and gives Macduff a surprising, vengeful role in her death.


There was so much dramatic potential and excitement in the idea of seeing Lady Macbeth offstage, but Zinnie Harris’s play and the Malthouse production have not achieved that potential.


NB: The trigger warnings for Macbeth (an undoing) have gone mad; they occupy a full page on a video screen in the foyer. Unnecessary?


by Kate Herbert



Lady Macbeth /Bojana Novakovic

Macbeth /Johnny Carr

Ross /Tony Briggs

Mae & Malcolm /Tyallah Bullock

Lady Macduff & Missy /Jessica Clarke

Duncan & Murderer /Jim Daly

Banquo /Rashidi Edward

Carlin /Natasha Herbert

Bloody Soldier & Lennox /Khisraw Jones-Shukoor

Macduff, Doctor & Murderer /David Woods


Writer, In a new version after Shakespeare / Zinnie Harris

Director /Matthew Lutton

Set & Costume Designer /Dann Barber

Lighting Designer / Amelia Lever-Davidson


Associate Lighting Designer /Tom Willis

Associate Sound Designer /Justin Gardam

Intimacy Coordinator /Amy Cater

Fight Choreographer / Lyndal Grant


Sunday 7 July 2024

KATE HERBERT Arts Weekly3MBS Sat06July2024

In this week's radio spot, I talk with Nick Tolhurst, producer of Arts Weekly, about The Exotic Lives of Lola Montez by Finucane & Smith, and Beauty and the Beast at Her Majesty's Melbourne.

 I also mention the season of Castro’s Children, Peter Fitzpatrick’s new Australian Musical at Gasworks.

Monday 1 July 2024

Beauty and the Beast, REVIEW 29 June 2024 **** (4)



Composition by Alan Menken, Book by Linda Woolverton, Lyrics by Howard Ashman & Tim Rice

At Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne until 24 Nov 2024

Reviewer: Kate Herbert.

Stars: **** (4)

This review is published only on this blog. I’ll present a radio review on Arts Weekly on 3MBS on Sat 6 July 2024. KH


Shubshri Kandiah and Brendan Xavier,Beauty and the Beast - Photo by Daniel Boud

Disney has mastered the translation of fairy tale movie musicals into lavish stage musical productions for the entire family. This new Australian production of Beauty and the Beast is a visual and musical spectacle replete with exotic costumes, impressive digital design, extraordinary lighting, remarkable illusions, vivacious dance, eccentric characters and sentimental romance.


The story goes: an arrogant prince refuses refuge and aid to a witch and, for his selfishness, she transforms him into a monstrous beast, and he must live his days in his isolated castle. His retainers are slowly turning into inanimate objects – teapot, lamp, clock and feather duster – and the beastly prince’s days are numbered by the falling petals of a rose. When the last rose petal falls from the rose, all the castle’s residents will be permanently changed – unless the prince/beast falls in love with someone who, in turn, falls in love with him.


Playing Belle, the beautiful and bookish village girl who is also an eccentric outsider, Shubshri Kaniah  has a delicate, fine-toned, bell-like soprano and finds power, passion and nuance in her performance.

She was equally good as Princess Jasmine in Aladdin.


Brendan Xavier has a strong voice and carries the Beast’s songs effectively, although his physical characterisation of the Beast lacks the requisite grotesque grandeur and arrogance. His Beast is more a poor, crippled, broken thing than a roaring, growling monster that terrifies wolves and villagers alike. He is perhaps more at home when the Beast relaxes and finds his humanity and love. He finds the warmth and sensitivity of the Beast as he learns how to be human again.


Matt West is both director and choreographer, and one of the extraordinary highlights of his production is the extravagant number, Be Our Guest, performed by the entire ebullient ensemble costumed as tableware, cutlery and other objects. It features outstanding digital design and lighting effects, tap routines, chorus lines and an exciting, filmed aerial view that is reminiscent of Ziegfeld Follies.


The title song is beautifully and poignantly sung by Jayde Westaby as Mrs. Potts, the servant who is incrementally turning into a teapot and fears for her tiny boy, Chip (Zanda Wilkinson on opening night), who is surprisingly cheerful and chipper(pun alert) as he morphs into a teacup. Belle is pursued by popular, pompous and conceited Gaston, played by the effervescent and agile Rubin Matters.


Rowan Browne captures the charming French arrogance of Lumiere, former chef-turned-candelabra, and Gareth Jacobs as Cogsworth the high-camp clock, has some comical moments, although his pacing is inconsistent when he milks gags. Hayley Martin is sassy as Babette, the saucy maid who is turning into a feather duster, and Alana Tranter is the romantic Madame who is becoming a vanity table.


The book by Linda Woolverton finds new layers to the fairy tale, Alan Menken’s music is eclectic and often thrilling, while Howard Ashman and Tim Rice’s lyrics are witty and astute, livening the characters and relationships and advancing the story. Occasionally, particularly by the end, the story and lyrics become a little too sentimental when characters in later scenes sing about some rather trite life lessons.


It must be said it is difficult not to draw comparisons with Australia’s first production Of Beauty and the Beast in 1995, that featured Michael Cormick as the Beast, Rachel Beck as Belle, and Gaston was played by Hugh Jackman in his early musical theatre role. Who knew what a career was ahead for him?


This is delightful family entertainment with some knockout choreography, design, costumes and a stellar performance by Kaniah.


by Kate Herbert


Gareth Jacobs, Hayley Martin, Rohan Browne, Jayde Westaby, Alana Tranter, Human Again - Photo by Daniel Boud

Australian Cast

Shubshri Kandiah as Belle

Brendan Xavier as Beast,

Rohan Browne as Lumiere

Gareth Jacobs Cogsworth

Jayde Westaby as Mrs. Potts

Rubin Matters as Gaston

Nick Cox as Le Fou

Rodney Dobson as Belle’s father, Maurice

Hayley Martin as Babette

Alana Tranter Madame


Creative Team

Director & Choreographer- Matt West

Stanley A Meyer - Scenic Designer

NatashaKatz- Lighting Designer

Jim Steinmeyer - IIlusion Designer


Gareth Jacobs, Hayley Martin, Shubshri Kandiah, Rohan Browne & company, Be Our Guest - Photo by Daniel Boud



Friday 28 June 2024

The Exotic Lives of Lola Montez, REVIEW 23 June 2024 ***1/2


Written by Jackie Smith, produced by Finucane & Smith 

At Chapel of Chapel until 30 June 2024

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Stars: 3&1/2

This review is published only on this blog. I’ll present a radio review on Arts Weekly on 3MBS on Sat 6 July 2024. KH

Caroline Lee image by 3 Fates Media

Assume one thing when you come to see a Finucane & Smith cabaret show: it will be provocative, naughty, raunchy – and lots of other synonyms. Melbourne has waited a while for their show, The Exotic Lives of Lola Montez, because Covid interrupted its planned season.


Lola is saucy, sassy and saturated with flesh, feathers and femmes but, in some ways, it is a departure in style for Finucane & Smith.


Firstly, the equally provocative Moira Finucane does not appear on stage in all her statuesque magnificence because she is the director of this production.


Secondly, it is written by the other half of the production team, Jackie Smith.


Thirdly, unlike their previous productions, the show has a narrative framework based on episodes from the exotic life of the real and extraordinary Lola Montez (Caroline Lee), a scandalous showgirl. This structure that acts as a framework for other, interpolated burlesque acts.


Lee is utterly beguiling as Lola and is the pumping heart of the show as she delivers with intensity, nuance and passion, Lola’s long and colourful descriptions of her chequered and vivid life.


The exotic creature that became Lola, was born Eliza Gilbert in Ireland, before her epic journey across Europe where she married an aristocrat. She developed her wild and transgressive performance style, posing as a Spanish dancer, travelled America, contracted syphilis and lived a thoroughly libertine and debauched life, according to some commentators.


Finally, in desperate financial straits, she arrived in Australia and ended up in Ballarat where she became the toast of the town – despite her ongoing run in with a local reviewer (Apparently, she whipped him! Yep! With a whip!).


Backing Lee’s impassioned and sultry performance as Lola, are The Lovely Lollettes: raunchy singer, Piera Dennerstein, feather and pasties striptease artiste, Maple Rose, and the tall, lean and lithe drag queen, Iva Rosebud, who performs a striptease to La Vie En Rose. Other artists join the show on various nights.


Lola’s monologues are racy, flamboyant and sometimes overwritten, but Lee’s delivery is always commanding and entertaining. I do wish we’d seen an interpretation of Lola’s Spider Dance. It might not have been Lola’s original, but we were hanging out for any Spider Dance!


As always, this Finucane &  Smith work is enchanting, hilarious, satisfying and memorable. At 75 minutes, it is just enough to tease and tantalise.


by Kate Herbert


Directed by Moira Finucane



 Caroline Lee  direct descendant of Lola Montez

The Luscious Lolettes,:

Piera Dennerstein glass-shattering diva

Iva Rosebud  Parisian club kitten

Maple Rose burlesque star

Caroline Lee & Lollettes image by 3 Fates Media

Saturday 15 June 2024

KATE HERBERT Arts Weekly 3MBS Sat15Jun2024

In this radio review spot on 3MBS Arts Weekly, I talk with Nick Tolhurst about Julia by Joanna Murray-Smith and The Woman in Black which Nick has seen (I have not seen it.).


 KATE HERBERT Arts Weekly 3MBS Sat15Jun2024.mp4

Julia, MTC REVIEW 4 June 2024 ***1/2



Written by Joanna Murray-Smith, presented by Melbourne Theatre Company, production by Sydney Theatre Company & Canberra Theatre Centre co-production

At MTC, Sumner, Southbank Theatre until 13 July 2024

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Stars: ***1/2 (3.5)

This review is published only on this blog. I’ll present a radio review on Arts Weekly on 3MBS on Sat 15 June 2024. KH

Justine Clarke in Julia- image by Prue Upton

Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech on 9 October 2012 was an unforgettable piece of extemporised political debate is incisive, informed, accurate and a laudable dissection of the leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott’s frequent sexist and misogynistic comments over the previous years.


This speech is delivered in full by Justine Clarke at the end of Joanna Murray Smith’s play, Julia. Its impassioned and precise content, and Clarke‘s thrilling and audacious delivery of it, brought the opening night crowd spontaneously to its feet in an ovation for Gillard, her speech and Clarke.


This was not an ovation for the production itself – although the show is strong enough – but for the speech, Clarke’s  performance of it, and its placement as a momentous ending. During the play, we spend a great deal of time waiting for these most dramatic moments.


Murray Smith’s Julia is a smart, witty, one-person play with a non-linear narrative comprising episodes, characters and interactions from Gillard’s life woven into a coherent whole.


The fictionalisation of Gillard’s life is an extrapolation on stories, biographies, articles and her own comments. Essentially, it follows Gillard’s unexceptional persona and professional life until she became Prime Minister. After that elevation, she became a controversial figure and, finally, an iconic, powerful woman and a torchbearer for feminism when she delivered that exceptional misogyny speech.


Sarah Goodes’ direction is swift and deft, focussing on the character of Gillard, Murray Smith’s brisk humour and political commentary.


Clarke’s performance is compelling and masterly, as she shifts from Julia as an ambitious and intelligent teenager with a talent for debating, to a successful lawyer, a powerful member of the Labor Party and Member of Parliament and, finally, Prime Minister after she topples Kevin Rudd.


Clarke shifts in and out of direct address to audience in what is not an impersonation of Gillard but a representation of her behaviour, and her career highlights.


Intermittently, Clarke’s voice shifts to a direct imitation of Gillard’s recognisable broad Aussie vowels and twang but these moments are peppered throughout. This avoids any impersonation which was a feature of Heather Mitchell’s performance in RBG.


One weak element is the tokenistic presence of a second, younger woman (Jessica Bentley) whose role is extraneous and distracting as she trails around the stage in Clarke’s wake, perhaps representing young women in politics and society. The rear projection of video of young  people was also a distraction.


Despite these awkward and unnecessary elements, Julia is an engaging production with a fine performance by Clarke and the final misogyny speech is worth the ticket.


by Kate Herbert



Saturday 8 June 2024

Sunset Boulevard REVIEW 29 May 2024 ***


Sunset Boulevard, Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; Book & Lyrics by Christopher Hampton and Don Black.

At Princess Theatre  Final date announced.

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Stars: *** (3)

This review is published only on this blog. I’ll present a radio review on Arts Weekly on 3MBS on Sat 1 June 2024. KH


Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, Sunset Boulevard, is a saccharine, sentimental version of William Wilder’s 1950 movie which is a biting indictment of the Hollywood movie machine and its star system that chews up and spits out its artists.

The narrative is peculiarly reminiscent of The Phantom of the Opera in which a reclusive, older man (the Phantom) is obsessed with a young woman. In Sunset the older, reclusive movie star, Norma Desmond, becomes obsessed with, and virtually imprisons the young,  impoverished Hollywood screen writer, Joe Gillis (Tim Draxl).

Even the music and songs, particularly those sung by Norma, echo musical motifs and melodies in Phantom to an unnerving degree. In fact, on the way home I was singing a song from Phantom rather than one from the Sunset!

Sarah Brightman has come to Australia to play Norma, this faded, former star of the silver screen, in a production directed by Paul Warwick Griffin.

Strangely, Brightman’s career is almost a mirror of Norma’s once lauded movie career: the glittering star that Brightman was in Phantom when she initiated the role of Christine Daee all those years ago, is a stark contrast to her stage career decades later.
Brightman has not performed a theatrical role on stage for almost three decades – and it shows. Evidently, she does occasional concerts and has had enormous success with recordings and concerts and is still held in high regard.

She focuses her performance on the other worldliness of Norma, her obsessiveness, delusions, self-absorption and complete alienation from the real world: the real world for Norma being Hollywood movie set which, in fact, is nothing like the real world.

The role requires power, charisma and a commanding stage presence but, unfortunately, Brightman does not have it here. Her voice has not survived all those decades. It has rather too much vibrato and lacks control, although the voice was stronger in the second half and her songs were certainly more affecting.

Her acting is disappointingly wooden, perhaps because she is trying to capture the posturing of a silent movie star. She seems trapped in her body and her range is limited to posing and floating and she lacks the ghoulishness of the magnetic Gloria Swanson.

In the final scene, when Norma trails eerily across her balcony after having killed Joe Gillis, she is surrounded by a swarm of police, cameras and lights. Her total mental breakdown should be moving as we anticipate her famous final line: “Mr. De Mille. I’m ready for my close-up now.” It is not!

 Ashleigh Rubenach, Tim Draxl - PIC CREDIT DANIEL BOUD

The supporting actors, in contrast, are compelling. Draxl is full-voiced, charming, vigorous, smart and provocative. We want Joe Gillis to succeed and we want him to get the hell out of that ghastly mansion.

As  Betty Schaeffer, Ashleigh Rubenach is delightfully exuberant with a fine musical theatre voice. We want Betty’s life to be wonderful because she is the only positive thing I’m this bleak story.

Playing Norma's valet and protector, Max Von Mayerling, Robert Grubb slips into the shadows and then surges out to rescue Norma. His song, The Greatest Star of All, is touching.

The ensemble is versatile and talented, singing some jazzy, upbeat numbers such as Let’s Do Lunch and
Ashley Wallen's choreography is snappy rhythmic, pulsating and unusual.

The design (Morgan Large) is glorious, with a sweeping staircase and Art Nouveau iron work. Sheer scrims edged with lacework drop front of stage, reminding us that Norma lives behind a metaphorical veil which hides her ageing, loss of spirit and mental condition.

Projections (George Reeve) in black-and-white that echo the movie’s film noir style feature the Hollywood sign, Joe’s  body floating in a pool and 1950s cars driving towards us.

This production of Sunset Boulevard is a patchy production that is, unfortunately, let down by Brightman as the lead.

by Kate Herbert