Friday, 18 August 2017

Di and Viv and Rose, Aug 17, 2017 ***1/2

Written by Amelia Bullmore, Melbourne Theatre Company
At Southbank Theatre, The Sumner, until Sept 16, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 17, 2017
Stars: ***1/2
 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Friday, Aug 18, 2017 & in print on Tues Aug 22.
  Mandy McElhinney, Nadine Garner, Belinda McClory -photo-Jeff-Busby

It is a joy to witness such entertaining, nuanced and credible performances as those of the three women playing the mismatched trio in Di and Viv and Rose by UK writer and actor, Amelia Bullmore.

Bullmore’s play depicts the evolution of a quirky but enduring friendship that begins in the 1980s when three seemingly incompatible first year university students, Di (Nadine Garner), Viv (Belinda McClory) and Rose (Mandy McElhinney), share a flat, negotiate their many differences, support each other in crises and form a lasting bond.

This portrayal of their early years is the most successful part of Bullmore’s play and Marion Potts’ production, with its witty dialogue, playful performances and dramatic action that focuses exclusively on the characters’ relationships.

The later snapshots of this odd trio’s meetings are less satisfying, lacking the detailed character and relationship development and energy of the earlier years.

  Mandy McElhinney, Nadine Garner, Belinda McClory -photo-Jeff-Busby
As Rose, the sweet natured and promiscuous art history student, McElhinney portrays a spirited bounciness in her early years that transforms into resilience when Rose faces disappointment in later life.

Garner brings vivacity and vulnerability to Di, the sporty lesbian who studies Business and still hides her sexuality from her parents.

McClory gives sensitivity and emotional complexity to Viv, the bolshy, pompous academic who shakes off her working class roots, studies the sociology of women’s fashion and achieves her career ambitions.

The trio’s comfortable intimacy is hilariously evident in an unforgettable scene when they dance with drunken abandon to 99 Luftballons by German artist, Nena.

This exuberant energy excuses some script and production problems, such as two sudden and arbitrary plot turning points and some rather clunky scene changes that involve opening and closing of enormous sliding panels.

This play will resonate with audiences, particularly women, and it boasts three of Australia’s best actors so perhaps we can forgive its flaws and the frustratingly unsatisfying plot development.

By Kate Herbert

Marion Potts - director
Paul Jackson - lighting
Dale Ferguson - design
Kelly Ryall - composer/sound
  Mandy McElhinney, Nadine Garner, Belinda McClory -photo-Jeff-Busby

Thursday, 10 August 2017

The Real & Imagined History of the Elephant Man, Aug 9, 2017 ***1/2

Written by Tom Wright
Produced by Malthouse Theatre
At Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, until Aug 27, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts on Friday Aug 10, 2017, and later in print. KH
Daniel Monks & Julia Forsyth - photo Pia Johnson
 During his short life in the late 19th century, Joseph Merrick suffered an unnamed and profoundly disfiguring condition that led to him suffering the indignity of being dubbed the Elephant Man in a London freak show.

This haunting production of The Real and Imagined History of the Elephant Man, written by Tom Wright and directed by Matthew Lutton, re-imagines Merrick’s life in a series of atmospheric snapshots.

Daniel Monks’ impressive depiction of Merrick is key in this production and his sympathetic, feisty and, at times, deeply moving portrayal is made more compelling because Monks, in addition to being a fine actor, has a physical disability that affects the right side of his body.

Wright’s poetic dialogue lends the play an other-worldliness that Lutton amplifies by evoking the smoggy, mysterious and dangerous streets of Leicester and London where Monks’ Merrick faces abuse, assault, pursuit, ridicule and fear – both his own and that of others.

With its sparse stage design (Marg Horwell), jarring soundscape (Jethro Woodward), and forbidding
lighting (Paul Jackson), the stage looks and sounds like an industrial tornado until Merrick reaches the safety of London Hospital where he spent his last days. 

The first half of the production is the stronger, with poignant vignettes of the child Merrick with his mother (Julie Forsyth), followed by alarming scenes of a world redolent with the stench of London streets that are populated by a parade of eccentrics, scruffy thugs and gentlefolk played by a versatile cast (Forsyth, Sophie Ross, Paula Arundell, Emma J Hawkins).

When the relative peace of the hospital replaces the horrors of the streets, the production loses some power, although the scene in which doctors catalogue Merrick’s deformities is disturbingly and the scenes between Monks’ Merrick and Forsyth’s cheeky nurse, Agnes, are witty and charming.

Despite the loss of momentum in the second half, Wright and Lutton’s evocative interpretation and Monks’ distinctive performance focus the play on Merrick’s desire to be treated as a man, not a monster, and highlight the melancholy half-life that he lives, lurking on the murky boundary between normal life and the world of the ‘other’.

By Kate Herbert 

Cast: Daniel Monks, Julie Forsyth, Sophie Ross, Paula Arundell, Emma J Hawkins

Matthew Lutton - director
Marg Horwell - stage design
Jethro Woodward – sound /composition
Paul Jackson - lighting

Daniel Monks -  photo Pia Johnson
Sophie Ross, Daniel Monks, Julia Forsyth, Paula Arundell & Emma j Hawkins -  photo Pia Johnson

Friday, 4 August 2017

The Perfume Garden, Aug 3, 2017 **1/2

Written by Rajendra Moodley, 
Presented by Australian Bollywood Productions with What’s On Production Company, Ignite Bollywood & Victorian State Ballet
At Chapel off Chapel, until Aug 13, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 3, 2017 
Stars: **1/2 
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Fri Aug 4, 2017, and later in print. KH
Bollywood movies are a hoot when characters burst spontaneously and hilariously into elaborate song and dance and, in this revival of The Perfume Garden, colourful, live Bollywood numbers pepper Rajendra Moodley’s narrative about an Indian-Australian family.

Anand (Moodley) is a disenchanted, 40-ish, Indian-Australian who still lives with his struggling but ambitious parents (Vishwajeet Pradhan, Laura Lattuada) who run a failing spice shop and care for Ayah (Khema de Silva), an elderly, wheelchair-bound stroke victim and distant relative.

Meanwhile, Anand, an aspiring romantic fiction novelist with writer’s block, half-heartedly courts Devi (Sacha Joseph), a traditional India girl who wants Australian residency.

Paul Watson’s production suddenly comes to life when, 45 minutes into act one, Anand stumbles upon a mysterious Hindu spell that temporarily resurrects Ayah who leaps from her wheelchair to make suggestive comments and join the dancers.

Unfortunately, despite de Silva’s entertaining antics as Ayah, the production is lacklustre with its slow cueing, awkward scenes changes, cluttered staging, and Bollywood segments that are not effectively integrated with the narrative.

Khema de Silva, Rajendra Moodley
Moodley’s script has elements of ‘magical realism’ when Ayah wakes from her comatose state, and the play does make some funny observations about traditional Indian family attitudes and unrealistic expectations about employment and marriage.

However, the dialogue overall is flabby, repetitive and in desperate need of editing.

De Silva is mischievous as the revitalised Ayah and her scenes are certainly the most engaging, while Lattuada provides a riotously saucy Bollywood routine as Chitra when she is affected by Ayah’s sexy charm.

Moodley obviously draws on personal experience for this play, but his performance is unconvincing.

With their vivid costumes and eccentric choreographic blend of sassy, contemporary gestures with classical Indian dance, the Bollywood routines are diverting and several dancers are exceptional, although some of the men forget their moves.

The Perfume Garden is a cheerfully playful show but, ultimately, it does not make a cohesive, theatrical whole.

By Kate Herbert

Anand - Rajendra Moodley
Satya  Vishwajeet Pradhan
Chitra - Laura Lattuada
Ayah - Khema de Silva
Devi  - Sacha Joseph
Khema de Silva, Sacha Joseph, Vishwajeet Pradhan, Laura Lattuada, Rajendra Moodley
 L-R Vishwajeet Pradhan, Laura Lattuada, Rajendra Moodley

Thursday, 3 August 2017

You’re Not Alone, Aug 2, 2017 ****

Written & performed by Kim Noble, by In Between Time (UK)
in association with Soho Theatre

At Beckett Theatre, Malthouse, until Aug 13, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 2, 2017 
This review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Thurs Aug 3, 2017, and later in print. I'm still thinking and talking about this show, disturbing as it may be! KH
Kim Noble in You're Not Alone
You’re Not Alone by Kim Noble is a thought-provoking theatre documentary about loneliness and disconnection in the modern world cunningly disguised as an offensive show about risqué behaviour and anonymous, online, sexual liaisons.

Be warned! If you are offended by lurid imagery, explicit sexual behaviours, crude language or bodily functions, this show is your worst nightmare.

This is a visceral, provocative, audacious and profoundly unsettling work that straddles the boundaries between performance art, exhibitionism, social documentary and pornography.

Noble is alarming, repellent, confusing and grotesque while simultaneously being compelling, charming, generous, creative and challenging.

He is also a creepy stalker and a ‘catfish’ – catfishing involves falsely representing oneself online to seduce and dupe respondents into sexual liaisons – although a few of his online targets are horribly and hilariously shocked when they meet Noble in his weirdly unattractive, transvestite persona.

Noble presents his video material in a deadpan style resembling that of a newsreader and, although there is no overt parody, the entire piece is strangely parodic.

I spent the first half gaping open-mouthed at the outrageousness of Noble’s cheek (or is that ‘cheeks’?) and bold mischief-making, but the final 15 minutes poignantly clarify the true intent of You’re Not Alone. He made me cry.

Noble portrays a 21st century world in which people crave connection with another human but,, despite valiant efforts (e.g. resorting to online lunacy to connect), they remain isolated and desperately lonely.

He gently and politely invites an audience member to join him on stage – on opening night it was Geoff – then whispers instructions to the guest who obediently responds.

Through his complex videography, we meet Nobles’ neighbours, Keith the supermarket checkout guy, Noble’s ailing father, John the lorry driver, and a bevy of others, many of whom may never know that they are in this show.

You’re Not Alone may offend you, but it will certainly keep you talking about how we communicate – or do not communicate – in our soulless world. It’s a wild ride!

By Kate Herbert 

Co-direction - Gary Reich
Technical management- Miki Bekesi
Lighting design -Martin Lengthorne

Credentials, Aug 1, 2017 ***

Written by David Williamson, La Mama 
At La Mama Courthouse, until Aug 13, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 1, 2017
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Thurs Aug 3, 2017 and in print on Fri 4 Aug 2017. KH
Geoff Paine, Kayla Hamill. Pic Rachel Edward
Credentials marks the momentous return of renowned playwright, David Williamson, to La Mama to celebrate La Mama’s 50th birthday just 47 years after his first play, The Coming of Stork, premiered at the tiny Carlton theatre in 1970.

Williamson’s new play, directed with a light hand by Tom Gutteridge, relates the story of Chrissie (Kayla Hamill), a young woman who has a chequered past but now works successfully as a paramedic – although, in the first scene, her boss, Mr. Shore (Geoff Paine), discovers that all Chrissie’s qualifications are falsified. Yeah, really!

With Williamson’s usual combination of drama with social satire, Credentials challenges our views on social issues including drug addiction, violence and prostitution, while entertaining us with depictions of absurd but familiar missteps related to parenting, spoilt adult offspring, work and relationships.

The structure is episodic and shifts between the present, when Shore confronts Chrissie about her fake credentials, and Chrissie’s past when, as a 15-year old tearaway living in a dull, country town with her dominating father (Paine), she takes off to Sydney with her drug-dealing boyfriend, Rick (Zak Giles-Pidd), where she ends up in poverty and addiction.

Williamson peppers the compelling ethical issues with uncomfortable, dark comedy that often elicits laughs but sometimes falls flat.

Gutteridge focuses on character and story while keeping the staging uncomplicated, with actors watching the action from the edges of the space when they are not in scenes, and moving props during transitions.

Although the acting is uneven in the minor roles, Paine is a highlight playing the two contrasting, but equally confused fathers: Shore, the successful, middle-class, well-meaning parent, and Chrissie’s rough-edged, working class dad who can’t understand his daughter.

Giles-Pidd is entertaining and credible as Rick, playing him with a gritty, vibrating physicality and vulnerability, while Hamill gives feisty Chrissie an edgy and indomitable spirit that helps her overcome adversity.

Audiences will be split over whether they believe Chrissie should be allowed to continue to work as a paramedic despite her sham credentials, but Williamson certainly leaves us arguing about the ethical issues.

By Kate Herbert
Kayla Hamill. Pic Rachel Edward

Zak Giles-Pidd, Kayla Hamill. Pic Rachel Edward
Kayla Hamill - Chrissie
Geoff Paine - Shore & Bruce
Zak Giles-Pidd  -Rick
Paul Bongiorno - Mack
Nell Feeney- Rosy
Matt Furlani - Lenn
Yvette Turner-Jessica

Sound & Composition-Zak Giles-Pidd
Set costume-  Anastassia Poppenberg
Lighting -Jason Crick

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Jesus Christ Superstar, July 29, 2017 ***1/2


Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Tim Rice
The Production Company in association with The Really Useful Group
At State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne, until Aug 13, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert in July 29, 2017
 Review also published in Herald Sun art online on Mon July 31, 2017, and later in print. KH
Michael Cormick, Rob Mills

In 1971, Jesus Christ Superstar broke all the rules and outraged plenty of people when it turned the last days of Jesus into a rock opera and portrayed the Messiah hooking up with Mary Magdalene.

With a score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, this ground-breaking musical is now an old standard and director, Gale Edwards, must make it connect with a modern audience.

With its dynamic, eclectic music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s ingenious lyrics that advance the narrative and illuminate characters, this ground-breaking musical is now an old standard and director, Gale Edwards, must make it connect with a new audience.

Although Edwards’ production cannot compete with Laurence Connor's inspired UK Arena production that catapulted Jesus’ story into the 21st century, hers is a contemporary and, in the final scenes, gritty and gruesome vision of the last days of Jesus, the celebrity-social-warrior who was ‘just a man’.

Superstar addresses issues including love, loyalty, ethics, betrayal, leadership, politics and self-sacrifice, and Rob Mills portrays Jesus in a loving relationship with Mary Magdalene (Alinta Chidzey), in a fraught, fraying friendship with Judas (Zoy Frangos) and in conflict with Jewish leaders and Roman occupiers.
 Alinta Chidzey, Rob Mills
Mills’ Jesus is a vulnerable, naive idealist out of his depth battling politicians, high priests, a ravenous media and his own adoring followers.

After the lower-key ballads of the first act and some vocal issues, particularly with his falsetto, Mills delivers the impassioned rock anthem, Gethsemane, and his final, moving scenes of Jesus’ bloody scourging and crucifixion are tragic, particularly in contrast to the stirring anthem, Superstar.

As Judas, the purist and realist who warns Jesus that his actions are dangerous, Zoy Frangos has a powerful but unpredictable voice that captures Judas’ rage and frustration, but his Judas needs greater depth and nuance to balance his ferocity.

Chidzey’s warm voice and intimate style make Magdalene a sensual presence and her rendition of I Don’t Know How to Love Him is affecting.

The scaffolding design (Dan Potra) creates an industrial environment with multiple performance levels that might be used more effectively.

A fine supporting cast includes Michael Cormick as the political animal, Pilate, Trevor Ashley as the trashy cabaret version of Herod, and Andrew Cook with his rich voice as Peter, and, accompanied by music played by tight onstage band, the talented ensemble delivers What’s The Buzz, Hosanna and Superstar with enthusiasm.

The music of Superstar still soars while the social and personal issues are still relevant for audiences 40 years later.

By Kate Herbert
Zoy Frangos, Rob Mills

Rob Mills
Zoy Frangos
Alinta Chidzey
Trevor Ashley
Michael Cormick
Andrew Cook
Mike Snell

Monday, 31 July 2017

Bowie & Mercury Rising, July 27, 2017

Created by Warren Wills
At Chapel off Chapel, until July 30, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 27, 2017
Stars: **1/2
 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Thurs July 27, 2017 & later in print. KH
 Thando Sikwila, Jess Mortlock, Warren Wills

Warren Wills’ piano playing and inventive musical arrangements are the great strength and focus of Bowie & Mercury Rising, Wills’ tribute to his musical heroes, David Bowie and Freddie Mercury.

Wills, an accomplished musician and musical director, is the sole instrumentalist in this show and his arrangements for piano and electronic keyboard have an expansive, almost orchestral quality.

Powerhouse vocalist, Thando Sikwila, joins Wills on stage to sing an eclectic selection of Bowie and Queen hits, ranging from Bowie’s Life on Mars, Suffragette City, Heroes and Space Oddity to Queen’s We Will Rock You and We are the Champions.

Sikwila’s performance is refreshingly unembellished and her rich, controlled voice can be thrilling and moving; the show would improve if she were let off the leash throughout, as she was in the bold, jazz-style finale of Heroes.

Despite the musical successes, the component parts of this production do not form a cohesive whole and the problems start with the repetitive choreography (Jess Mortlock) and Sikwila’s awkward dialogue delivered at irregular intervals between songs.

Mortlock is a capable dancer, but her choreographic interludes are overwrought, do not illuminate the songs and are not effectively integrated with the singer and musician.
 Thando Sikwila, Warren Wills
Wills’ concept for the show is unclear and the dialogue, although sometimes quirky and diverting, is often confusing, providing no through-line or narrative.

The projected images are sometimes enlightening but more often distracting, and the lighting (Jason Bovaird) needs simplifying to maintain the focus on music and lyrics.

This production is crying out for a writer and, more urgently, a theatrical director, to find a narrative and conceptual thread to link the components and give greater insight into Bowie and Mercury.

This show would be far more successful if it limited its scope to being a short concert cabaret with a tight focus on Wills, the pianist, and Sikwila, the singer.  I’d happily watch that show.

By Kate Herbert

Friday, 21 July 2017

The Merchant of Venice, July 20, 2017 ***1/2

By William Shakespeare, Bell Shakespeare 
At Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, until July 30, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 20, 2017
Stars: ***1/2

 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Fri July 21, 2017 & later in print. KH
Jo Turner, Mitchell Butel, photo Prudence Upton 
In the past, as in this modern world, seemingly good, generous or religious people can be cruel, vindictive and tribal in their treatment of those who they consider different – and so it goes in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.

Anne-Louise Sarks’ spirited production for Bell Shakespeare views the play through a 21st century lens, with the young Venetians dressed in contemporary garb and revelling like modern, privileged, narcissistic night-clubbers.

The difference is that these young people identify as Christians and, as such, they condemn the Venetian Jews’ practice of lending money at exorbitant interest rates.

The successful, popular but disconsolate merchant, Antonio (Jo Turner), borrows a large sum from Shylock (Mitchell Butel), a Jewish moneylender, to assist his friend, Bassanio (Damien Strouthos), to woo the lady, Portia (Jessica Tovey).

Although Antonio has abused and spat upon him, Shylock agrees to an interest-free loan but his contract demands a pound of Antonio’s flesh if he cannot repay the loan within three months.

The beginning of this production is vivacious and mischievous, with characters delivering good-humoured laughs – until Shylock’s daughter, Jessica (Felicity McKay), abandons, betrays and steals from her doting father to elope with Bassanio to Belmont.

Butel is exceptional as Shylock, giving a sensitive, nuanced performance that balances Shylock’s piety and moral code with his humour, his vengefulness and, finally, his despair when he loses his worldly goods, his daughter, his religion and his dignity.

Even when not in scenes, Butel lingers at the perimeter as a reminder of Shylock’s vendetta and his cruel suffering, his head lowered, and, at the end, stripped of his religious garb.

The court scene is compelling (although not as riveting as it could be) when Shylock demands his pound of flesh until Portia annihilates his argument, but the second half of the production flags after Shylock’s courtroom failure.

It is hard not to wonder whether Shakespeare condemned or condoned the Venetians’ abusive treatment of Shylock.  These Venetian Christians speak about love but demand money; they prate about mercy but show none.
 Mitchell Butel, photo Prudence Upton

Eugene Gilfedder provides two marvellous cameos as Arragon, Portia’s supercilious suitor, and as Tubal, Shylock’s temperate, Jewish friend.

Jacob Warner’s Launcelot is a charmingly boyish clown while Damien Strouthos (Bassanio), Fayssal Bazzi (Gratiano) and Shiv Palekar  (Lorenzo) make a robust band of playfellows, although Turner’s Antonio lacks the charisma needed to make Antonio the beloved centre of this merry gang.

Meanwhile, Tovey’s Portia is feisty and Catherine Davies is ebullient as her servant, Nerissa.

The final scenes of the young Venetians’ merriment, although lively and playful, feel laboured and overly long, undercutting the dynamic range of earlier scenes.

This production is diverting and challenging, and it is impossible not to compare the bigotry in this play with current socio-political situations.

By Kate Herbert 

Mitchell Butel (Shylock), Fayssal Bazzi (Gratiano), Catherine Davies (Nerissa), Eugene Gilfedder (Arragon / Tubal / Duke), Shiv Palekar (Lorenzo / Morocco), Damien Strouthos (Bassanio), Jessica Tovey (Portia), Jo Turner (Antonio) and Jacob Warner (Launcelot), Felicity McKay (Jessica).

Director - Anne-Louise Sarks
 Lighting Designer - Paul Jackson
Composer & Sound Designer - Max Lyandvert
Voice Coach -Jess Chambers
Dramaturg - Benedict Hardie
 Felicity McKay, Jessica Tovey, Shiv Palekar