Thursday, 14 December 2017

The Caretaker, Dec 13, 2017 ***

By Allen Laverty, presented by La Mama
At La Mama Theatre, until Dec 17 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Thursday Dec 14, 2017 & later in print (15/12 TBC). KH
Allen Laverty-The-Caretaker_pic by Paula van Beek
Memory can be a loyal, or a fickle friend and Allen Laverty, in a nostalgic wander down his own memory lane, looks at both reliable and erratic memories in his solo show, The Caretaker.

The performance style ambles around as much as the content does: Laverty starts with a snippet of physical comedy before shifting to personal storytelling and conversational audience interaction.

He relates tales from his childhood, recollections of his grandfather and, finally, poignant descriptions of his mother’s recent memory loss and his challenging role as her carer – the ‘caretaker’ of the title.

The emotional and personal details in his portrayal of his grandfather and mother are the most effective and affecting elements: Pa smoking his roll-your-own cigarette, mum repeatedly asking the same question, and Laverty showering his mother when she is incapable.

The set design (Tamara Kirby) incorporates a workbench bearing items used and owned by his grandfather, including a woodworking vice that Laverty uses to carve a wooden spoon throughout the performance.

Laverty’s stories touch on mental illness and psychiatric hospitals and he scares audience members with a weird childhood ‘toy’ that gives its players electric shocks while illustrating the harshness of electric shock therapy.

Although Laverty started making a physical comedy about a bumbling handyman, his intention changed when his mother started to lose her memory, and this has left him with a couple of different plays battling for precedence.

The script needs a clearer structure and dramatic arc to link its various threads, or it could focus on a single character: Laverty’s mother could anchor the narrative from the beginning rather than becoming the focus at the end.

This production may crave a more dynamic, cohesive structure, but The Caretaker has a raw, emotional truth when Laverty tells his personal stories.

By Kate Herbert

Monday, 11 December 2017

We Are Lightning! Dec 6, 2017 **1/2

By Joseph O’Farrell & Sam Halmarack
At Arts House, North Melbourne, until Dec 10, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: **1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts in print on Fri Dec 8, 2017 (TBC). KH
Joseph O'Farrell (JOF) and Sam Halmarack - Photo by Byrony Jackson

We Are Lightning!, by Joseph O’Farrell (JOF) and Sam Halmarack, is shambolic, messy and confused, but parts of the show are oddly diverting.

The premise is that a live music venue is closing, so JOF and Sam are producing one, final night of performance, incorporating their own music and segments by a community choir, a young, local band, two older, rock guitarists and a six-piece brass section.

The audience stands like a crowd at a pub gig, switching its attention between four, small, shabby stages, one set against each wall of the cavernous North Melbourne Town Hall, and sometimes trying to watch all four stages at once.

JOF and Sam present as a sort of demented comedy duo, with JOF being the extroverted, yammering guy playing drums and brainstorming outlandish ideas for the show, while Sam plays guitar, sings his original, love ballads and runs away when the show gets overwhelming.

The audience enjoys JOF and Sam’s songs and banter and the brass sextet is a treat – especially when they appear in marching band outfits – but the two guitarists’ hard rock riffs are all too brief. Give us more!

The 50-person community choir sings Shenandoah, adds back-up vocals to Sam and JOF’s numbers or strolls around the hall in colourful robes, while the youth band plays original songs, one of which muses nostalgically about being 17.

A voice-over by one of the participants captures the confused form of this show when she announces that JOF and Sam have produced a show that’s not actually the performance for which she and others signed up.

We Are Lightning! starts with some good and some goofy ideas, but it is not ground-breaking theatre and its execution is chaotic and rambling so it needs some tightening and clarifying.

By Kate Herbert
WE ARE LIGHTNING! by Joseph O'Farrell (JOF) and Sam Halmarack - Photo by Byrony Jackson
WE ARE LIGHTNING! by Joseph O'Farrell (JOF) and Sam Halmarack - Photo by Byrony Jackson
WE ARE LIGHTNING! by Joseph O'Farrell (JOF) and Sam Halmarack - Photo by Byrony Jackson

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Lost: 5, Nov 25, 2017 ***

Written by Daniel Keene, by Illumi-Nation, Poppy Seed Festival 
At Irene Mitchell Theatre, St. Martins, until Dec 3, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Fri Nov 25, 2017
 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Thur 30 Nov, 2017 & later in print (Fri Nov 30?). KH
Marty Rhone in Kaddish

Starting in 1997, playwright Daniel Keene, with director Ariette Taylor, depicted the homeless and disenfranchised in short, poignant dramas that straddled poetic form and gritty realism.

The Keene/Taylor Theatre Project (KTTP) is now defunct, but new company, Illumi-Nation, under director Michele McNamara, revives five of Keene’s monologues in Lost: 5.

Because this reviewer saw every KTTP production in Melbourne, it is difficult not to compare Lost: 5 and its mostly young cast to KTTP’s exceptional interpretations and seasoned actors.

Marty Rhone, himself a veteran of the music and theatre industries, provides a heart-stopping, achingly truthful performance in Kaddish, portraying an elderly man suffering crippling grief after his wife’s death and mourning her pauper’s burial.

Rhone inhabits the character, leaving the audience gaping as he shifts from reflective reminiscence to howling pain caused by the open wound of his loss.

Fleur Murphy, in The Rain, sympathetically portrays an old, German woman who spent her life hoarding and protecting the belongings entrusted to her by detainees being transported to the concentration camps.

The remaining young cast members do not as effectively capture the poetic style or complex psychological states of their characters.

Stephanie Pick performs Two Shanks as a silent, young woman who finds an abandoned baby in a rubbish bin while, in A Foundling, Pearce Hessling plays a timid, anxious young man who cherishes a dead bird.

In Getting Shelter, Keneisha Nottle’s character vibrates with clown-like energy that contrasts with the reality that she is dying in a hospital ward. It is hard to reconcile this youthful portrayal with Bob Hornery’s original performance of the same character as an old geezer in 1999 for KTTP.

Although the acting is uneven, the quality of Keene’s writing and Rhone’s performance makes Lost: 5 a noteworthy theatrical experience.

By Kate Herbert 

The Rain - Fleur Murphy 
Kaddish - Marty Rhone
Two Shanks - Stephanie Pick
Getting Shelter - Keneisha Nottle
A Foundling - Pearce Hessling

Composer / Sound designer - MBYRO Matt Brown

Monday, 27 November 2017

Vivid White, Nov 23, 2017 ***

Music & script by Eddie Perfect, Melbourne Theatre Company
At Southbank Theatre, Sumner, until Dec 23, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 23, 2017
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Monday Nov 27, 2017, and later in print. KH
Christina O’Neill, Brent Hill, Ben Mingay, Verity Hunt-Ballard _photo Jeff Busby

Vivid White, by Eddie Perfect, includes witty, satirical cabaret songs that glue together a play merging sketch comedy and mild social satire with pure idiocy and absurdity to tell a story about home ownership.

Perfect’s feisty songs, with their pithy lyrics, diverse styles and quirky musical arrangements (James Simpson), are the highlight of Dean Bryant
’s production, along with the vivacious, hilarious cast of actor-singers.

When Liz and Ben (Verity Hunt-Ballard, Brent Hill) and their friends, Evan and Cynthia (Ben Mingay, Christina O’Neill), bid for the same house in desirable North Fitzroy, tempers fray and their long-standing friendship, based on Ben and Evan’s award-winning, now-defunct comedy act, suffers a fatal blow.

But this auction feeding frenzy is just the beginning of a descent into madness involving the rise of a despotic rule of law designating ‘home owners’ a privileged class protected by armed guards who shoot ‘renters’ who invade the ’Owners’ Zone’.

The scenario gets even more absurd when the tentacles of an unseen (until the final scene) mind-controlling creature (voiced by Virginia Gay) invades the minds of aspiring homebuyers and starts murdering renters.

If we expect political satire to mercilessly flay its targets, then Perfect misses an opportunity to attack significant impediments to home ownership: investors, developers, banks and government. The hapless, single homebuyer seems a soft target.

The clever, entertaining songs make the play’s structure, narrative and dialogue look ordinary and repetitive, and the songs might be better served in a cabaret format linked by incisive, satirical banter.

The multi-talented performers play instruments and sing the irreverent songs, including: Gay’s rendition of Soft Close Drawers, the show standout reminiscent of Kurt Weill, the spirited What the F... Was That?, Better (‘I’m doing better than them’), and Lambert’s lament about her failed auction bid.

If you enjoy a swipe at the housing market and crave songs and silliness in the Silly Season, Vivid White may be just the ticket.

By Kate Herbert 

Brent Hill, Gillian Cosgriff, Virginia Gay, Keegan Joyce, Ben Mingay_ photo Jeff Busby

Vivid White Song list
Prologue: What The Fuck Was That?
A House is More
Rescue Dog
Better Gillian Consgriff
The Part of You That Never Moves Out  Lambert lament
They Come Late (Or Not At All)
Taking Out The Bins
Edinburgh 2005
Soft Close Drawers
One Satirical Song
Vivid White
Men’s Right’s Activist

Gillian Cosgriff, Virginia Gay, Brent Hill, Verity Hunt-Ballard, Keegan Joyce, Ben Mingay, Christina O’Neill

Creative Team:
Director Dean Bryant
Musical Director/
James Simpson 
Set Designer 
Owen Phillips 
Costume Designer 
Tim Chappel
Lighting Designer 
Ross Graham
Sound Designer 
Russell Goldsmith 
Assistant Director
Sarah Kriegler

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Desert 6.29pm, Nov 22, 2017 ***

Written by Morgan Rose, Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre
(Red Stitch INK new writing program) 
At Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre until Dec 14, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Wed Nov 22, 2017 
Stars: ***
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Thurs Nov 23, 2017, and later in print. KH
Eva Seymour, Sarah Sutherland, Joe Pertucci, Darcy Kent_pic byTeresa Noble
Finding one’s identity can be a lifetime task and all members of the unremarkable family in Desert, 6.29pm struggle to define their places in the world and find it even harder to explain their confusions to loved ones.

Morgan Rose’s play peers into the very banal lives of Xan (Eva Seymour), a stroppy, 17 year-old, closeted lesbian, her mum, Crystal (Sarah Sutherland), dad, Rico (Joe Petruzzi), and older brother, Jamie (Darcy Kent), in an isolated, country town.

Xan’s behaviour becomes more manic, secretive and bizarre when she spirals into grief after her mother announces that local girl, Jo, has thrown herself off the overpass.

Her out-of-control reactions, and the self-narration that accompanies that behaviour, indicate that Xan had an intimate relationship with Jo that she is unable or unwilling to reveal, so she remains trapped and alone in her grief.

The first half of the play is the more effective, with its comical, well-observed dialogue, characters and relationships that highlight the ordinariness of this family, their respective fantasies and thwarted ambitions.

However, the second half loses momentum when it diverges too far from Xan’s story and shifts focus to Jamie and his girlfriend, Abby (Ella Caldwell), sending the story off the rails, with little being satisfactorily resolved or completed by the end.

Bridget Balodis’ direction starts briskly and effectively but the short, snapshot scenes are too frequent in the latter half.

Seymour’s Xan has a brittle edginess but it is a difficult role as Xan’s adolescent meanness is so dislikeable even though we sympathise with her grief.

Sutherland is a delight as Crystal who craves approval and scrambles to keep the family functioning, while Petruzzi captures Rico’s bluff, blokey quality that hides his morbid fear of dying, and Kent embodies the video game geek who has not fulfilled his potential.

Rose’s script, developed through Red Stitch’s new writing program, also has potential but it still needs some work.

By Kate Herbert

Cast: Eva Seymour, Joe Petruzzi, Ella Caldwell, Sarah Sutherland Darcy Kent

Director - Bridget Balodis
Set costume -Romany Harper
Lighting Amelia Lever-Davidson
Composition / Sound - Ian Moorhead

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

A Very Kransky Christma, Nov 20, 2017 ****


A Very Kransky Christmas by The Kransky Sisters 
At The Alex Theatre, until Nov 26, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert  on Mon Nov 20, 2017
 Review also published in Herald Sun online on Tues Nov 21, 2017, and later in print. KH
Kranskys L-R: Dawn  (Carolyn Johns), Mourne (Annie Lee), Eve (Christine Johnston
 A Very Kransky Christmas is an achingly funny and eccentric comedy-cabaret performed by the three peculiar and socially awkward siblings known as The Kransky Sisters.

They perform Christmas themed tunes on unconventional instruments – the saw, tuba and a 1960s keyboard – and their oddball musical arrangements transform Chrissie carols into oompah-oompah tunes or a horror movie soundtrack.

Mourne (Annie Lee), Eve (Christine Johnston) and Dawn Kransky (Carolyn Johns) are old-fashioned, repressed, weird spinsters of a type only seen in 1940s CWA cookbooks or in gothic horror movies.

While Mourne appears to be a barely controlled lunatic, Eve is her naive follower, and poor, bullied Dawn looks like a frightened hamster.

Mourne drives the show with her dry, gloomy but witty patter as she and Eve tell awful tales of their isolated and deprived childhood in a caravan in the tiny, Queensland town of Esk, while their ostracised half-sister, Dawn, watches mutely.

This cunningly written and well-structured cabaret looks as if it is thrown together by three incompetent old bats, but is clearly the result of the masterly musical-comedy skills of its three performers.

Johns, as the silent Dawn, provides pulsating tuba solos, Lee plays guitar and keyboard, and Johnston excels on keyboard and singing saw – yes, a real saw.

Their version of Santa Claus Is Coming to Town will haunt any child’s Christmas dreams, and a medley transforms popular songs by Lady Gaga, Daft Punk and Sia into Kransky Christmas chaos.

The audience participates with glee, rattling their car keys to Ring of Fire and singing the chorus of Deck The Halls, then the sisters reinvent The Twelve Days of Christmas, assisted by two cheerful victims dragooned from the audience.

This is bizarre and memorable Christmas cabaret that will make you value your normal family and view your Christmas songs in a new light.

by Kate Herbert

Thursday, 16 November 2017

The Testament of Mary, Nov 9, 2017

The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín, by Malthouse Theatre
Merlyn Theatre, at Malthouse, until Nov 26, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 9, 2017
Stars: ***1/2
 Review also published in Herald Sun online Arts in print & later online. KH
Pamela Rabe_Testamen tof Mary_Pamela Rabe_photo Pia Johnson

The brittle, sharp-witted character in Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary bears little resemblance to the biblical Mary, mother of Jesus, whose purity and forbearance inspired countless religious orders, churches and artworks.

In Anne-Louise Sarks’ production, Pamela Rabe vibrates with barely contained anxiety as she describes, from Mary’s perspective, events leading to the capture, torture and crucifixion of her unnamed son who we know to be Jesus Christ.

Mary roams the bleak, clinical, dimly lit rooms that feel like a prison as she waits for the return of two men, disciples of her son who need her to endorse their narrative that frames her son as a miracle worker and the Son of God.

But Mary tells a different story of a grieving mother wracked with guilt, fear and shame: a mother whose radicalised son is now unrecognisable to her.

Her tale resonates with stories of the mothers of radicalised zealots, who cannot understand their sons’ changed behaviour.

Tóibín’s text is lyrical, textured and richly evocative, using vivid, mesmerising word pictures to conjure Mary’s memories and to express an undercurrent of menace.

Rabe’s performance is intimate, restrained and steeped in pain as Mary relives episodes including Lazarus’s rising from the dead, a wedding at Cana, Jesus carrying the cross and his horrific crucifixion.

The most powerful scenes are Rabe speaking uninterrupted, directly to the audience, standing still and trembling without the earlier unnecessary action or lighting changes.

However, a body microphone amplifying her voice unnecessarily restricts Rabe’s vocal and emotional range and, although the stylish design (Marg Horwell, Paul Jackson) plants Mary firmly in the modern era, it does not illuminate Mary’s story or adequately reflect Tóibín’s poetic language.

Tóibín’s Mary’s grim story of a distraught mother is as credible as those of the male, gospel writers but hers is more realistic and accessible.

By Kate Herbert

costume & co-set design / Marg Horwell
lighting & co-set design / Paul Jackson
composition & sound design / Steve Toulmin
Pamela Rabe_Testamen tof Mary_Pamela Rabe_photo Pia Johnson