Saturday, 27 September 2008

Sondheim UnScripted, Sept 27, 2008 ***

Sondheim UnScripted
By Impro Melbourne, directed by Dan O'Connor

 Lithuanian Club, Sept 27 to Oct 3, 2008

Reviewer: Kate Herbert


If you’ve never seen a totally improvised musical there are two in the Fringe Festival. Sondheim UnScripted (directed by Dan O’Connor who is visiting from Los Angeles) takes from the audience, “the title of a musical that has never been written”. 

What follows is an hour of songs and narrative loosely based on the stylings of Stephen Sondheim who wrote Sweeney Todd, Into The Woods and the lyrics in Westside Story.

Hold The Press was the catalyst title of the show I saw. Being improvised, the show is filled with surprises, successes and failures, but it is always entertaining. Watching an improviser’s mind in a whirl is fascinating. 

The cast of nine singer-improvisers opened with It’s a Good Edition, an ensemble number about a newspaper office. Sondheim’s dense lyrical style, chamber size cast, unusual melodies, quirky characters and narrative were echoed here, and the opening song was reprised in the finale.

If you crave more comic or musical improvisation see Spontaneous Broadway Oct 2-11 or Theatresports Sundays Sept 28-Nov 30.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Rocky Horror Show, Sep 18, 2008 ****

Rocky Horror Show
Music and lyrics by Richard O’Brien
When & Where: Comedy Theatre,  Sept 18, 2008 (no closing date)
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sept 18, 2008

It’s a tribute to Richard O’Brien’s imagination that Rocky Horror Show does not seem to date. In 1973, he came up with a foolproof recipe for a rock musical. It has sing-along, dance-along tunes, raunchy characters, wild orgies, hot and sexy costumes, a sweet transvestite, aliens, virgins being violated, an Adam and Eve allegory and just a smattering of S and M.

In Dale Ferguson’s stage cunning design, the shattered balconies of Frank N Furter’s decadent, on-stage castle blend into the real, gilded balconies of the Comedy Theatre. The auditorium is festooned with winking Christmas lights, the audience sucks blood-red daiquiris in neon glasses and the opening night crowd erupts as the curtain rises on Tamsin Carroll singing Science Fiction.

There are also on-stage eruptions. Frank N Furter, played by big-voiced, lanky rock singer, iOTA (OK), appears astride a winged chariot pulled by a giant phallus that ejaculates a flurry of oversized pink confetti. The crowd squealed with delight. Evidently such naughtiness is titiliating to even the most jaded.

 iOTA’s libidinous Frank N Furter is pretty and sensual so he lacks the grotesque ugliness of those previous transvestites. iOTA flounces, seduces and nibbles his way through a bevy of gorgeous young things on stage. He belts out Sweet Transvestite with alacrity but is equally compelling singing the moving ballad, I’m Going Home.

Paul Capsis’s Riff Raff wears a terminal sneer on his black lips and sings Time Warp with a voice that could cut glass. Tamsin Carroll is sultry and magnetic as his sister, Magenta and Sharon Millerchip is delicious playing Columbia as a blonde-bobbed Betty Boop with cupid lips.

Kelly Rode is a treat as a bleating, squeaking Janet and her Touch-A-Touch Me is thrilling. As her beau, Brad, Andrew Bevis has a rich warm voice and effortlessly makes the shift from geek to hottie.

John O’Connell’s choreography incorporates the sleazy moves of lap dancers and Julie Lynch’s costumes are a riot of vivid, lace and lame’ bustieres, vinyl boots, studded leather chokers and torn fishnet stockings.

The show would be nothing without a masterly rock band to play the hot favourite tunes in this decadent sexploitation musical.

Rocky Horror is still an intoxicating, indulgent rock musical and Gale Edwards’ production should keep them dancing in the aisles for months.

K Herbert

Jacky Jacky in the Box, Sept 18, 2008

Jacky Jacky in the Box 
By Ilbijerri Theatre
Atrium, Federation Square, Melbourne, 6.30 to 8.30pm, Sep 18,  25, Oct 2, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sept 18, 2008

This theatrical installation is simultaneously disturbing and fascinating. In the public space of Fed Square, three glass, museum display cases house three human specimens: one man and two women. They are young, funky cosmopolitan looking individuals – and they are aboriginal.

They perch on stools inside their boxes, oblivious to our gaze. One woman reads a street magazine, another talks on her mobile while the man sits surrounded by dictionaries and a newspaper article by Andrew Bolt.

A metal plate attached to the cabinet reads “Ab-Origine” and beside each cabinet is an information panel like you would find in a museum. It describes their genus (Homo Sapien), region, tribe, common name (all called Jacky Jacky) and a long genealogy. Such detached, scientific scrutiny and cool abuse of a person is both shocking and moving. This is a work that challenges our very core, our culture and history.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

The Park, Sept 17, 2008 **1/2

The Park 
By Steve Wheat, by Grainfed Theatre
Where and When: Cromwell Rd Theatre, Tues to Sun until Sep 26
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: **1/2

Steve Wheat’s play, The Park, directed by Beng Oh, intertwines several stories of grief, loss and love with 13 actors – unusually large cast for a small company.

Two middle aged couples grieve for their sons, one of whom was driving the car that caused the death of the other young man. A young widow mourns her husband’s death and hooks up with a heart transplant patient who might be the recipient of her husband’s heart.

A couple whose relationship is on the skids when a past affair is unmasked, run the groovy cafĂ© in the park where all the characters eventually come for a coffee - or a sherry shandy.  Meanwhile, one waitress loses her sight, another waits for news of her missing child.

The production is successful in part because of Wheat’s often amusing and sympathetic dialogue. However, the acting is uneven and needs faster paced direction.  The most affecting scenes come later in the play when we witness a moving meeting between the parents of two young men who died in the same a car accident.

By Kate Herbert

The Real Thring, Sep 17, 2008 ***

The Real Thring
By Barry Dickins, by Hoy Polloy
When & Where: 3RRR, Brunswick, until Sept 26, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The audience at Barry Dickins’ play, The Real Thring, were all of an age to remember the voluble and voluminous Frank Thring in all his pompous glory. The play cunningly captures the essence of Thring without attempting to be a biographically accurate docu-drama.

Michael F. Cahill’s Thring is not an impersonation but an echo of the man. He wears Thring’s signature black clothing, a huge medallion and a cluster of glittering rings. Cahill’s voice recalls his fruity boom and the sultry gaze, the pouting lips and theatrical poses are all visible. According to this Thring, Mary Hardy did the only good impersonation of him – probably true.

Dickins writes The Real Thring in witty verse. The language blends poetic and colloquial Australian lingo and the dialogue is peppered with allusions to Aussie iconography, literature, myth and movies – as well as including infamous Thringisms.

The rhymes are often surprising and always witty. Dickins establishes a musical rhythm. The play has a wave motion as it ebbs and flows from raunchy comic moments and satire to Frank’s poignant memories and his final tragic moments.

Thring’s memories of his privileged childhood in Rylance, his family’s Toorak mansion, depict a peculiar child that became the eccentric, old actor.  Every memory has a theatrical reference. “I came in under budget,” he quips about his birth. He reminisces about his successful years in theatre and agonises over the lost glory of his Hollywood years. He was Pontius Pilate in Ben Hur. “Loved him, hated Hur,” he snaps.

Cahill’s is a sympathetic characterisation. He engages with the audience, portraying Thring’s final years living in an alcoholic haze in a small house in Fitzroy, wandering the streets, bars and saunas, pining for his lost fame. “In the end one dies of Melbourne,” he sighs.

Wayne Pearn directs Cahill with a deft hand. Pearn uses dramatic lighting and keeps the staging simple with just a swivel chair, a pile of books and a seemingly bottomless bottle of wine to accompany Thring on his journey. The play is a reminder of our own mortality and of the slippery slope that is The Yartz.

Kate Herbert

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Vamp by Meow Meow, Sep 7, 2008 ***

Vamp by Meow Meow
By Malthouse Theatre
Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, Tues to Sat until Sep 7 to 20, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Meow Meow’s Vamp is a decadent, dissolute and manic diva with ruby-red, pouting mouth and pert bosom tucked into a parade of fabulous, figure-hugging black costumes. 

She whines and seduces, writhes, grinds and howls as she prowls over the metallic set (Anna Tregloan), singing in a voice that can glitter diamond bright or growl with a smoky gruffness.

The vamp is a ghostly reminder of femme fatales past, including Eve, Lilith, Delilah, Judith, Eurydice and Salome. Meow Meow doesn’t play any one vamp throughout but dialogue from Oscar Wilde’s 1984 play, Salome, provides the connective tissue in this piece, linking the vignettes and songs.

As Salome, she is determined to seduce the pious John The Baptist who is incarcerated beneath a grille in the floor. The Baptist is a stubborn celibate and his voice booms his rejection of the slinky cat-like Salome. She clutches his severed head to her bosom.

The Baptist is not the only victim of the vamp. The limbs of Samson, Adam, Orpheus, Napoleon and others litter the stage by the end and even male members of the audience are enticed or dragged on stage to play dead lovers or to hoist Meow Meow bodily over their heads.

Her  “seven deadly songs for the end of time” echo Kurt Weill’s tunes, Bertolt Brecht’s theatre and the Weimar cabaret. Meow Meow writes most lyrics, with music by Iain Grandage and, with titles such as Fifteen Minutes of Femme and Amnesia, Mon Amour, they are clever and complex. 

La Vipere and Poison talk about woman as snake-like seducer, poisoner and fatal attractor while The German song, Ich Bin Ein Vamp (1932), is a cunning signature tune.

Paul Jackson dramatically lights Tregloan’s distressed, industrial set with glaring spotlights and eerie mauves and blues. Tregloan’s extraordinary costumes are a feature, especially the black tutu decorated with tiny human hands. 

Scraps of historical film and images of Meow Meow in exotic cities (Rhys Graham, Natasha Gadd) play on a huge, moon-shaped screen. Grandage and his five piece band provide earthy accompaniment that recalls gypsy and Yiddish music.

There is no doubt that Meow Meow is a compelling and talented performer with a powerful voice and riveting stage presence. However, this show becomes repetitive and could be more successful if it were shorter.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Tell Me on A Sunday, Sept 4, 2008

Tell Me on A Sunday
By Andrew Lloyd Webber & Don Black
Her Majesty’s Theatre, until Sept 14, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Tell Me on A Sunday, the story of a young woman looking for love in New York, is a vehicle for a musical theatre star. Sarah Brightman sang it, Bernadette Peters spent three years wowing audiences with the version called Song and Dance and Denise Van Outen did it recently. 

Jolene Anderson is popular on the small screen and was the best of the non-singers on It Takes Two but it does both her and the show a disservice to cast her in it.

Anderson’s voice could work in an ensemble show, but it is too light and lacks the light and shade needed for the range of songs and her performance is too small for a solo show on a huge stage in an enormous theatre. She drowns in the elaborate steel and glass set, and disappears amongst the numerous video screens depicting New York.

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black’s songs are varied and need emotional range and a passionate characterisation. Without this, the show is a mediocre concert. The tile song has supremely poignant lyrics and music and the show has other memorable love tunes. both ballads such as Unexpected Song, Come Back With The Same Look In Your Eyes, and raunchier numbers such as Who Needs Men or Take That Look Off Your Face and the acerbic attack on LA women, Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad.

The updated references and the change from an English to an Aussie girl do not help the show and the direction lacks imagination and consistency.

Kate Herbert

Lonesome West, Sept 4, 2008 ***1/2

 Lonesome West
By Martin McDonagh, by Dynamite Theatre
Theatreworks,  until Sept  21, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2

If you see Martin McDonagh’s film, In Bruges, you will understand his brutal but comical Irish characters. Lonesome West, like the first two plays in his Leenane trilogy, is a grim and twisted story about dysfunctional people living in the isolated west of Ireland. 

We peer through the windows of the Connor brothers, Valene (Luke Elliot) and Coleman (Ben Grant), into the home they share since Coleman shot their father in the head.

Yes, they are brutal and idiotic with control issues but McDonagh makes them hilarious and charming in a perverse way. Imagine the Beverly Hillbillies in Ireland. The direction (Gorkem Acaroglu OK) misses some of  the rhythms of the play but Elliot and Grant are compelling, credible and funny as the cloddish, bickering brothers. Their comic timing is clever and they capture the brutishness of these Irish louts.

McDonagh is not simply writing Pulp Fiction in Ireland. The play has a poignant edge. Irish Catholicism is tainted in this village where people use murder instead of therapy to solve family arguments or suicide to escape their angst and confusion. The priest (Mark Tregonning) is driven to drink – and there was not far to  drive in this town.

By Kate Herbert

Monday, 1 September 2008

The Time Is Not Yet Ripe, Sept 1, 2008 ***

The Time Is Not Yet Ripe
By Louis Esson, by Here Theatre
Carlton Courthouse, until Sept 13, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 3

The Time Is Not Yet Ripe, Louis Esson’s classic written in 1912, deals with an Australian Federal election. Astonishingly, the politics and politicians of 1912 sound exactly like those of 2008. Williamson’s Don’s Party, about an election night party, owes something to this play.

Esson might not be our greatest playwright, but he was a clever satirist and established Pioneer Players in Melbourne to reflect real Australian life rather than regurgitating English theatre.

“The time is not yet ripe for change,” repeats the Prime Minister (Kurt Geyer). “The people do not want change….they want to be left alone,” say others. Socialists fight amongst themselves, workers strike, women complain they have no power and can’t get the big jobs.

Social Reform Liberal pollies talk nonsense to get into power and the Socialist candidate (Grant Cartwright) tells his idealistic adviser (David Adamson) to “forget the facts”. An American businessman (Tom Wren) wants to exploit Australia’s natural resources while the country suffers long droughts and economic depression.

Jane Woollard’s high energy, often hilarious production has ten actors performing multiple roles. The style is broad and satirical, a blend of French farce, music hall, melodrama and early talkies. Characters pose for effect, stand on chairs to pontificate and every gesture has the exaggerated flourish of an Errol Flynn movie.

The versatile ensemble has a riot of a time mugging and rollicking. Cartwright is an anti-romantic lead as the upstart, socialist candidate from a rich family. Geyer booms as the Prime Minister maintaining the status quo. Melanie Beddie is marvellously blousy as the hypochondriacal wife of the Attorney General who is played as a grinning weasel by Don Bridges.

Ming-Zhu Hii (OK) plays the pretty, popular and totally ignorant daughter of the PM, who stands for parliament. Georgina Capper is rigid and dour as Mrs. Perkins, the suffragette, and Adamson’s sourpuss, British chauvinist butler is truly hilarious.

Amanda Johnston’s design is a rough collection of period furniture but, dominating the stage, is an enormous portrait of a merino sheep. Not only does it suggest that the country rides on the merino’s back but that its citizens follow the leader like a flock of obedient, stupid sheep.

The riotous scenes are peppered with choruses of songs including Jerusalem, The Internationale and In Loveland With a Girl Like You. This show is delightful, cheeky and uncannily apt for our times.

By Kate Herbert