Kate Herbert is theatre reviewer, Herald Sun, Melbourne & formerly for Melbourne Times. Kate is a director & produced playwright (20 plays). Scripts published by Currency Press. She worked as an actor, comedian, improviser & teacher of Acting, Improvisation & Playwriting. Kate is currently Convenor of Professional Writing & Editing, Swinburne University. Read her reviews here or at: www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/arts. NB Explorer Browser doesn't always work on blog.
Adapted by Toby
Hulse from the book by Jules Verne, by Toby Hulse
Produced by Ellis Productions in
association with Aleksandar Vass The Alex,
St. Kilda, until Sept 4, 2016 Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 26 Stars:***
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Mon Aug 29, 2016 & later in print. KH
Top to Bottom- Ian Stenlake, Pia Miranda, Grant Piro
Phileas Fogg might be described as obsessive-compulsive, but in Jules Verne’s 19th
century story, Around the World in 80
Days, Fogg is a gentlemanly, English adventurer with a penchant for
mathematical precision in all things.
Toby Hulse’s stage adaptation of Verne’s novel, directed
here by Terence O’Connell, is a spirited and diverting two-hour romp suitable for
the whole family and performed by only three actors.
Ian Stenlake is dapper and haughty as the meticulous Fogg
who makes a £20,000 wager
with two gentlemen from
the Reform Club in London, that he can circumnavigate the world in 80 days,
departing at exactly 8.45pm on October 2, 1872 and returning exactly 80 days
later by 8.45pm on December 21.
Fogg embarks on his journey with his loyal valet, Passepartout
(Pia Miranda), and is pursued by a determined detective, Fix of Scotland Yard (Grant
Piro), who believes Fogg to be an infamous bank robber because he resembles the
general description of the thief, particularly his “magnificent teeth”.
With pompous self-assurance and a bag stuffed with
crisp pound notes, Fogg leads Passepartout and Fix across India, China, Japan
and America on a series of madcap adventures on trains, boats and elephants, escaping
a typhoon and even rescuing an Indian Princess from certain death.
Piro, with his impeccable comic delivery and mastery
of slapstick, is a highlight in multiple roles including the detective, Fix,
who he portrays with an absurd doggedness and hilariously over-articulated
accent peppered with dropped “h’s”.
With his mobile, clown face and complicity with the
audience, Piro garners plenty of laughs as Fix, then in drag as the prim,
Indian Princess, and intermittently as a parade of outrageous cultural
Miranda plays Passepartout as a pert and attentive
lad, getting additional comic mileage from being compelled to rush about the
cluttered stage to change costumes and switch roles in a blink.
O’Connell’s direction draws on Music Hall comic banter,
silent movie cop chases and classic clown antics to bring to life Fogg’s
rollicking, adventurous travels across continents and oceans.
Some of the physical comedy routines and cueing need
tightening and often the funniest moments for the audience are when things seem
to go wrong on stage with tumbling scenery or fast costume changes and the
actors appear to be ad libbing animatedly.
The flexible, sepia-toned set (Merinda Backway) captures the 19th
century period with a collection of wheels and cogs and an enormous clock-face
to remind us of the days and hours ticking away.
The giggles from a nearby 10 year-old indicate that this production
tickles the funny bone of a young audience and that the show is an energetic
and charming entertainment for the entire family.
By Eddie Perfect, produced by
Ambassador Theatre Group Asia Pacific & Red Live\ Comedy
Theatre, until Sept 4, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 25 Stars: ***
Review also in Herald Sun online on Mon Aug 29, 2016 & later in print. KH
(L-R) Alison Bell and Eddie Perfect - pic Ken Nakanishi
In Eddie Perfect’s play, The Beast, the humans are far
more beastly than the hapless, bovine
creature that they choose to slaughter and eat for their swanky, nose-to-tail
by Simon Phillips, The Beast is a deeply flawed play that
transgresses key dramatic and theatrical rules but, despite all of its faults,
it is strangely entertaining and oddly transfixing in a ‘just-can’t-look-away’
relies on outrageous hilarity and shock value to divert the middle-class
viewers who see themselves reflected on stage in three couples comprising six
self-indulgent, pretentious characters who purport to be friends but evidently
loathe each other.
After Simon (Rohan Nichol),
Baird (Perfect) and Rob (Toby
Truslove) survive a doomed fishing trip, these three indoorsy, Melbourne blokes
make a ‘tree-change’, moving their wives and kids to what sounds like the Yarra
Valley where they plan to live a sustainable, ethical and authentic lifestyle.
For these middle-class miscreants, ‘authentic’ means
luxury homes, local produce and, on this night, inviting a local butcher to
humanely slaughter an ethically reared calf that they will consume accompanied
by posh wines.
brutal social satire relies on audacious grotesquery, absurd action and
outrageous, politically incorrect views too numerous and awful to mention.
script has a clumsy structure, unclear narrative through-line and no dramatic
arc, while his dislikeable characters elicit only occasional sympathy and the
relentlessly repetitive dialogue screams for savage editing to reduce the
overly long show by 30 minutes.
clownish histrionics, wide-mouthed shouting, overstated dialogue, overacting
and ridiculous, Grand-Guignol gushes of theatrical blood are funny, but all
this absurdity wears thin when there is no pay-off in the narrative.
resembles an American sit-com reminiscent of the final Seinfeld episode where
the characters received their comeuppance but, although we want Perfect’s
characters to suffer as their victims suffered, they escape punishment for
their selfish, cruel acts.
plays Baird with the soft, cow-eyed confusion of the calf that they slaughter
but this hides his more dangerous side, while Alison Bell as Baird’s boozy,
cynical wife, Marge, provides a welcome still point and a cynical eye on her
self-important dinner companions.
Simon is such a vile, cruel and morally corrupt individual that it is
surprising that no audience member hurls a smart-phone at him, while Christie
Whelan Browne, as his depressed and oppressed wife, Gen, shifts from raging to
catatonic in every scene.
gets plenty of laughs as the medicated, slightly demented Rob, although he
plays him like an annoying 12-year old, while Heidi Arena portrays his wife,
Sue, as a blousy, slightly hysterical and insecure food snob, and Peter
Houghton cleverly plays multiple roles.
Secrets are revealed, marriages compromised and
friendships questioned, but The Beast may leave you outraged and gaping at the
atrocities, offences and moral murkiness
of these characters.
Disgraced by Ayad Ahktar, Melbourne
Theatre Company Fairfax
Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, until Oct 1, 2016 Reviewer: Kate Herbert Stars:****
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Fri Aug 26, 2016 and later in print. KH
Hazem Shammas, Zindzi Okenyo, Mitchell Butel, Kat Stewart
New York may be a melting pot of races, religions and classes but in Ayad
winning play, Disgraced, that pot suffers some ugly cracks and leaks.
(Hazem Shammas), a tough, corporate lawyer with a Jewish law firm, lives in a sleek,
Upper East Side apartment with his artist wife, Emily (Kat Stewart), whose
paintings appropriate the Moorish design style of Muslim North African.
America of Pakistani parents, Amir identifies as American, changes his surname
to Kapoor, an Indian name, and is critical of the religious and political
values and practices of Islam to which his nephew, Hussein (Kane Felsinger),
Amir’s law firm colleague, Jory (Zindzi Okenyo), an African-American, comes to
dinner with her art dealer husband, Isaac (Mitchell Butel), the intelligent,
witty but booze-fuelled conversation turns to religion, race and politics, secrets
surface and things get ugly for everyone.
five middle-class people who argue capably about politics and sound as if they
care about the world but who are all narcissists obsessed with their own views,
lives and careers.
no attempt to provide convenient answers to the fraught social issues that have
plagued both his country and ours since September 11.
informed dinner conversation turns to animated political debate then
degenerates into a verbal battleground as characters abandon discretion and
revert to deep-rooted tribal attitudes and primitive fears.
climax is shocking and unexpected, although Amir’s surprising admissions and
subsequent actions seem unlikely and a little contrived and, at this climactic
point, characters behave more like stereotypes.
impressive and audacious as Amir, portraying him as a passionate husband and an
ambitious lawyer whose bullyboy tactics in his corporate role match his steamroller
attitude to dinner conversation and, we discover, to his marriage.
between vulnerability, earnestness and feistiness as Emily, accentuating her naiveté
about not only Islam and art but also about her own relationship with her
Hazem Shammas, Kat Stewart pic Jeff Busby
Isaac as a smug, arrogant, arty smarty-pants but balances his annoying traits
with wit and great comic delivery.
has under-written the character of Jory, leaving Okenyo with little to do apart
from contradict her husband or act as a foil for Amir and Isaac’s conflict,
while Felsinger, as Abe, provides the combative argument of the politically
engaged young Muslim.
Tass’s assured direction focuses on the inner turmoil and outward conflict of
the characters, taking advantage of Akhtar’s bold and controversial dialogue
that confronts the audience with the characters’ often offensive views and even
more shocking actions.
is a challenging and confrontational play that will leave you with plenty to
debate in the car on the way home.
THEATRE/MUSIC Music by Tim Finn, lyrics by
Dorothy Porter, Malthouse Theatre Beckett
Theatre, Malthouse, until Sept 4, 2016 Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 23, 2016 Stars: **1/2
Review also published online in Herald Sun Arts on Wed Aug 24, 2016, and later in print. KH
Tim Finn, Abi Tucker, Brett Adams, pic Pia Johnson
In 1994, one
of our rock music stalwarts, Tim Finn, met
one of Australia’s most successful poets, Dorothy Porter, and their
collaboration spawned the music and lyrics for a series of impassioned songs.
Porter died in 2008 but Finn persevered, developing 16
songs into The Fiery Maze, a stage show with Abi Tucker, the singer who first
interpreted the songs in 1995, and guitarist, Brett Adams.
With the songs structured into a loose narrative,
Porter’s lyrics conjure a story of the emergence of love, its poignant
struggles, blazing passions and bitter recriminations.
Finn’s eclectic musical styles range from 90s ballads
and dreamy love songs, to emotional blues and blistering rock tunes reminiscent
of Porter’s rock hero, Janis Joplin.
The Fiery Maze is not a piece of theatre, nor is it a
rock musical or even a cabaret show; it is a pub gig with a powerful singer
backed by two capable musicians, and this is the essential problem with the
This rock gig is crying out for an intimate, dimly
lit bar with sticky carpet and beer-tainted air but, in its present incarnation,
50 minutes is too long in a darkened theatre even when the three artists are
working this hard to entertain.
The restrictive, cage-like, circular stage (designed
by Nick Schlieper), static and awkward direction (Anne-Louise Sarks), restrained
lighting, limited communication between the performers, an unclear narrative and
total lack of theatricality leave the audience without a point of focus.
songs tease the audience such as in Porter’s wry lyrics, “I want to drink like
Janis”, and a tune that celebrates Ballarat as a sultry love-nest, a first for
that unglamorous town.
Making You Happy resonates
with the pulsating bass rhythms that epitomise Finn’s early musical style in
Split Enz while Black Water is a grim, down-and-dirty, bluesy number.
voice is bold with the rusted tones of a seasoned rock singer and she makes the
most of her louche physicality, interspersing an uber-relaxed style with rabid
passion or hints of decadence.
Maze needs to decide what type of beast it wants to be and what type of venue
and audience it needs to make it come to life.
THEATRE Music by John Kander, lyrics by
Fred Ebb, book by Rupert Holmes, original book & concept by Peter Stone By
The Production Company State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne, until Aug 28, 2016 Reviewer: Kate Herbert Stars ***1/2 Review also online at Herald Arts on Mon Aug 22, 2016 & later in print. KH
Simon Gleeson & Lucy Maunder
Mash up an American
backstage musical with an Agatha Christie-style murder plot and an
idiosyncratic detective and you get John Kander and Fred Ebb’s award-winning show,
When the new musical production, Robbin’ Hood, opens
in Boston in 1959, damning reviews become the least of the producers’ worries when
the murder of the excruciatingly untalented leading lady during the curtain
call brings the entire company under suspicion.
Enter investigating officer, Lieutenant Frank Cioffi
(Simon Gleeson), a cop who is starry-eyed about musical theatre, has an uncanny
way of solving the production’s myriad theatrical problems and has a crush on a
Gleeson, renowned for his role as Valjean in Les
Miserables, plays the deceptively naïve Cioffi with impish glee, impeccable
comic timing and some surprisingly good dancing, bringing his exceptional
singing voice to the role that David Hyde Pierce played on Broadway to great
Although Curtains is not as musically memorable and
inventive as Kander
and Ebb’s previous hits, Cabaret and
Chicago, it is an entertaining, comical romp with a collection of singable
tunes with witty lyrics and a diverting book by Rupert Holmes.
In Coffee Shop Nights, Gleeson sings poignantly about
Cioffi’s lonely life while the peppy chorus number, Show People, epitomises
Cioffi’s romantic obsession with the stage.
Alinta Chidzey, as Cioffi’s love interest, Niki,
joins Gleeson in the charmingly old-fashioned duet, A Tough Act to Follow, that
leads to an elaborate chorus routine in which the love-struck Cioffi finally finds
himself centre stage.
Lucy Maunder show she is an excellent ‘triple threat’
playing lyricist and replacement leading lady, Georgia, while her bitter-sweet
duet, Thinking of Missing the Music, with Alex Rathgeber as her writing
partner, Aaron, is a highlight.
Melissa Langton shines singing It’s A Business as
producer, Carmen Bernstein, and Maunder, Rathgeber and Tony Rickards join her
in the scathing but funny attack on theatre critics, What Kind of Man?
Colin Lane brings his distinctive comic style to
pompous, conceited director, Christopher Belling, and Nicki Wendt, as the
short-lived Jessica Cranshaw, shows that intentionally bad acting makes great
Roger Hodgman’s direction focuses on the quirky
characters in this absurd situation while Dana Jolly’s choreography is
vivacious and humorous and John Foreman leads a tight, on-stage orchestra.
It may not be the best of the works of Kander and
Ebb, but Curtains is an effervescent, fun-filled and diverting production that
will appeal to fans of the old-style backstage musicals and whodunnits.
Craig Silvey, adapted
for stage by Kate Mulvany, by Melbourne Theatre Company Southbank
Theatre, The Sumner, until Sept 9, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review also published in Herald Sun online & in print on Tues Aug 9, 2016. KH
Harry Tseng, Nicholas Denton photo Jeff Busby
This stage adaptation of Jasper
Craig Silvey’s 2009 “coming-of-age”, young adult novel, merges broad comedy with
a bleak, gothic murder story set in the fictional, isolated, Western Australian town of Corrigan.
one hot, summer night in 1965, when town “bad-boy,” Jasper Jones (Guy Simon), raps on Charlie Bucktin’s (NicholasDenton) window asking for help, Charlie embarks on a
series of misadventures that starts with the discovery of the body of Jasper’s
friend, Laura Wishart (Taylor Ferguson).
the Christmas-New Year period, this unlikely pair tries to solve Laura’s murder,
but everything goes pear-shaped, including Charlie’s attraction to Laura’s fragile,
younger sister, Eliza (also played by Ferguson).
Strong’s production of Kate Mulvany’s script adaptation, Denton is entertainingly gauche and
intellectually ambitious as nerdy, 13-year old Charlie, who lives with his dissatisfied
but racy mother (Rachel Gordon) and his silent, dependable dad (Ian Bliss).
blends vulnerability and warmth as Jasper, a 14-year old, local
indigenous boy who is invariably blamed for any misdemeanour committed in this
Tseng is impishly charming as Charlie’s clever, mischievous, Vietnamese-Aussie
mate, Jeffrey, who revels in his comically vulgar language, is obsessed with
cricket and maintains a cheerful disposition despite being a victim of racism.
problem with Silvey’s back-story about Jeffrey is that only a handful of
Vietnamese immigrants lived in Australia before 1976 and those were unlikely to
be a family in a country town in WA.
scenes, such as the boys’ cricket match, attract audience laughs, as does
Charlie and Jeffrey’s adolescent banter, including their debate about the
relative virtues of superheroes, Batman and Superman.
buoyant, comical scenes are successful but the play as a whole is not always
cohesive or consistent and this may be due to a lack of nuance and subtlety in Silvey’s
grim scenes about death, racism and loss of innocence are undercut by the broad
clownishness of other scenes, resulting in an imbalance between dramatic and
narrates the entire story with witty asides and this theatrical device illuminates
his youthful character but leaves other characters lacking depth.
the wordy prose style of the narration, presumably transcribed from the novel,
is often too rambling or literary for stage dialogue.
dialogue and his precocious literary references are frequently too
sophisticated even for a bookish 13-year old, despite his voracious reading and
his ambition to write the Great Australian Novel.
concerns are that the characters’ dialogue is sometimes too contemporary for a 1960s
story, the boys’ comical repartee eventually wears thin and some scenes become
repetitive, suggesting that Mulvany’s script might benefit from further
Cordingley’s design captures the dry, ochre dirt and scrubby landscape while
the revolving stage, with its cluster of tiny houses, creates the illusion of
time passing in this intense, voyeuristic town.
adaptation of Silvey’s sprawling narrative succeeds on stage due to the comedic
elements but the production lacks balance and draws too heavily on its prose
Review also published in Herald Sun online on Thurs Aug 4, 2016 and later in print. KH
L-R Johnny Carr & Marco Chiappi_photoPiaJohnson
you are uncomfortable with seeing naked men in salacious scenes or witnessing graphic,
simulated sex and violence on stage, steel yourself before seeing this
interpretation of the early 14th century reign of Edward II.
In Anthony Weigh’s play directed by Matthew Lutton, the spotlight focuses directly on the
narcissistic Edward II’s (Johnny Carr) presumed, homosexual relationship with his
“rough trade” lover, Piers (Paul Ashcroft).
Weigh’s script distils five characters from
Christopher Marlowe’s sprawling five act, 16th century play, taking
liberties with English history and cleverly combining lyrical language with
glib, modern speech.
On a modern,
stage design (Marg Horwell) that is more storeroom or museum than mediaeval
palace, Carr’s Edward, known here as Ned, prowls like a caged lion, navigating
a path from his king-sized bed around schoolroom tables strewn with statues and
Infatuation collides with
cruelty in Weigh’s play but, although much of the violence is abstracted, it is
no less disturbing, particularly Ned’s gruesome demise.
Despite his Ned being
dislikeable, cruel and dangerously obsessive, Carr blends some boyish charm
into this self-indulgent character, mining Ned’s unpredictability and
selfishness to create a modern, brattish child of privilege.
production has some highlights but its successes are mostly because of the
quality of his actors rather than the direction.
As Ned’s lover, Piers, Ashcroft
is boyishly naive and like a modern-day, rent boy who catches a rich lover. Piers
is sadly deluded about the security of his position, unaware that his life is
in danger from both inside and outside the palace walls.
L-R Johnny Carr & Paul Ashcroft_photoPiaJohnson
Belinda McClory plays Ned’s resentful, abandoned wife, Sib
(Isabella of France), with a clever blend of haughtiness, severity and fragility.
Marco Chiappi is magnetic and commanding as Mortimer, Ned’s nemesis,
merging arrogance and manipulative cunning with a touch of campery and
His lengthy and audacious monologue describing Mortimer living
rough after Ned dismisses him is compelling, almost stealing the show.
Two boys share the role of Ned’s young son, with Julian Mineo playing
the child on opening night.
The stage is a dangerous place
in this production and the stark, penetrating lighting (Paul Jackson) and searing,
sometimes unbearably loud soundscape (Kelly Ryall) elevate the sense of threat.
Ned’s relationship with Piers
is accepted in a thoroughly modern way and his subjects, who storm the palace
in the final moments, object more to the lover “taking over” than to their
II is sometimes alarming and intense but it is also a diverting interpretation
of this wayward King and his decadent reign.
By George Eliot, adapted
by Helen Edmundson, presented by OpticNerve Performance Group with
Theatre Works Theatre Works,
until Aug 13, 2016 Reviewer: Kate Herbert Stars: ***1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts Online on Mon Aug 1, 2016 & later in print. KH
Zahra Newman & Grant Cartwright_ photo Pia Johnson
George Eliot’s 19th century novel, The
Mill on the Floss, depicts in prose Maggie Tulliver’s narrow life in an English
provincial town, but this very physical stage adaptation partners dialogue with
abstracted movement to illuminate characters and relationships.
Tanya Gerstle’s direction is deft, imaginative and is
clearly developed in collaboration with a talented ensemble of eight, all of
whom are comfortable with the incorporation of text with athletic movement,
gestural language and a capella singing.
Three actors play Maggie over a period of about 15
years, starting with Maddie Nunn who is charming and impish as the imaginative,
9-year old Maggie who craves freedom and education that is available only to
her brother, Tom (Grant Cartwright).
Zahra Newman is compelling as the sadder,
introverted, religious adolescent Maggie who represses her independence and
naturally passionate, enquiring nature to appease her pragmatic, loving but
controlling brother, patriarchal father (James O’Connell) and timid mother
(Luisa Hastings Edge).
Rosie Lockhart has a refinement and elegance as the
more mature Maggie whose unruly passions resurface after years of obeying her
brother’s demand that she not communicate with Phillip (Tom Heath), the
educated, sensitive, disabled son of Maggie’s father’s sworn enemy.
Maggie abandons all of her carefully managed
self-control when she meets Stephen Guest (George Lingard), her cousin’s suitor,
and the foreshadowed tragedy comes to pass.
Having three Maggies of differing ages on stage
together provides a nuanced, layered characterisation of this intelligent girl
who wrestles with values that favour boys, a situation that echoes that of Mary
Ann Evans who wrote under the male pseudonym, George Eliot, in order to be
evocative physicalisation is impassioned, sometimes expressing love and
sensuality and, at others, evoking conflict and violence.
shift fluidly, with actors playing multiple roles, but Maggie’s struggle in a
repressive world is always at the heart of the performance.
original novel covers many years and has a number of narrative threads and
characters so it is difficult to cram all of this material into two hours of
stage time, so some scenes are not as clear as others, an example being
Maggie’s relationship with Stephen which is not fully developed and not quite
frustration at the restrictions imposed upon her dreams and ambitions because
she is female may seem out-dated to young women in our modern society, but
there are still places where women are oppressed simply for being female. More
power to the Maggies of this world.
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Mon Aug 1, 2016 & later in print. KH
If you think a bloke playing a primate could
not be funny and poignant, think again, because Rory Kelly’s portrayal of Trevor, the former
television star chimpanzee, is hilarious, moving and
play depicts Trevor as a deluded, Hollywood, has-been actor who lives with his
trainer/owner Sandra (Andrea Swifte) and is nostalgic for the glory days when
he featured in TV commercials with 80’s glamazon, Morgan Fairchild (Angela
a strong, adult male, is bored without his TV career, frustrated by his
inability to communicate effectively with Sandra, and confused by her garbled
language that sounds to him like gibberish occasionally peppered with words he
Moore directs this impressive, dynamic production with wit and assurance and Kelly’s
performance as Trevor is inspired, audacious, impeccably timed, physically
adroit and very, very funny.
charismatic as Trevor, playing him as an arrogant, bratty adolescent with
simian characteristics who, despite his warmth and humour, has a volatile
temper and displays an escalating belligerence that could ultimately turn to violence.
adorable which helps explain why Sandra insists to Ashley (Eva Seymour), her
anxious young neighbour, that Trevor is no threat to Ashley or her baby,
despite Trevor’s unpredictable outbursts and habit of pinching Sandra’s car keys
to drive her Corvette.
fast-paced play constantly surprises with its narrative twists and emotional
rollercoaster that sees Kelly as Trevor bouncing from couch-potato depression
to wacky mania or demonstrations of his roller-skating talents and wardrobe of
motherly Sandra is a perfect counterpoint to Trevor’s hysteria and, as the
stakes heighten, Swifte’s character progressively and almost imperceptibly
loses her cool until the situation careers out of her control.
a highlight as blonde bombshell, Morgan Fairchild, embodying the vanity and
sassiness of the slightly faded, iconic star.
of this talented ensemble includes Dion Mills who is a riot as Oliver, Trevor’s
pompous, wildly successful, almost human chimp friend, and the gently amusing
Andrew Gilbert as Jim, the mild-mannered and bemused local copper who tries to
the animal controller who Trevor mistakes for a Hollywood producer, Kevin
Hofbauer balances timidity with the bravado of a petty bureaucrat, while Seymour
is suitably insistent and confronting as Ashley, the protective mother.
production is rollicking entertainment that also reveals darker, riskier themes
on its helter skelter journey that threatens to fulfil all our fears for Trevor
and his companions.