Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Colder, March 18, 2018 ***

Written by Lachlan Philpott, by Red Stitch
At Red Stitch Theatre, until April 8, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online & in print  on Tues March 20 2018. KH
 Ben Pfeiffer, Caroline Lee, Brigid Gallacher - photo  Teresa Noble Photography
A mother’s worst fear is realised when she loses her little boy for seven hours at Disneyland, but her despair is compounded when, decades later, her son goes missing again as an adult in Sydney.

In Lachlan Philpott's play, Colder, David's (Charles Purcell) trail goes cold when he is a child, and even colder when he disappears as an adult, when his mother, Robyn (Caroline Lee), lover, Ed (Ben Pfeiffer), and friend, Kay (Brigid Gallacher), seem frozen into inaction.

Philpott effectively uses a fragmented, non-linear narrative structure to repeatedly shift timeframes between the young Robyn (Marissa Bennett) who frantically searches for her son at Disneyland, to Lee's older Robyn before and after David's disappearance as an adult.

In Alyson Campbell’s production, Lee’s fragile and friable Robyn almost vibrates with anxiety as she tries to maintain contact with her emotionally distant son, a task that is frustratingly difficult when he is present but impossible when he disappears.

As young Robyn, Marissa Bennett is rigid with fear as she pleads for help to find her lost son, and these scenes provide history for older Robyn that explains her obsessional need to store her possessions in Tupperware containers to avoid losing them.

Philpott’s language is abstract and poetic, rhythmic and sometimes choral, with overlapping and repetitive dialogue that echoes the shared panic and frustration of David's mother and friends, although the structure and language create a jerky and awkward rhythm to the play.

The theme of emotional distance runs through the play, epitomised by David who, until he meets the sensitive Ed, is emotionally detached, even cold, unable or unwilling to engage in more than anonymous sexual liaisons with men, all played by the versatile James Wardlaw.

However, in an attempt to capture David's emotional distance, Purcell's delivery of dialogue is sometimes uncomfortable and disconnected.

Colder keeps the audience at arm's length from the characters' pain as they wait for news of the missing David, but this makes it difficult to engage emotionally with the story or characters and leaves one strangely unmoved by the end.

By Kate Herbert

Cast: Marissa Bennett, Brigid Gallacher, Caroline Lee, Ben Pfeiffer, Charles Purcell, James Wardlaw.

Set & Costume Design Bethany J Fellows
Lighting Design Bronwyn Pringle
Sound Design Chris Wenn
Assistant Director Sarah Vickery
Stage Manager Brittany Coombs
Assistant Stage Manager Thomas Crawford

Friday, 16 March 2018

Calamity Jane, March 14, 2018 ***1/2

Adapted by Ronald Hanmer & Phil Park, from play by Charles K. Freeman, After Warner Bros film written by James O'Hanlon
Lyrics by Paul Francis Webster, music by Sammy Fain
At Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, until March 25, 2018  (Return season 13-23 Dec 2018) 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts in print on Fri March 16, 2018 & online(date TBC) KH
Tony Taylor, Viriginia Gay, Anthony Gooley

Virginia Gay and a small cast take their audience on a wild ride to the Wild West in this cheerful, unembellished version of Calamity Jane, the musical made famous by Doris Day in the 1950s movie.

Gay portrays Calamity both comically and sympathetically as an awkward, lovelorn gal wrapped uncomfortably inside a tough, bragging, mannish exterior, and her feisty performance, in tandem with a cavalcade of memorable tunes, makes this rollicking entertainment.

In Richard Carroll's intimate, idiosyncratic production, some audience sit on stage at tables in the Golden Garter Saloon, participating in the action; one unwitting man is even cast – very successfully – as Joe, the barman.

Gay engages directly and warmly with her audience, inviting responses, treating us as part of the Deadwood City community, and gaining sympathy and support as she blunders clumsily around the saloon.

The songs by Paul Francis Webster (lyrics) and Sammy Fain (music) include unforgettable musical theatre hits: The Deadwood Stage, Windy City, a lilting, unaccompanied rendition of The Black Hills of Dakota, and the romantic ballad, My Secret Love.

There is no orchestra in this pared down production, just Nigel Ubrihien playing upright piano in the saloon, and cameos by cast on ukulele, guitar, trombone and even a tuba.

The show features some quirky characterisations such as Anthony Gooley’s slightly camp Wild Bill Hickock and Rob Johnson’s nervy musical artiste, Francis Fryer, (who looks weirdly like Judith Lucy when he dons a scruffy wig).

Other characters include Laura Bunting as pretty, aspiring singer, Katie Brown, Christina O'Neill as saloon gal, Susan, Tony Taylor as hapless saloon owner, Henry Miller, and Matthew Pearce as manly Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin.   

While the second act of this diverting production is less cohesive than the first, Calamity Jane is a fun romp that showcases Gay’s charismatic performance.

By Kate Herbert

Presented by Arts Centre Melbourne with One Eyed Man Productions, Neglected Musicals & Hayes Theatre Co

Director Richard Carroll
Musical Director Nigel Ubrihien

Calamity Jane - Virginia Gay
Katie Brown -Laura Bunting
Wild Bill Hickock -Anthony Gooley
Francis Fryer -Rob Johnson
Susan a/ Adelaide - Christina O'Neill
Lt Danny Gilmartin - Matthew Pearce
Henry Miller -Tony Taylor

Choreographer -Cameron Mitchell
Production Designer -Lauren Peters
Lighting Designer -Trent Suidgeest
Wig Designer -Ben Moir

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer, March 8, 2018 ****

Written by Bryony Kimmings & Brian Lobel with Kirsty Housley
Produced by Complicité (UK) 
At Malthouse Theatre until March 18, 2018
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on March 8, 2018

Review also published in Herald Sun Arts/Lifestyle online on Fri Mach 9, 2018 & later in print. (Date TBC). KH
Bryony Kimmings, Lara Veitch, Lottie Vallis, Eva Alexander_ Photo by Mark Douet
You’ll probably smile or even laugh at the beginning of Bryony Kimmings' peculiar narrative and musical exploration of cancer, but by the end you'll be dripping with tears, so bring tissues.

A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer begins gently, messily and without confrontation, with Kimmings describing how she pitched her idea for a musical about cancer to UK Theatre company, Complicité, then developed the play with research, patient interviews and earnest tomes about cancer.

Pulsating, gyrating rock tunes about cancer, performed by four versatile actor-musicians (Eva Alexander, Gemma Storr, Lottie Vallis, Elexi Walker), pepper the excerpts of interviews with cancer sufferers and quotes from experts.

The show, directed by Kirsty Housley, then cunningly morphs into a more confronting, profoundly emotional and personal experience, when Kimmings introduces on stage Lara Veitch, a real cancer victim whose life is constantly threatened with returning cancer.

The loud and wacky songs disappear when we listen to Veitch’s stories of repeated bouts of cancer and ruinous chemotherapy that leave her bedridden and wretched.

As Kimmings and her cast discover, there is no guide to deal with cancer, no hard and fast rules, no fixed pathway or sage advice to fit all situations; every person's experience is different.

Most audience members will have some connection with cancer, and will be thinking of those close to them who are living with cancer or who have passed away.

Kimmings own understanding of what she calls ‘The Kingdom of the Sick’ expands when she confronts a family illness of a different kind.

This show is not for the faint-hearted, and it is a stark reminder that cancer is a beast that leaves people sick, weak, angry and despairing, and it doesn't make heroes of its sufferers or necessarily make you a better person.

By Kate Herbert 

Originally a co-production with the National Theatre in association with HOME Manchester.

WRITTEN BY / Bryony Kimmings and Brian Lobel with Kirsty Housley
MUSIC BY / Tom Parkinson
DIRECTED BYKirsty Housley 
CAST / Eva Alexander, Bryony Kimmings, Gemma Storr, Lottie Vallis, Lara Veitch, Elexi Walker
SOUND DESIGN / Lewis Gibson

ORIGINAL COSTUME DESIGN / Christina Cunningham

Friday, 2 March 2018

The Sound of Falling Stars, Feb 28, 2018 ****1/2

Written & directed by Robyn Archer
Presented by Arts Centre Melbourne & Smartartists Productions 
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, until March 3, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ****1/2
Review also published in print in Herald Sun Arts on Fri March 2, 2018. (Poss online later.) KH
Cameron Goodall, photo by Claudio Raschella

Cameron Goodall's performance in The Sound of Falling Stars is both remarkable and alarming as he portrays 31 popular, male singers of the 20th century, all of whom died young.

The honour roll of deceased talent includes Elvis, Hank Williams, Sam Cooke, Jim Morrison, Otis Redding and John Lennon, while the list of hits includes Are You Lonesome Tonight, Try A Little Tenderness, La Bamba, and Light My Fire.

On a large stage and supported by two accomplished, charming musician-singers (George Butrumlis, accordion; Enio Pozzebon, keyboard), the vocally versatile and chameleon-like Goodall opens the show as bolshy Cockney, Sid Vicious, then inhabits the spirit, vocal style and character of this parade of phenomenally talented artists.

Some of these singers died in plane or car crashes, others of drug or alcohol abuse, some of natural causes and others suicided.

All this may sound maudlin, but Robyn Archer's cunningly written script balances witty repartee with poignant revelations and sound bites from the singers’ diverse repertoires.

Goodall bleeds from one character to another with a shift of accent, posture and vocal quality, the addition of a shirt or jacket, a flick of his hair, a smile or a crafty sneer.

Highlights include his sassy Sam Cooke medley, Jim Morrison's smouldering presence and distinctive vocal style, Jeff Buckley's vulnerability and Bon Scott's audacious performance of Highway to Hell.

Goodall teases us with a false ending ­– Sid Vicious singing My Way – then closes with Kurt Cobain's angry presence, distinctive personality and voice singing Nirvana’s anthem, Smells Like Teen Spirit.

Goodall's performance is passionate, effortless and masterly in its characterisation and vocal versatility, and The Sound of Falling Stars is a memorable tribute to these exceptional and tragic singers.

By Kate Herbert 
-Cameron Goodall, photo by Claudio Raschella

Monday, 26 February 2018

Hand to God, Feb 24, 2018 ***1/2

by Robert Askins
at Alex Theatre, St Kilda, until March 18, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 24, 2018
Stars: ***1/2

Review also published in Herald Sun Lifestyle online on Mon Feb 26, 2018 & later in print.
HAND TO GOD - Gyton Grantley credit Angel Leggas

Beware! When a foul-mouthed, blasphemous hand puppet takes possession of a shy, Texan teenager in Robert Askins' play, Hand to God, the stage becomes a dangerous and irreverent place.  

Askins' demented, Tony-nominated, black comedy mates Avenue Q-style, mischievous puppets with religious hypocrisy, then crossbreeds that with The Exorcist.

Gary Abrahams' production exploits the outrageous, laugh-out-loud comedy that depicts a church, puppetry workshop that goes terribly wrong when Jason's (Gyton Grantley) delinquent puppet, Tyrone, starts exhibiting demonic behaviour.

The first half is particularly funny as Grantley's geeky, immature Jason begins expressing his repressed alter ego through his wicked puppet, and Jason’s seemingly prim mother, Marjery, played with wild relish by Alison Whyte, reveals her uncontrollable, sexual appetite.

Grantley's performance is hilariously complex as he almost turns himself inside out shifting voice, tone and attitude in a nanosecond to switch between timid Jason and brash, crude Tyrone.

Grant Piro brings his impeccable timing and characterisation to Pastor Greg who tilts from pious, pompous churchman to Marjery's desperately needy but manipulative admirer.

Beware! When a foul-mouthed, blasphemous hand puppet takes possession of a shy, Texan teenager in Robert Askins' play, Hand to God, the stage becomes a dangerous and irreverent place.
HAND TO GOD - Jake Speer, Grant Piro, Gyton Grantley, credit Angel Leggas
Jake Speer as randy teenager, Timothy, and Morgana O’Reilly as the deceptively quiet Jessica, complete this totally bonkers, puppetry club.

The second half descends into comic chaos, violence and lurid, puppet-sex scenes, but the hectic pace lacks dynamic range, the comedy becomes hysterical and the rhythm feels a bit out of control.

Rather oddly by the very end, the hilarious havoc transforms into a morality play, and the slightly preachy ending dilutes the earlier comedy.

Hand to God is a funny and sacrilegious production and, if you don't take offence at spinning crucifixes or lewd, simulated human or puppet sex on stage, you'll find it divertingly subversive.

By Kate Herbert
Gyton Grantley - Jason /Tyrone

Alison Whyte - Margery

Grant Piro - Pastor Greg

Jake Speer - Timothy

Morgana O’Reilly - Jessica.

Creative Team
Gary Abrahams (Director), Jacob Battista (Scenic Design), Amelia Lever-Davidson
HAND TO GOD - Gyton Grantley & Alison Whyte, credit Angel Leggas

Friday, 23 February 2018

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Feb 22, 2018 ****

Book by Douglas McGrath; Music by Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil
At Her Majesty's Theatre, Melbourne, until June 24, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 22, 2018
Stars: **** 
This review is not published in the Herald Sun. KH
Esther Hannaford (as Carole King)& Josh Piterman (Gerry Goffin) Beautiful - The Carole King Musical. Pic Joan Marcus
Carole King's dramatic and emotional music has touched the hearts and minds of so many people, and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, reveals the personal life of this gifted singer-songwriter.

Esther Hannaford's portrayal of King is thrilling, capturing King's youthful awkwardness and warmth, her Brooklyn accent, exceptional musical talent and her ebullient and charming presence as she grew into her life, her loves and her music.

It is the music of the 60s and 70s that makes Beautiful a thrilling and entertaining night in the theatre.

Hannaford channels King’s idiosyncratic vocal style when she sings It's Too Late, You've Got A Friend, A Natural Woman, and finally, Beautiful, which brought the entire, opening night audience to it's feet for a standing ovation.

Of course, the crowd wanted more, so Hannaford and the cast sang a rousing encore of I Feel The Earth Move.

It is not only King's music from her solo albums such as Tapestry that features in Beautiful, but also pop songs she wrote in the 60s with husband, Gerry Goffin (Josh Pitterman), and a catalogue of their hits performed by The Drifters, The Shirelles, Little Eva and even The Monkees.

The Australian cast of Beautiful The Carole King Musical. Photo BEN SYMONS
Completing the musical landscape of the 60s and 70s are songs by King and Goffin's dear friends, and fellow songwriters, Cynthia Weil (Lucy Maunder) and Barry Mann (Mat Verevis), whose hits included, You've Lost That Loving Feeling, On Broadway and We Gotta Get Out of This Place.

The orchestra, under musical director, Danny Edmonds, plays the classic pop and rock tunes with passion and skill.

Meanwhile, the stage is filled with characters in the music industry, including producer, Donny Kirshner (Mike McLeish), and the dance routines by The Drifters, The Shirelles and other acts are not only colourful, but often hilarious.

Beautiful is a vivid, entertaining, funny and often poignant depiction of life as Carole King, virtuoso of modern popular music.
by Kate Herbert

The Show Goes On, Feb 20, 2018 ****

By Bernadette Robinson & Richard Carroll
At Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne until March 11, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review also published in Herald Sun in print after Feb 20, 2018. KH

Bernadette Robinson_Bob King

Bernadette Robinson has a startling capacity to inhabit famous, female singers, and The Show Goes On showcases her virtuosic singing.

With remarkable skill, Robinson channels the idiosyncratic voices of exceptional divas: Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Patsy Cline, Shirley Bassey, Julie Andrews and Maria Callas, the operatic star who personifies the term 'diva'.

All these women found fame, most experienced anxiety and several suffered tragedy, and Robinson links their lives by singing the poignant tune, The Show Goes On, at intervals throughout the show.

In this production created with director, Richard Carroll, Robinson, wearing a simple, black cocktail dress, is alone on a nearly empty stage, accompanied by a trio of accomplished musicians.

She self-narrates the renowned singers’ stories, interweaving their signature tunes to construct a compelling sound and word picture depicting each woman’s complex emotional and musical life.

As Garland, she perches nervously on an armchair or teeters on high heels, recalling her childhood at MGM, and singing The Trolley Song with Garland's distinctive, bold tone.
Bernadette Robinson_Bob King
Robinson performs an exceptional feat, singing a 'duet' between Garland and Streisand – playing both women by shifting accent and vocal style in a beat.

Later, she presents a second, clever and funny 'duet' by Garland with Andrews, and the women’s vocal differences – Andrews’ toffy, rounded vowels compared with Garland's brash, American accent – generate laughs.

Robinson does not impersonate these women or attempt to replicate their exact vocal stylings, but she captures their tone, accent, timbre, rhythm and character to bring them to life.

Perhaps her most accurate vocal depiction is Piaf, whose steely tone and distinctive vibrato Robinson captures impeccably singing La Vie En Rose and Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.

Although The Show Goes On has no linear narrative, the common thread connecting these women is their love of music, passion for singing and the power of song in their lives.

By Kate Herbert
Bernadette Robinson_Bob King

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

This Is Eden, Feb 15, 2018 ***1/2

by Emily Goddard 
at fortyfivedownstairs, until Feb 25, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ***1/2

Review also published in Herald Sun in print on Tues Feb 20, 2018 & online at Arts/Lifestyle. KH
This Is Eden-Emily Goddard-photo Justin Batchelor

If you've ever talked cheerfully about having convict ancestors, your attitude may change after seeing This Is Eden, Emily Goddard's play depicting the horrific conditions of incarcerated female convicts at The Cascades Female Factory in Hobart Town in 1839.

In Susie Dee’s moving and often funny production, Goddard, initially playing a gauche but well-meaning tour guide, gently introduces her audience to the history of the Factory and the women who were transported from England for trivial crimes.

This companionable engagement with the audience shifts dramatically when Goddard reappears as filth-covered, desperate young convict, Mary Ford, who languishes in isolation and silence in a tiny, dank cell (design, Romanie Harper).

Goddard is a skilful chameleon, transforming physically and vocally from naive tour guide to tortured victim fighting to retain her humanity and identity.

As the convict, Mary, Goddard delivers vicious parodies of her tormentors, using the black comic style of Bouffon, the grim, mediaeval, French clown that attacked Church and State through brutal imitation.

The first target of Mary’s vitriol is an upper class, settler's wife who used Mary as a servant – or should we say slave?

Goddard's second venomous parody is a pompous, fire-and-brimstone Reverend, who threatens the girls with hellfire for their petty sins, and her final target is the blustering Factory superintendent who justifies his inexcusable actions with, ‘I'm just following orders’.

The less gruelling scenes with the tour guide relieve the pressure of the punishing scenes of Mary in her darkened cell, but the dynamic range of the show, including the shifts between Mary and the tour guide, are sometimes awkward.

This is Eden is on the VCE syllabus, and audiences of secondary school students will be engaged and challenged not only by Goddard's skilful performance, but also by the confronting details about the Cascades Factory and our dark history.

By Kate Herbert

Friday, 16 February 2018

Good Muslim Boy, Feb 14, 2018 ***

Adapted by Osamah Sami & Janice Muller from Sami's memoir 
Produced by Malthouse Theatre and Queensland Theatre Company
At Malthouse Theatre, until March 11, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts/ Lifestyle on Friday Feb 16 2018. KH
Rodney Afif & Osamah Sami - Good Muslim Boy - pic Tim Grey

If you've ever cursed governmental red tape, Good Muslim Boy by Osamah Sami will make you thank your stars that you’ve never confronted Iran’s obstructive bureaucracy.

In this stage play adapted from his memoir by Sami and director, Janice Muller, Sami plays himself in a distressing but often funny, true tale about wrangling Iranian bureaucrats so he can transport his father’s body home to Australia after he dies suddenly on holiday in Iran.

During his four-day ordeal, Sami travels from office to office and city to city, facing a parade of characters ranging from the grotesque and manipulative to the tragic and ordinary.

Rodney Afif is particularly effective in multiple roles, including a hilarious cab driver, a surly clerk, a jaded cop, and a helpful Imam. Nicole Nabout plays other minor characters, including a moving portrayal of a philosophical, homeless woman sleeping on a snow-laden street, although her male roles are less successful.

Sami himself may have limited stage-acting skills, but he relies on the truthful emotion of personal experience, and his final scenes, dealing with his father’s exodus, are touching.

Some dialogue sounds too prose-like, as if lifted directly from the memoir, while the series of short scenes and Sami's direct-to-audience self-narration, lack dynamic range. However, the Aussie colloquialisms, local references and linguistic confusions provide plenty of comedy.

A simple but versatile design (Romanie Harper) uses a large, transparent, tram shelter that transforms into multiple locations in Melbourne and Iran, including mosque, morgue, embassy, airport and government offices.

Despite its flaws, the story grabs us with its depiction of the passionate commitment of a son trying to honour his departed father, a scenario many will recognise.

By Kate Herbert

BY / Osamah Sami, adapted for the stage by Osamah Sami and Janice Muller
DIRECTION /Janice Muller        
CAST / Rodney Afif, Nicole Nabout, Osamah Sami
SET & COSTUME DESIGN / Romanie Harper