Tuesday, 16 January 2018

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Jan 13, 2018 ****

Adapted by Simon Stephens from novel by Mark Haddon
By National Theatre of Great Britain 
Presented by Melbourne Theatre Company & Arts Centre Melbourne 
At Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, until Feb 25, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Review also published in Herald Su  in print (Tues Jan 16, 2018) & Probably later online. KH
Joshua Jenkins (Christopher Boone), Amanda Posener, Matt Wilman, Oliver Boot. Photo by BrinkhoffMögenburg

Marianne Elliott’s imaginative, deft and seamless production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, with its complex theatrical technology, transforms Simon Stephens’ script into a startling, whimsical and intermittently alarming stage production.

Christopher Boone (Joshua Jenkins) can’t read people’s faces or empathise, screams when touched, doesn’t understand metaphor, takes instructions literally, can’t lie, is a mathematical prodigy, and lives by his own rules.

Although 15-year old Christopher’s behaviour has indicators of high-functioning autism, he is never labelled as such in The Curious Incident, Stephens’ multi-award-winning play based on Mark Haddon’s successful novel.

Christopher lives with his beleaguered but patient father, Ed (David Michaels), but, when Christopher is wrongly suspected of killing their neighbour’s dog, he embarks on his own Sherlock Holmes-style investigation, disobeying his father’s explicit instructions.

Elliott’s production is visually compelling and the cunning set design (Bunny Christie) marries with spectacular video (Finn Ross) and evocative lighting (Paule Constable) to transform a stark, black, geometric grid into a vivid, other world that allows us to enter Christopher’s mind and experience the chaos and cacophony of the contemporary world from his perspective.

The abstract staging and deluge of imagery sweep Christopher and the audience into locations as diverse as a bewildering rail network, a swirling sea of numbers, rowdy, visually over-stimulating London streets and even into the deep, blue cosmos.

Perhaps because of his abrasiveness and lack of empathy, it is difficult to engage emotionally with Christopher, but Jenkins gives a playful portrayal of this whip-smart, self-absorbed teenager who balances eccentricity with common sense.

Two characters do touch the heart: Ed, played sympathetically and poignantly by Michaels, and Siobhan, the narrator and Christopher’s teacher / mentor, played by Julie Hale who brings warmth and clarity to Christopher’s story.

One of the delights of the production is the versatile ensemble playing a profusion of roles, shifting character in an instant and transforming into inanimate objects with abstract movement (Scott Graham, Steven Hoggett), evocatively bringing to life Christopher’s environment and the confusing humans that populate it.

This major, visiting production by the National Theatre is a visual feast that takes the page to the stage by using cutting edge technology and the unembellished physicality of actors to illuminate Christopher Boone’s unexpected hero’s journey.

By Kate Herbert
Joshua Jenkins (Christopher Boone), Emma Beattie (Judy) and company. Photo  BrinkhoffMögenburg
Joshua Jenkins (Christopher Boone), Matt Wilman (Mr Thompson) and Crystal Condie (Punk Girl) . Photo by BrinkhoffMögenburg

Joshua Jenkins - Christopher (Some shows, Sam Newton)
David Michaels - Ed
Emma Beattie - Judy
Julie Hale - Siobhan
Oliver Boot
Crystal Condie
Bruce McGregor
Debra Michaels
Amanda Posener
Matt Wilman

Director- Marianne Elliott
Designer - Bunny Christie
Lighting Paule Constable
VideoFinn Ross
Movement - Scott Graham Steven Hoggett for Frantic Assembly
Original Fight director - Kate Waters

Friday, 12 January 2018

The Greatest Love of All, Jan 11, 2018 ****1/2

The Greatest Love of All – The Whitney Houston Show, by Showtime Australia
At The Athenaeum Theatre until Jan 27, 2018
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 4&1/2
 Review Arts online on Fri Jan 12, 2018, and later in print (date TBC). KH

All photos here by Joe Calleri.
Belinda Davids - pic by Joe Calleri
Belinda Davids’ impeccable vocal control, remarkable four-octave range and thrilling tone make her an impeccable choice to channel Whitney Houston’s extraordinary voice and distinctive style.
The audience goes wild during this tribute show, The Greatest Love of All – The Whitney Houston Show, directed by Johnny Van Grinsven, as Davids pays homage to Whitney without impersonating her, performing hits from Whitney’s 29-year career that ended tragically in 2012.

The warm, engaging Davids who hails from South Africa, has an effortless, expressive and natural voice, with vocal power, precision and exceptional range that are a perfect match for Whitney’s power ballads.

The song list includes: How Will I Know, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, Where Do Broken Hearts Go, Didn't We Almost Have It All, I'm Every Woman, Exhale (Shoop Shoop) and Step by Step, with an exhilarating finale of I Will Always Love You.

Davids’ passionate style, rich tone and breathtaking top register bring tears to the eyes, and she even masters Whitney’s signature technique of singing a single syllable while moving between notes.

A few individuals are desperate to dance, but Davids coaxes the entire audience onto its feet to groove to How Will I Know If He Really Loves Me and, later, to Dance With Somebody.
In a poignant, tear-jerking scene, Davids sings the soaring, heartbreaking I Have Nothing while, on a screen behind her, Whitney performs the same tune, wearing the same ruby gown and using the same gestures.

The tight, five-piece band, led by musical director Richard Baker, is a highlight, and Hayden Baird’s saxaphone is an evocative accompaniment to Davids’ moving version of I’m Saving All My Love.

The two male acro / hip-hop dancers are diverting, although some of the other choreography is often distracting.

The radiant, accomplished but humble Davids creates emotional and electrifying moments in this production, and her voice must be heard to be believed.

By Kate Herbert
Belinda Davids pic by Joe Calleri
Belinda Davids & dancers -pic by Joe Calleri
Hayden Baird & Belinda Davids -pic by Joe Calleri

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Masterclass, Jan 5, 2018 ****

Written by Terrence McNally
Produced by Andrew Kay & Associates PL with Kings Head Theatre London 
At Southbank Theatre, The Lawler until Jan 27, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Mon Jan 6, 2018, & in print on Tues Jan 9, 2018. KH
Amanda Muggleton in  MASTERCLASS  pic  Kate Ferguson

In Terrence McNally’s Masterclass, Amanda Muggleton fully and fiercely inhabits Maria Callas, the great opera diva, channelling all of Callas’s fiery temperament, arrogance and vulnerability.

The play is set during one of the vocal master classes that Callas taught during 1971-72 at the Julliard School in New York, 13 years after her exceptional voice suffered irrevocable damage that ended her career.

In Adam Spreadbury-Maher’s simply and tastefully directed production, Muggleton prowls the stage calling for her ‘next victim’, or perches on a stool like a bird of prey, criticising students, verbally annihilating enemies and telling tales of her past glories and ignoble failures.

As the students sing arias from Callas’s career, she relives her performances as ‘La Divinaand also her personal disasters, her failed marriage to the much older Giovanni Battista Meneghini, and her relationship with the bullying billionaire, Aristotle Onassis.

Other than a few cracked phrases that demonstrate Callas’s damaged voice, Muggleton does not actually sing, but ghostly recordings of Callas singing Verdi's Lady Macbeth and Bellini’s La Sonnambula trigger Callas’s memories, transporting her, and the audience, to the stage at La Scala.

Muggleton is a consummate performer who, with blazing eyes and statuesque bearing, captures the passion and fragility of Callas, portraying the raw, almost skinless emotional state of the diva who seems too sensitive for the real world.

Accompanying Muggleton on stage and on piano is the exceptional musician, Dobbs Franks, who plays Callas’s quiet, obliging pianist, Manny Weinstock.

As Callas revisits her life and her singing, her three ‘victims’ trail onto the stage to receive her wisdom and tactless criticism.

Kala Gare’s sweet soprano suits pert, naive Sophie, while Jessica Boyd brings vocal power and comic characterisation to soprano, Sharon, and Rocco Speranza plays tenor, Tony Candolino, with a large dose of youthful vanity.

Audiences are fortunate to hear arias sung by Gare and Graham after curtain call, but Muggleton is the diva in this production and her impassioned portrayal of the histrionic Callas is memorable.

By Kate Herbert

Tinkerbell and the Dream Fairies, Jan 4, 2018 ***1/2

By Glenn Elston with music by Paul Norton, Australian Shakespeare Company
At Athenaeum 2, until Jan 28, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Fri Jan 5, 2018 & in print on Tues Jan 9, 2018. KH
Lauren Ferreira as Tinkerbell 2018 - pic Nicole Cleary

Little kids love fairies and magical adventures, so Glenn Elston merging Tinkerbell from Peter Pan with the Fairies from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an inspired idea for a children’s show.

Previously, these free-spirited Fairies frolicked in the Botanical Gardens, but this season they are indoors on a stage decorated like a fairy garden, and the children participate in the Fairies’ dancing, singing and games.

Although some are shy at first, the children get into the spirit with gentle encouragement from Tinkerbell (played with strength and grace by Lauren Ferreira) and the Dream Fairies: Moth (Sue-Ellen Shook), Mustardseed (James Coley), Peasblossom (Tess Branchflower), Cobweb (Cierra Shook) and Cupcake, the MC (Coleman Shook).

The story is simple: the lost Dream Fairies try to find their way back to Dreamland and their Fairy Queen, while Tinkerbell searches for her lost fairy wings.

On their journey, the Fairies perform perky choreography (Sue-Ellen Shook) and sing cheery songs (Paul Norton) about getting lost, journeying and the origin of fairies, while the children clap along, mimic gestures, flap their wings and wave their wands.

In one charming tune, the Fairies sing, ‘Come with us and find a happy place’, while the achingly cute children dance along. Later, the kids make animal noises during a bouncy, percussive song with the alliterative lyrics, ‘Boombakka Boom Boom Boom’.

By chanting ‘a twinkle and a twinkle and a clap of the hands’, we are transported to Bubble Land where the soap bubble machine is a huge hit with young and old alike.

After the children wave their wands furiously, do star jumps and wish like mad, Tinkerbell’s wings magically reappear and are reattached in a ceremony conducted by a sturdy and adorable toddler called Jasper.

Adults may recognise lines from Peter Pan and Shakespeare, but Tinkerbell and the Dream Fairies is a vivacious, effervescent show designed for small children.

By Kate Herbert
(L-R) Sue-Ellen Shook, Tess Branchflower, James Coley, Lauren Ferreira, Cierra Shook- 2018 pic Nicole Cleary

Audience at Tinkerbell

Thursday, 4 January 2018

A Simple Space, Jan 3, 2018 ****1/2

By Gravity & Other Myths
At Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, until Jan 14, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ****1/2

Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Thurs Jan 4, 2018 & later in print (poss Jan 5). KH
A Simple Space  (NOT Melbourne cast)-Triton Tunis-Mitchell (bottom), Jascha Boyce (top), Martin Schreiber (bottom), Jacob Randell (top), Lachlan Binns (floor) pic by Steve Ullathorne

A show must be startlingly special for an entire audience to leap to its feet for a standing ovation, and so it is with A Simple Space, an intimate, mischievous and youthful, acrobatic performance.

Seven acrobats (Jacob Randall, Lachy Binns, Martin Schreiber, Alice Muntz, Mieke Lizotte, Lachlan Harper and a musician (Elliot Zoerner) perform on a small, rectangular space, with no trappings, fancy costumes or complicated design, just very bendy, muscular bodies climbing and balancing atop each other, and tossing one another around.

Every routine incorporates elements of risk, strength, trust and playfulness, from the opening series of falling and catching, to the stack of acrobats in a human tower, and an extraordinary, slow, three-person adagio balancing act.

Three lads do a funny and skilful ‘strip skip’ that entails lightning-speed rope skipping where the penalty for tripping is removing an item of clothing. Yep, someone is naked by the end.

There are inventive handstand routines, with one involving everyone trying to hold their breath longer than one acrobat can sustain a handstand. The handstander wins.

Audience members join the cast on stage, lying on the floor while a woman steps, like a tiny bird, over their hands and chests, then, later, the crowd pounds the performers with plastic balls until all the acrobats tumble to the ground.

The performers build in recovery pauses during which their laboured breathing is audible and their exhilaration and delight in their work is palpable.

Musician, Zoerner, wins the crowd with his remarkable body percussion that leaves his chest reddened from slapping and pounding.

In a final, alarming routine, the company brings new meaning to the term ‘Skipping Girl’ when the men swing the two, tiny women, tossing them from hand to hand and skipping them like rope.

A Simple Space celebrates the body and the cheerful competition and collaboration of the ensemble, and their cheeky complicity with the audience who are eating out of their hands by the end of this hour-long show.

By Kate Herbert

Cast for Melbourne season:

Jacob Randall - Adelaide
Lachy Binns - Adelaide
Martin Schreiber - Adelaide
Elliot Zoerner - Adelaide 
Jackson Manson - Tangambalanga, Vic
Alice Muntz - Albury, NSW
Mieke Lizotte - Devonport, Tas
Lachlan Harper - Armidale, NSW

Triton Tunis-Mitchell, Jascha Boyce, Lachlan Binns, Jacob Randell,  Martin Schreiber and Elliot Zoerner (Composer)

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Emily Brown and The Thing, Jan 3, 2018 ***1/2

By Tall Stories, based on book by Cressida Cowell & Neal Layton 
At Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, until Jan 14, 2018
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 

Review also published online at Herald Sun Arts on Wed Jan 3 & in print on Fri Jan 5, 2018. KH
EL-R Sam Buitekant as The Thing & Josie Cerise as Emily _Credit -Tall Stories
 If you have a pre-schooler who suffers non-specific, night-time fears, Emily Brown and The Thing will ring bells, with its story about children being scared of ‘Things’: big, small, loud, quiet or other scary things.

UK company, Tall Stories, adapted this stage show from Cressida Cowell’s popular book and its cheery, approachable cast (Josie Cerise, Timothy Richey, Sam Buitekant) and playful, cartoonish style appeal to the littlies without scaring the pants off them.

Like most under-fives, Emily (Cerise) has a favourite, soft toy and her beloved is a fluffy rabbit called Stanley (Richey) who helps her go to sleep and accompanies her everywhere, including on her late-night adventures when she can’t get to sleep.

Emily and Stanley’s sleep is interrupted by a noise outside her window which comes from a big, raggedy ‘Thing’ (Buitekant) that is crying because he’s lost his own cuddly toy called Cuddly, and, as the play says so clearly, toys are made to help someone feel safe.

The young audience is riveted by Emily and Stanley’s adventures as they go hunting for Thing’s Cuddly, then in search of his sleepy-time, milky drink, and finally, for some magic, green medicine to soothe his hacking cough.

Emily and Stanley courageously brave the Dark and Scary Wood where a Troll snuggles with the lost Cuddly, then go to the Wild and Whirling Wastes where a lonely Polar Bear has snaffled the milky drink, and they end up visiting the Whining Witch who fears she has lost her magical touch.

Despite all Emily and Stanley’s help, poor Thing still can’t sleep and he eventually admits that he is scared, the solution for which, says Emily, is to think of nice things.

So, tonight, whatever your age, take Emily’s advice and think only of nice things and dream of flying.

By Kate Herbert
L-R  Josie Cerise as Emily  & Sam Buitekant as The Thing_Credit Tall Stories.

Monday, 1 January 2018

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Sat Dec 30, 2017 ***1/2

By William Shakespeare, Australian Shakespeare Company 
At Botanical Gardens, until March 3, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert  at preview on Dec 30, 2017 
Stars: ***1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Mon Jan 1, 2018, and in print later. KH
A Midsummer Night's Dream - James Biasetto as OBERON pic Nicole Cleary.jpg
It’s dusk on a summer’s evening in Melbourne’s mystically illuminated Botanical Gardens when the fairies come out to frolic and to taunt the hapless humans in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Do not be daunted by Shakespeare! Glenn Elston’s reimagined production, with its vibrantly lit trees, vivid costumes (Karla Erenbots), lively choreography (Sue-Ellen Shook), youthfully enthusiastic cast and naughty, modern quips, is an accessible and enchanting way to see Shakespeare’s clowns and fairies.

There are three threads to this mythical story set in Athens: four star-crossed lovers and their confused romances, five tradesmen (The Mechanicals) who rehearse an abysmal play, and the epic, romantic conflict between the Fairy King, Oberon, and his Queen, Titania.

James Biasetto is dignified and commanding as Oberon, and Anna Burgess is sensual and teasing as his Titania, while Benson Jack Anthony’s impish looks and acrobatic skill make him a mischievous Puck.

The four, aristocratic lovers, Hermia (Elizabeth Brennan), her beloved Lysander (Joshua Orpin), Helena (Madeleine Somers), and the target of Helena’s love, the unresponsive Demetrius (Ash Flanders), provide plenty of laughs as they bumble about in the forest, falling in and out of love with each other as Puck bewitches them with his rascally spells.

But what tickles the audience most is The Mechanicals’ appallingly amateurish but hilarious play – the tragedy of lovers, Pyramus and Thisbe – with Kevin Hopkins’ Bottom (Yes, plenty of cheeky references to ‘bottoms’) being a highlight with his oafish, ham acting and his braying when Puck turns him into a donkey.
A Midsummer Night's Dream - Kevin Hopkins as Bottom with Company pic Nicole Cleary
The Mechanicals’ other clown highlights include Flanders as Flute the bellows-mender prancing absurdly in a frock and brandishing his sword, Orpin as Snout the tinker leaping about like a ballerina, and Somers’ intentionally ill-timed roaring as the Lion.

For the audience perched on folding chairs and picnic rugs, sipping wine and tucking into gourmet snacks, The Dream is a playful, diverting night under the stars. But, take a coat because, even after a warm day, the Gardens can turn cold!

Kate Herbert reviewed a preview of the show on Dec 30, with the permission of the company.

By Kate Herbert
A Midsummer Night's Dream - Anna Burgess as TITANIA pic Nicole Cleary.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

The Wind in the Willows, Dec 27, 2017 ****

Adapted by Glenn Elston from book by Kenneth Grahame
By Australian Shakespeare Company
At Botanical Gardens, Gate F, until Jan 28, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Dec 28, 2017 & in print on Dec 29, 2017.KH

The Wind in the Willows - Doru Sorcel as Badger and Paul Morris as Weasel - pic Paul Fon
Grab a picnic basket, a rug, hat and sunscreen and toddle off with the toddlers to the Botanical Gardens for another cheery, jaunty performance of The Wind in the Willows, adapted from Kenneth Grahame’s very English, 1908 children’s book.

The kiddie-rabbits giggle and shout at the cheerful, nose-twitching Head Chief Rabbit (Scott Mackenzie) trading insults, songs and silly puns with Weasel (Paul Morris), but the kids may be equally diverted by rambling water birds, a duck waddling across the lawn, or a dragonfly cruising by.

The children hoot at the characters’ antics, join a picnic, go on an adventure, then on a dangerous mission with the Rat Pack and Badger Patrol to rescue little Portly the Otter (Dusty Bursill) from the scary, Wild Wood.

In Otis Elston’s production, the kids enthusiastically sing ‘waggle your ears, wiggle your nose,’ and the inimitable ‘Quack quack quackady-quack’, and shout ‘He’s behind you!’ in best panto style.

Morris is the hilariously sneaky, gravel-voiced and wicked Weasel who overruns Toad Hall with his rascally weasel family, takes Mr. Toad (Ryan Hawke) hostage and fights dirty with enormous water pistols filled with ‘weasel wee’.

The merrily likeable Mackenzie maintains crowd control, leads songs and provides breezy guitar accompaniment.

In his gaudy green and pink outfit, Hawke is the flamboyant, vain and plump poseur, Mr. Toad, who behaves like a bratty, British, entitled twit whose head is turned by every new fad from canoeing to motorcars.

Playing the remaining, goofy characters are Kaya Byrne as river-dwelling Ratty, Chloe Bruer-Jones as timid Mole, Doru Surcel as toffy, pompous Badger and Jolan Walker as Otter, a Policeman and a dodgy Judge.

Willows has been a Melbourne summer institution now for 31 years so, if you’ve been hiding indoors for 31 summers, get out now with the family and ‘waggle your ears, wiggle your nose and sing whispering willows.’

By Kate Herbert 
The Wind in the Willows - Doru Sorcel a Badger with 'Badger Patrol'

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Highly Flammable Love, Dec 14, 2017 *1/2

By Marcus Doherty & Zara Sengstock
At Irene Mitchell Theatre, St Martins, until Dec 16, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Dec 13
Stars: 1.5

Review also published in Herald Sun Arts in print on Tues Dec 19, 2017. KH
Marcus Doherty & Ayesha Gibson-Photo by Clay Waddell
The comedy in Highly Flammable Love is as out of control as the bush fire that ignites in the second act.

Dennis (Doherty), a law graduate, moves from Melbourne to Shilangatta, a remote country town, to be with girlfriend, Kelly (Sengstock), a local copper, but Kelly dumps Dennis unceremoniously, leaving him sulking, boozing and stalking Kelly for months after their break-up.

Writer-directors, Marcus Doherty and Zara Sengstock, are filmmakers who have shifted focus from screen to stage by producing an Australian romantic-comedy for the theatre.

Even experienced theatre-makers avoid writing, directing and acting in their own work, and, although we appreciate the efforts of this creative duo, this overly long production lacks basic dramatic techniques.

The theatrical problems are evident immediately after the opening medley of folksy Australian tunes (Dylan Knur, violin; Imogen Cygler, piano).

From the first awkward scene on a bench at Shilangatta Train Station, the characters and relationships are one-dimensional, the jokes puerile and the performances amateurish and overacted.

Although some audience members laugh aloud, the story is muddled and the dialogue jumps from infantile arguments to preachy exchanges about relationships, gender roles and personal freedom.

The production cries out for a dramaturg to shape the script, and a director to focus the style, balance the pace, inject dramatic energy, stage scenes imaginatively and tighten scene changes.

The style leaps from sketch comedy and messy slapstick, to weird musical/choreographic routines, then to oddly serious dialogue about life, love and arson.

After a patchy first act, the second promises more substance, but soon deteriorates into silliness when characters in cardboard-box cars skitter around the stage in a cartoonish car chase.

Ayesha Gibson, as Zoe the attractive arsonist, provides some credible acting, but Doherty’s uncomfortable grimacing and awkward physicality as the hapless Dennis, is distracting.

Even with the best of intentions and a decent premise, a show can collapse, and Highly Flammable Love needs a skilful theatre doctor to revive it.

By Kate Herbert


Dennis - Marcus Doherty
Zoe - Ayesha Gibson
Warren (Zoe's father) - Mick Shanahan
Kelly - Zara Sengstock
Georgia/Stevie/Newsreader - Rose Flanagan
Brandon Mannarino - Alan/Waiter/Roger
Kel Balnaves - Gavin

Composer - Finnian Langham
Piano - Imogen Cygler
Violin - Dylan Knur

Lighting design: Matthew Vasquez

Set design: Zara Sengstock