Monday, 30 June 2008

Mommie and the Minister, June 30 to July 3, 2008 ****

Mommie and the Minister
By Ash Flanders and Declan Greene, Sisters Grimm
M.U.S.T. Theatre, Monash University, June 30 to July 3, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 4 

Mommie and the Minister is outrageous, hilarious and absurd. 

Mommie is a vindictive harridan who imprisons her children in the basement, keeping them frightened and obedient. The script is clever, cynical, dripping with irony and deftly directed. 

Ash Flanders and Gillian Perry are delectable as the naïve children and casting drag queen, Missfit as Mommie is inspired. The show goes to the Edinburgh Festival in five weeks.

 By Kate Herbert

Alien Tourist, June 30, 2008 ****

Alien Tourist
By Phillip Miller
Federation Square Atrium, daily, June 30 to July 6, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars:  4

Phillip Miller’s Alien Tourist is a 2.5 metre walking space pod with a little green alien riving it and talking to kids in alien-speak. 

Not only is it a stunning piece of craftsmanship, it has every child of 3 to 10 years (and me) totally spellbound. 

The little extra-terrestrial peers out his Perspex window and tries to communicate with the crowd of kids. It happens three times a day and it’s FREE!

 By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 26 June 2008

The Centre of Light, June 26, 2008 **1/2

The Centre of Light
By Rosemary Johns, La Mama
Carlton Courthouse, June 26 to July 12, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 2 & 1/2

Rosemary Johns’ play depicts the life of Australian saint-in-waiting, Mary MacKillop. 

The play has an old-fashioned feel, using formal language and biblical references. Director, Carolyn Bock, incorporates both abstraction and naturalism. 

Fabienne Parr is engaging but lacks Mary’s obstinacy and commanding presence, Chris Bunworth is versatile in multiple roles and Peter Stratford is imposing as Pope Pius IX.

 by Kate Herbert

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Circus Oz 30th Birthday Bash, June 22, 2008 ***1/2

Circus Oz 30th Birthday Bash
Where and When: Big Top, Birrarung Marr, June 22 until July 13, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 22, 2008
Stars: 4

The Circus Oz 30th Birthday Bash show is fast, furious and really goofy. Director, Mike Finch, with 11 circus performers and three musicians, maintains a relentless pace. 

The acts are diverse and so, unlike other circuses in which artists specialise in one act, the ensemble needs to be versatile, performing across several circus skills.

Circus can be hilarious, risky, technically brilliant or breathtakingly beautiful. This show does the first two well but does not aim for beauty or brilliance. It is a larrikin, Aussie show with rough edges and a warm, comfortable engagement with the audience rather than the artistic, ethereal beauty of that fancy, expensive Canadian company.

This is not to say that there is not significant, often exceptional skill evident in the acts. Ben Lewis’s Zombie Straps routine is technically superb with a novel and funny scenario. The chair balancing and duo trapeze act, set in a Spanish bar, is sexy, dangerous and atmospheric. Having a strong concept and through-line in a circus act makes an enormous difference to its entertainment value.

The trio of silver-costumed hoop divers creates a simple but exciting routine with strong technique while the tight wire act is constructed on a funny and clever Aussie outback theme: an old bloke totters along the wire to a shabby, old dunny. 

The Chinese pole act and juggling are entertaining and we cannot ignore Tim Coldwell’s cunning upside-down roof walk that was a Circus Oz favourite for so many years.

I was hoping for the reappearance of Special Robert, one of the funniest acts from early Oz days. He was catapulted at the tent wall, only to stick like a bug on flypaper. Hilarious.

There are some weak acts in the show. Although the teeterboard act kangaroo costumes are quirky, the act lacks shape and focus. The bounce juggling was too long and the contortionist locked in a water-filled tank is just plain freaky. The clowns are often funny but they shout too much, their energy is uncontrolled and they lack some essential clown technique.

The Birthday Bash is two hours of good fun for the entire family – and you won’t be subjected to all the preliminary long speeches after opening night.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Some Girl/s, June 18, 2008 ****

Some Girl/s by Neil LaBute, Curve 8 Productions
Chapel off Chapel, 18 June to July 6, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ****

Neil LaBute’s whip-smart, acerbic dialogue is superbly served by director, Sean Collins, and his cast of five. 

A smug, self-serving 30-something writer revisits four of his past romantic conquests, seemingly to apologise for his past sins. 

His insidious motives for contacting his old flames become glaringly obvious, causing our hackles to rise at his dishonesty, self-justification and verbal acrobatics.

By Kate Herbert

Monday, 16 June 2008

Hold The Pickle, June 17, 2008 ***1/2

Hold The Pickle by Rachel Berger
La Mama, June 17 to 29, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 3 ½ 

 By cleverly balancing her comic skill with poignant story telling and delightful characterisations, Rachel Berger relives her Polish-Jewish parents’ journey from war torn Europe to their deli in Acland Street, St. Kilda. 

She depicts their grim life hiding in a cupboard for 13 months, the hilarious European Jews clustered outside the deli and peppers the lot with gags about pickles and salami.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Discrit Zimbabwe, June 12, 2008 **

Discrit Zimbabwe
By Simon Tengende
La Mama until June 12 to 29, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 2

Discrit Zimbabwe translates as “dispassionately critical of Zimbabwe” and Simon Tengende’s compelling story is very critical of Mugabe’s policy to reclaim land from white families. 

The production lack polish, but is written and performed with passion and commitment by Australian immigrants from Zimbabwe. 

Ratidzo Mambo is a young actress with has talent and Tengende’s script captures some of the violence and pain of the infamous land invasions in both English and Shona, the language of Zimbabwe.

By Kate Herbert

Boeing-Boeing, June 12, 2008 ***

By Marc Camoletti
Comedy Theatre, June 12 to July 6, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 3

Boeing-Boeing could be called “Bonk-Bonk” these days because it involves one man juggling three (gorgeous) lovers.

In Marc Camoletti’s enormously successful 1960 French comedy, Bernard (Shaun Micallef), a sophisticated Parisian architect, keeps three “fiancees” – all blindingly beautiful air hostesses - on the fly simultaneously.

 None knows of the others until their flight schedules - that he so scrupulously records - collide and all three arrive in his Paris apartment on the same, fateful night.

The play has all the elements of French farce: improbable situations, stereotypical characters, exaggeration and confusion, opening and closing doors and innumerable surprise entrances and exits. It is designed to be impeccably timed, fast and furious with Bernard and his hapless, old school mate, Robert (Mitchell Butel), living on a knife-edge to avoid the women meeting each other.

The play is cute but very dated and needs to be viewed as a period piece. This production has some successes, some big laughs and a few significant flaws. The first half has some flat spots and there is too much shouting in place of genuine, chaotic, comic energy. English directors, Hannah Chissick and Matthew Warchus, have not managed the rhythm, pace and dynamic of the play so, at times, the actors, rather than the characters, seem out of control.

The three air-hostesses are highlights, with their broad cultural stereotypes and parodic accents. Sibylla (OK) Budd’s entrance as Gretchen, the bolshie, German Brunhilde, is gob smacking. She plays her as a sexy, blonde, Teutonic dominatrix. Helen Dallimore is like an athletic cheerleader as the ditzy, all-American Gloria and Rachel Gordon is pouty and passionate as Italian, Gabriella.

Strangely, the French characters are not portrayed with absurd accents although this might provide more comedy, glamour and exoticism. Micallef looks awkward as the cool Frenchman until Bernard loses control of his environment, at which point Micallef lets loose with his comic, ungainly goofiness.

Butel plays the dopey, provincial Robert as a confused country boy agog at his luck being trapped in a madhouse filled with gorgeous gals. Judy Farr misses the mark with her portrayal of Bertha, the maid. Bertha, the forbearing, critical, over-worked but perfect servant appears simply grumpy and rude. This role should have some of the great sight gags and double takes.

The intermittent hysteria and erratic rhythm make this a patchy, albeit entertaining, show.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Scarlett O’Hara At The Crimson Parrot, June 11, 2008 ***

Scarlett O’Hara At The Crimson Parrot 
By David Williamson, MTC
Playhouse, June 11 to July 12, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 11, 2008
Stars: 3

Caroline O’Connor is a funny, impish poppet, with the perfect clown face. 

In David Williamson’s new play, Scarlett O’Hara At The Crimson Parrot, directed by Simon Phillips, she delivers a verbal gag or a prat fall with as much skill as she sings and dances her socks off in her usual milieu, the stage musical.

Williamson wrote this play for O’Connor and her obvious enjoyment is infectious. She plays the scatty, accident-prone waitress, Scarlett, who has the dubious privilege of bearing the surname O’Hara.

Scarlett is sweet-natured daydreamer, a hopeless romantic. At 36 she is single, in a dead end job, infatuated with her boss (Andrew McFarlane) and bullied by her mother (Monica Maughan). She avoids her dull life by escaping into old movies and imagining herself as Vivien Leigh but is blind to the potential, albeit weird, leading man right under her nose (Matt Day).

Light humour is popular – and this script is lighter than flummery (Anyone remember flummery?). It combines physical comedy with an armoury of puns and gags and adds uncannily accurate recreations of famous romantic movie scenes featuring O’Connor as Vivien Leigh, Doris Day or Ingrid Bergman. There are plenty of laughs and dozens of movie references for the aficionado.

 Most of the characters, however, are cardboard cutouts. There is no depth to them or the story – although girl does get boy in the end, in the “totally predictable second act”. It is difficult to have any sympathy for anyone but Scarlett.

O’Connor plays Scarlett as a slightly demented but lovable ninny. She is initially so restrained she is unrecognisable but her energy is released when she falls on her face, trips over her couch drunkenly, passionately embraces a table cloth or carefully pours a glass of wine to the brim.

Maughan has impeccable comic delivery as Scarlett’s self-centred, critical mum. Bob Hornery fires some comic gems as Gordon, the ageing queen and Simon Wood has a field day as rude and randy sous-chef, Gary.

Matt Day is more comfortable as the socially inept Alan when he finally bursts his boundaries to pursue Scarlett. His 1940s movie proposal is a study in movie star glamour. McFarlane is in the unenviable position of having to cook real food in an on stage commercial kitchen and he makes a very credible screen idol – or idols. Marney McQueen captures everything we loath in a smug waitress.

This Williamson is a laugh – but will you remember it in the morning?

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Moliere (Movie Review), June 6, 2008 ****

Moliere by Laurent Tiraud

Kino/Dendy, Brighton Bay

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Moliere is probably the most famous and successful French playwright and this year Melbourne sees two modern translations of his Tartuffe (Malthouse February, MTC October). Moliere, Laurent Tiraud’s lavishly designed and superbly acted French film, depicts Moliere’s 17th century France and guesse the creative origins of his social satires that changed the face of theatrical comedy. His acerbic dialogue and story lines originate from the lives of the rich whom he satirises.

by Kate Herbert

Circus Memories, Article, June 10, 2008

Circus Memories
Comment article by Kate Herbert
June 10, 20008
Published in Herald Sun

I remember laughing and cheering Soapbox Circus at the old Melbourne City Square. My memory tells me it was a show but I think it was probably at an anti-Uranium mining, pro-aboriginal land rights or East Timor protest.

Soapbox, a political circus troupe, was the precursor of Circus Oz. It evolved out of the constantly bubbling and inventive theatre collective, the Australian Performing Group (APG) that was based for years at the Pram Factory (where the Lygon Plaza is now). The acrobatics and juggling were pretty ordinary initially but the music from Mic Conway from Captain Matchbox combined with rowdy, political commitment of the members to make challenging, innovative entertainment.

Excited members of the APG participated in The Great Stumble Forward circus training in Albury. After that the skills of Soapbox Circus developed from simply goofing around to, well, the beginnings of circus acts.

The ratbag Australian style messed with the cheesiness and rigid rules of traditional circus. The sequins were replaced with contemporary costume designs, wacky acts, new comedy and, more significantly, radical left political commentary by MCs such as Jon Hawkes and Robin Laurie.

As they got bigger, more popular, more cash, they exploded into Circus Oz. I witnessed the fading of the APG as the older, original members created splinter performance companies, but Circus was the new art form. Meanwhile, in the 80s at the Last Laugh Theatre Restaurant Collingwood, Vaudeville was alive again.

I was just starting as a stand-up comic when Circus Oz performed at the Last Laugh. I can still feel the wind in my hair as a glossy, muscular trapeze artist flew overhead. I nearly choked on my soup. O.H. S. laws would never allow it today.

I directed street and circus performers in huge community projects, for Moomba street events and in circus productions. Recently, I spent a few years teaching performance to students in the Circus Arts degree. (Yes, there really is a degree in hanging by your toes.)  These gymnasts and acrobatics needed to learn how to perform, engage an audience, inhabit a character and weave their technical skill into an innovative circus act. Being the best athlete does not make entertainment.

I was surrounded by a phenomenal, international array of Circus evacuees who were now trainers or directors. I devised solo and group acts or full circus productions that were then directed and staged by circus directors such as Robin Laurie, one of the founders of Soapbox Circus.

The sheer bravado and brazenness of those scruffy early Soapbox Circus shows created a lively relationship with the audience. In the end, it doesn’t matter how amazing your technique is, you must entertain and communicate with your audience.
There comes a time when all the decorative colour and movement of Cirque du Soleil leaves us cold and we just want them to look at us - and be charming.

By Kate Herbert

Monday, 9 June 2008

MelBorn08, June 9, 2008

What: MelBorn08
When & Where: ACOPA, 14 Raglan St, North Melbourne, June 9, 10 & 17, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Each night of MelBorn08 features rehearsed readings of ten 10-minute plays by Melbourne playwrights.  

Ten of the 30 ten-minute play readings will be chosen for full productions in this year’s Fringe Festival. Each night boasts ten new short plays by local playwrights. 

 The quality is inconsistent but on opening night I enjoyed Dina Ross’s Masterpiece, a simple but inventive piece about Da Vinci’s conversation with Mona Lisa. Drip, by Tom Taylor, was a cunning and funny twist on a dysfunctional father-son relationship. 

They vary in style, theme and quality but there is no time to get bored.  Season One included plays about choosing your own  heaven, Leonardo painting Mona Lisa and Cate Blanchett being a Facebook stalker. 

 The advantage with 10-minute plays is that if you hate one, there’s always the next.

by Kate Herbert