Friday, 28 November 2008

The Sound of Waves, Nov 28-30, 2008 ***

The Sound of Waves by Gareth Ellis
Where and When: VCA, Nov 28-30 (Finished)
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The Sound of Waves is a whimsical fairy tale and an allegory for performer, Jodie Harris’s own experience as a young deaf woman who received a cochlear implant then studied acting and voice at the Victorian College of the Arts.

Harris portrays a child who is slowly becoming a fish, growing gills, losing her hearing and choosing to live at the bottom of the ocean with the sound of waves and the company of other fish.

This performance is captivating on several levels for the audience. Harris’s performance is lyrical and physical and we are constantly aware of her voice bearing only occasional signs of her deafness after her years of Actor-Vocal training with Geraldine Cook (Head of Voice at VCA).

The play is preceded by an extraordinary seminar about Ms. Cook’s vocal training with deaf teenagers with cochlear implants. This program movingly demonstrates what Ms. Cook describes as “The joy of hearing and the joy of being heard.” It was a joy to be hearing it.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead, Nov 27, 2008

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead 
By Tom Stoppard, PMD Productions
Where and When: Chapel off Chapel, Nov 27 to Dec 13, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 27, 2008

Tom Stoppard’s play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, cunningly peers into the private world of Rosencrantz (Miranda McGee) and Guildenstern (Luke Lennox), characters from Hamlet who are off-stage for the majority of Shakespeare’s play.

Stoppard investigates the off-stage world of Shakespeare’s two thinly drawn characters and immerses them in a comical existential dilemma. They do not know where they came from, why they are there or how to fill their time while awaiting instructions.

The pair is intermittently interrupted by the real action of Hamlet. The Prince himself greets them, the Players entertain them and the King and Queen consult them. The rest of the time they play a coin toss game that defeats probability by always turning up heads.

The play is a black comedy. We know Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are hanged at the end of Hamlet but in Stoppard’s play they are plagued by foreboding and suspect their own fate. They are confused not only about their role but are even unsure which of them is Rosencrantz and which Guildenstern.

McGee and Lennox, directed by Paul Knox, are an entertaining double act as playful clowns struggling to understand the darker machinations of their world. The other actors are less effective performing the excerpts from Hamlet that require a complete understanding of Shakespeare’s language, character and narrative.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Duets for Actor and Musician,Nov 25, 2008

 Duets for Actor and Musician
By Dina Ross, Kelly Trounson & Anna Schoo, by A Is For Atlas
Where and When: Abbottsford Convent, until Nov 29, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 25, 2008

The title says it all; this production comprises three duets for one actor accompanied by a musician. Each piece also involves the writer of the monologue, a visual artist who provides a design element and the director, Xan Colman, who simply but imaginatively draws the three works into one program. 

The musical instruments (french horn, clarinet and violin) provide a second voice in the stories and the musicians interact physically with the actors creating a metaphorical layer.

MRI (Dina Ross) is an intense depiction of a woman undergoing an MRI scan when she is confronted by looming paralysis while Car Park (Anna Schoo) is a fretful monologue by an anxious office worker. Down In The Dirt (Kelly Trounson) portrays a quirky and funny view of a woman obsessed with death and with her prosthetic leg.

By Kate Herbert

Friday, 21 November 2008

Death in White Linen, Nov 21, 2008

Death in White Linen
By Michael Dalley, Full Tilt
Where and When: Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre, until Nov 29, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 21, 2008

Michael Dalley has an exceptional facility for writing and performing satirical songs as seen in his previous shows such as Vaudeville X and Intimate Apparel.  The witty and barbed lyrics featured in Death in White Linen are as clever as his earlier shows but, this time, Dalley performs solo – apart from his accompanist, John Thorn, on piano.

Dalley peoples the stage with vividly drawn, very funny characters. He opens with the camp, old, vaudeville show host of the “Shitey Village Cruise Line”. His accent is broad Northern England and his jokes are riddled with innuendo, “how’s your father” dialogue and peppy music hall style songs.

The story line is loose and falls to pieces later in the show but it is simply the washing line upon which are hung the songs and characters that are the features of the show. It focuses on Brian Kennedy, a working class Liverpool upstart whose father, a docker, dies when hit by a crate of good Irish linen.

Brian, after winning a scholarship to an English Catholic Grammar School then emigrating to Australia with his widowed mother, claws his way to the top of the Melbourne social scene, becomes a personal injury barrister and marries money.

Dalley’s depiction of Brian is a scathing portrait of a social climbing lawyer who denies his roots and eliminates all telltale signs of his accent and class. Brian’s wife, Suzanne Angus-Hereford, is big-boned and a rowing fetishist – but filthy rich.

Dalley is more sympathetic to Teresa, Brian’s seamstress mother, who wants only the best for her son. She has some of the best lines including, “He has a face like a farmer’s arse well-slapped”. Brian’s rise in social status is accompanied by witty songs including Observing the Mating Habits of the Bourgeoisie.

Brian’s obsession with the Roman Empire causes him to name his sons Maximus and Cassius. The boys are hilarious upper class twits. Cassius is the resentful loser who cannot hit a cricket ball and Maximus is the bruiser who captains the Grammar School eleven.

This smug prat’s world-view is, “Invest in the trappings of wealth and the substance will come.” He is an inveterate snob, a useless father and an excellent target for Dalley’s caustic satire.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 20 November 2008

One Cloud, Nov 20, 2008 *1/2

One Cloud 
By Shannon Murdoch
Where and When: Theatreworks, until Nov 29, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: *1/2

One Cloud tells the story of an isolated, repressed and peculiar island community that lives according to patriarchal rituals, rigid social conventions and a rejection of all outside influence. 

When a scatty, vodka-drinking, modern young woman (Kylie Trounson) washes up on their shores, the residents are initially polarised about her presence. They either love her or hate her because she has disturbed their plain and simple life. They are as weird and insular as The Brethren.

The script is unnecessarily oblique and repetitive in an attempt to be poetic or non-naturalistic. This could be a 20 minute play. With more imaginative direction the script might have potential but the direction (Sarah McCusker) is clumsy, leaving the actors looking awkward and crowded on a cramped stage.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Milli, Jack and the Dancing Cat, Nov 13, 2008

Milli, Jack and the Dancing Cat
By Monkey Baa adapted from a book by Stephen Michael King
Where and When: Fairfax Studio, Victorian Arts Centre, Nov 10-14, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2

About 600 primary school children saw Milli, Jack and the Dancing Cat at the Fairfax over five days. 

Three lively performers directed by John Saunders and accompanied by musician, Trevor Brown, engage and delight the children. 

It is a simple, whimsical story about Milli (Crystal Hegedis) a young boot maker who is bored senseless with making plain old work boots. Milli’s great love is creating new playthings from discarded objects. 

When travelling performers, Jack (Tony Harvey) and his Dancing Cat (Vincent Hooper) arrive in town Milli exchanges new boots for dance lessons and makes two new friends.  The tiny tots were captivated for the entire hour of song, dance and slapstick.

By Kate Herbert

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Danny and The Deep Blue Sea, Nov 9, 2008 ***

Danny and The Deep Blue Sea
By John Patrick Shanley, Human Sacrifice Theatre
Where and When: Chapel off Chapel Thurs to Sun Nov 9 to Nov 23, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 9, 2008

Danny and The Deep Blue Sea is a gritty piece of American realism by John Patrick Shanley. Danny (Justin Hosking) and Roberta (Tania Lentini) are two damaged New Yorkers who meet in a Bronx bar. There is a violent edge to the start of the play and Hosking is credible as the troubled Danny who has a very short fuse and a habit of picking fights after drinking too much.

What follows is a gentler and strangely romantic interaction between Danny and Roberta, a young mum who is looking for human contact. Roberta takes Danny to her home where she lives with her parents and her child and they grapple, argue, dream a little and hope for a better and more loving life ­– together. This is a love story that looks hopeless but might just work in some insane way.

Hosking and Lentini play these characters with sympathy and sensitivity. Danny is volatile, unpredictable and dangerous but Hosking explores his soft underbelly while Tania is erratic and needy but strangely lovable. Shanley’s play, directed by Lucy Freeman, is a short, edgy drama with a heart.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Macbeth Re-Arisen, Nov 6, 2008 **

Macbeth Re-Arisen
By David Mence by White Whale Theatre
Where and When: Trades Hall, Nov 6 to Nov 23, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 6, 2008

Macbeth Re-Arisen is a parody of Shakespeare’s Macbeth – with zombies. Yes, Macbeth rises from the dead and rallies an army of the undead to help him retake the Scottish throne. 

The play was first staged at Melbourne University and it still feels like a student production. The script is written with a nod to Elizabethan English and is peppered with quotes from Shakespeare’s tragedies and it would benefit from a vigorous edit, particularly of some of the monologues. 

The dialogue is generally florid and over-written in an attempt to replicate Shakespeare. (Why use one word when you can use ten?) The production is most successful when it does not take itself seriously and lets fly with some mad, slapstick zombie action.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Menopause the Musical, Nov 5, 2008 ***

Menopause The Musical
By Jeanie Linders, HIT Productions
Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne, Nov 5 to 9, 2008

Reviewer: Kate Herbert


Menopause The Musical, written by Jeanie Linders, is back with its jokes about hot flushes, night sweats and bad moods. This is “identification theatre” in the extreme. 

Four actor-singers of a certain age play diverse characters who meet in a battle over underwear on a sale table. There is the corporate executive, a hippy farmer, a mousy country housewife and an insecure, ageing television soap star.

They sing classic songs from the 60s and 70s with new lyrics that reflect the horrors of menopause and the irrepressible of spirit of these women. Chain Chain Chain is retitled Change of Life, I Will Survive becomes I Am Awake, I’m Having A Hot Flush is sung to Heat Wave and Pills is a song about anti-depressants – “I love them so, I always will”.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

A Tribute to Danny Kaye, Nov 8, 2008

A Tribute to Danny Kaye
By Russell Fletcher
Where and When: The Spiegeltent, Arts Centre, Nov 8 & 15, 2pm
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Russell Fletcher’s tribute show will tickle Danny Kaye fans. Fletcher bears an uncanny resemblance to the redheaded joker. 

He does not attempt a detailed impersonation but rather embodies Kaye’s style and vitality while recreating routines and songs from his live shows and movies (Hans Christian Anderson, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Court Jester).

The frenetic wordplay, galloping songs, madcap storytelling, vocal sound effects and witty interaction with the audience conjure Kaye’s spirit. 

Fletcher revels in the sheer silliness of Kaye’s inventive comedy. He relates the entire story of The Little Fiddle and the evil Glockenspiel in disguise. 

As the belligerent German conductor he leads Kaye’s rendition of the Flight of the Bumblebee with audience members playing mime instruments.

The final Court Jester song convinces us that we need nutty comic geniuses such as Danny Kaye.

By Kate Herbert

Yibyung. Company B & Malthouse, Nov, 4, 2008 ***1/2

By Dallas Winmar, Company B & Malthouse Theatre
Beckett Theatre, Malthouse, Nov 4 to  16, 2008

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 4, 2008


Published in Herald Sun in Nov 2008

 Yibiyung, by Dallas Winmar, is a poignant story about Lily (Miranda Tapsell), an aboriginal child taken from her family early in the 20th century. Her journey takes her from childhood with her mother (Jada Alberts), baby brother and Uncle (David Page) in her homeland to mission schools then to her work as a domestic servant.

Wesley Enoch’s production, with an inspired design by Jacob Nash, is performed on a stage empty except for one enormous tree. The space feels expansive because the vast Australian sky is replicated in clusters of white chalk stars drawn on black walls and lit by ultra-violet lights.

It is difficult to tell an entire life story on stage so Winmar compresses the story of Lily to encompass the years from just before she was stolen to just after she went into service at 16. There is a simple beauty in the first half of the play and the Lily’s family life is portrayed with joy and sensitivity.

Stars, or “djindi” as she calls them, are central to the tale, providing a backdrop to Lily’s life. Her mother’s story about the birth of the Southern Cross is compelling when told in her tribal language and later in English. Five women escape from male violence to find freedom in the sky as stars. Freedom is Lily’s aim throughout the story.

David Page, as Lily’s Uncle (“Kongkan” in her language), has charm, humour and warmth. Her relationship with her Uncle calls Lily home throughout her exile in the white man’s world. It is the grief of a child being taken from family that makes the first half of the play so moving.

The petite and pretty Tapsell makes believable her transition from playful child to distressed, rebellious teenager then to polite servant with a desire to escape. The ensemble of nine provides the rest of Lily’s world. Melodie Reynolds is heart-rending as Djindi, the nameless child who does not know her family. Jimi Bani is delightfully physical as the high-spirited boy, Smiley.

Several characters represent the diverse views of the white community that controlled Lily’s life. Sibylla Budd is luminous as the tragic, well meaning but finally destructive Lady. Russell Dykstra is versatile in multiple roles: kind but powerless policeman, patriarchal and abusive doctor and innocuous farmer.

The simplicity and truth of Lily’s tale of imprisonment and freedom makes a touching play.

By Kate Herbert

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Charles Dickens- A Christmas Carol, Nov 2-16, 2008

Charles Dickens = A Christmas Carol 
By Eagles Nest Theatre
The Speigeltent, Victorian Arts Centre, 4pm Nov 2 & 9, 2pm Nov 16, 2008 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 2, 2008
Stars: ***1/2

Phil Zachariah performs Charles Dickens’ famous morality tale, A Christmas Carol, alone but he cunningly peoples the stage with Dickens’ characters. The stage is empty but for a wooden lectern at which Zachariah sometimes stands to read a leather-bound book. All this is reminiscent of the manner in which Dickens read his own work for the public.

The narrator’s voice is ever-present in Dickens’ writing as a commentator upon characters and action and Zachariah uses this narrative voice to effectively evoke the entire environment of A Christmas Carol. Dressed in a formal tail coat and sporting a Victorian beard, Zachariah transforms from  the whining, wizened, old miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, into the parade of characters that surround that old niggard.

The changes between locations and characters are swift and efficient, reminding us of the skill and magic of a great theatrical storyteller. Bob Cratchett’s poor home and meagre Christmas feast are vividly depicted and his tribe of children, including the ailing Tiny Tim, come to life. The streets and houses of Dickens’ London are skilfully described to us with Dickens’ words and Zachariah’s resonant voice and characterisations.

By Kate Herbert

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Spontaneous Broadway, Nov 1, 2008 ***

Spontaneous Broadway
Where and When: Spiegeltent, Victorian Arts Centre, Saturdays 4pm, Nov 1, 8, 15, 29, Dec 6, 13, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 1, 2008

SPONTANEOUS BROADWAY is an improvisational musical format created in the US and based on the promotion of new musicals by a cheesy Broadway producer (Russell Fletcher). 

At the Spiegeltent you can see a totally original musical comedy each week when four performers (this week featured Julia Zemiro, Geoff Paine, Scott Brennan, Rebecca De Unamuno) hit the stage as stereotypical music theatre darlings.

Audience contribute possible song titles that the cast improvise with accompaniment by pianist, John Thorn. The show I saw boasted such titles as, Ikea is the Gutter That Drains My Happiness from a new musical called Kvaaaart, a story about marriages that are broken in that Swedish furniture labyrinth. Plenty of laughs.

By Kate Herbert