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.
HAMLET, Melbourne Theatre Company, Sumner Theatre, until August 31, 2011
WIDELY considered to be Shakespeare's perfect play, Hamlet is liberally seasoned with superbly crafted soliloquies, by its tortured youth, Prince Hamlet of Denmark (Ewen Leslie).
These sumptuous monologues are performed with consummate technique and profound passion by Leslie, who proved an impressive Shakespearean in Melbourne Theatre Company's Richard III.
Through them, we witness Hamlet's mental state and fraught choices: such as whether to extract vengeance by killing his uncle who murdered his father, the King.
During "To be or not to be", Leslie toys with a gun as Hamlet considers suffering his unbearable circumstances or taking action to end them.
Leslie's Hamlet is an innovative, thrilling interpretation, capturing Hamlets mania and secretiveness. He is the pounding heart of Simon Phillip's sleek, imaginative production.
Leslie embodies Hamlet's grief and impotence, his despair and sense of betrayal, in a performance that lurches from frenetic activity to deep depression.
Robert Menzies as the Ghost of Hamlet's dead father is painfully poignant, a faded, aged, powerless figure without the trappings of royalty, but with a craving for justice.
As the doomed Ophelia, Eryn Jean Norvill is splendid playing a sweet, playful, love-struck girl whose mind is then shattered by grief.
John Adam is a vigorous, youthful Claudius and Pamela Rabe an elegant, bemused Gertrude, though these two characters lack some subtlety and nuance at times.
Grant Cartwright is a noble and sympathetic Horatio while Garry McDonald finds humour and pathos in Polonius, playing him foolish but not clownish.
Phillip's production is contemporary with messages delivered by SMS and spies using hidden microphone.
The revolving stage design (Shaun Gurton) is stark and contemporary with towering, glass walls creating endless corridors disappearing into murky depths.
Characters secrete themselves behind glass walls and their duplicity is imitated in their reflections. Lighting (Nick Schlieper) evokes a grim atmosphere and allows scenes to appear dramatically in deep background and music (Ian McDonald) gives an eerie subtext.
Although there are some imbalances in the rhythm of the second half, the primary focus and beauty of this production resides with Leslie whose energy and commitment is compulsive watching.
ANYTHING GOES, Arts Centre State Theatre, until July 24, 2011
ANYTHING Goes, with music and lyrics by the inimitable Cole Porter, is an irresistible, fizzy drink with a dash of hard liquor.
Its 1934 Broadway premiere was guaranteed to chase away Depression blues with its screwball, shipboard antics and singable tunes.
It is a cheeky, old-fashioned show featuring deceiving fiancés, disguised gangsters (or is that gagsters?), lovelorn stowaways, drunken stockbrokers, seductive sirens, sultry showgirls and tap-dancing sailors.
The story is set aboard an ocean liner, but Dean Bryant and Andrew Hallsworth’s production moves at the cracking pace of a speedboat.
Gags come thick and fast, the dialogue is racy, riddled with sexual innuendo, religious satire, loose morals, hard drinking and unashamed racial stereotypes.
Cole Porter’s genius for witty lyrics, sublime rhymes and toe-tapping melodies is evident in the array of hit songs played by the vivacious Orchestra Victoria, lead by Peter Casey.
Amanda Harrison is a standout as tough, nightclub singer, Reno, and her thrilling voice, magnetic stage presence and feisty characterisation make I Get A Kick Out of You, Anything Goes and Blow Gabriel zing.
Alex Rathgeber’s brings his bright vocal tones and playfulness to Billy, the stowaway. His duets with with Harrison (You’re The Top) and with Christy Sullivan as heiress Hope (De-Lovely), are delightful.
Sassy Christie Whelan as brassy, gangster moll, Erma, steals scenes with such songs as Buddie, Beware with a chorus of sailors.
Todd McKenney enjoys playing upper-class twit Lord Evelyn; Wayne Scott Kermond clowns around as Moonface, Public Enemy number 13; John O’May is a suitably sozzled Eli; Anne Wood is fortune-hunting socialite Evangeline; and Christie Sullivan is her bright-eyed, debutante daughter Hope.
Anything Goes is a bold, hilarious night of entertainment that cheers the cold, winter night and has you singing Cole Porter all the way home.
MY ROMANTIC HISTORY, Red Stitch Actors Theatre, until August 13, 2011
THERE are plenty of books about the innumerable ways that men and women miscommunicate, but all you need do is eavesdrop on an argument in a cafe and you'll get the picture.
My Romantic History, by D. C. Jackson, is a no-holds-barred look at an affair between two co-workers that makes good comedy out of miscommunications, misunderstood intentions, mixed messages and secret agendas.
Tim Potter is quirky, arrogant and daggy as Tom, the new office worker, who has a drunken, one-night stand with Amy, his co-worker (Zoe Boesen). Amy stumbles into the liaison because she is desperate to prove to confident, hippie co-worker Sasha (Ngaire Dawn Fair) that she is not single, undesirable or too old.
Tom and Amy's affair is more a collision than a relationship. Their communication comprises rambling like idiots, then revealing their inner thoughts in asides or comical monologues addressed to the audience. The first half is from Tom's perspective and the second from Amy's. We discover that the two viewpoints are vastly different.
The play is cheeky and funny with absurdly clumsy sexual antics, explicit language and laughable situations that people will recognise from former, failed relationships.
David Whiteley's direction is deft and the performances are playful and entertaining.
The script needs editing but it is an engaging show that will make you cringe at your youthful relationship memories.
SMALL ODYSSEYS, Arts House, Meat Market, until July 23, 2011
The show is devised by Rawcus, a company of able and disabled performers who express their experiences of feeling lost and awkward, even powerful and large, in the human landscape.
Under Kate Sulan's innovative direction, the everyday world expands and shrinks before our eyes and we are confronted with the changing scale of things as performers become tiny or loom in the foreground.
This is an ensemble work with no linear narrative, no specific characters, but using an abstracted, physical form, a pounding soundscape (Jethro Woodward) and startling lighting (Richard Vabre).
People swarm in groups, playfully or menacingly, they meet, commune, then part; they sit in isolation in a room or talk on a phone.
Small Odysseys is a joyful and exhilarating show that is performed with heart and soul.
TURNS, by Reg Livermore, Playhouse, at the Arts Centre, until July, 2011
IF YOU'RE expecting Nancye Hayes and Reg Livermore to reprise all their memorable characters, scenes and songs in Turns, think again. This show is a different beast altogether.
Though these two veterans of the stage do a few theatrical turns and share a few songs and dances, they rather take turns performing two extended, quirky monologues written by Livermore and directed by Tom Healey.
Hayes' character - the delightfully demented, verbally muddled, 95-year-old Marjory Joy Moncrieff - is the focus of the first half, though Livermore appears intermittently in Marjory's cartoon-like world of dementia as her shadowy son Alistair.
As Marjory, Hayes is a whimsical combination of crazed poppet and overbearing panto dame, dressed in frills and flounces, a perky bonnet, red wig and painted cheeks.
Marjory reminisces about her imagined stage glories, a failed marriage and fears that her son is poisoning her, though we discover that most of her memories are false.
Hayes peppers Marjory's rantings with snatches of song, comically awkward dances and hilarious misuse of words.
Because Livermore wrote this black comedy in a style recalling his early stage characters, he is comfortable with Alistair's circuitous, satirical monologue and balances perfectly the elements of comedy and tragedy.
Livemore is dignified and restrained as Alistair, toasting his mad mother at a lonely wake for one and relating his poignant tale about his mother's delusions, paranoia and abuse of her beleaguered but loyal son.
Accompanied by versatile pianist Vincent Colagiuri, the show finishes with Livermore and Hayes singing a couple of songs to delight, and perhaps satisfy, the audience's desire for a show tune.
THE GRUFFALO'S CHILD, Playhouse, the Arts Centre, until July 9, 2011
THE Gruffalo's Child is as daffy and entertaining as The Gruffalo, its musical predecessor.
And this musical adaptation of the sequel book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler makes another deliciously, playfully, scary hour for kids from four to about seven years.
Though nothing beats one's introduction to the imaginative world of monsters, predators and victims of the original Gruffalo story, once again the songs are cute and tuneful, the characters quirky and the performers charming and versatile.
Stephen Anderson plays the gruff Gruffalo, and again delights us with his Cockney conman Fox, sleazy Spanish Snake and pompous Owl.
Crystal Hegedis plays a perky Mouse and Chandel Brandimarti is cute and cheeky as the Gruffalo's Child, who disobeys her Gruffalo daddy to go alone at night into the deep, dark wood to hunt the Big, Bad Mouse.
The children giggle at the playful, physical comedy, squeal at the gently scary bits and call out familiar rhymes from their favourite book.
And the littlies seem to understand the morality of this tale that says that home is safe, strange places and people can be dangerous and always listen to daddy. They are not bad sentiments.
The narrative of Conspiracy, John Kiely’s play about former Federal Attorney-General and High Court Judge, the late Lionel Murphy, has dramatic potential but Kiely’s script and Peta Coy’s production do little to fulfil this potential.
Kevin Summers plays a very restrained, even muted Lionel Murphy, perhaps to highlight Murphy’s illness and imminent death. We crave more of Murphy’s boldness and arrogance, his brazen belief that he knew better than the people, the judges and the government.
The final courtroom scene captures some of the drama of the Murphy case and large cast works hard, but the production is ungainly and lacks theatricality.
Kiely’s script is poorly structured with too many scenes and characters, the dialogue is expositional, most dramatic action is off-stage, the direction is clumsy and the scene changes are slow and often unnecessary.
Murphy’s colourful political, judicial and personal life and his vivid character make him a prime candidate for a bio-drama, but Kiely’s play spends too much time talking about the case and too little highlighting Murphy’s character and depicting events that made him so controversial.
As Attorney General in the Whitlam government, Murphy changed Australia by introducing progressive legislation such as anti-discrimination and divorce.
The play focuses on the later period of 1985-86 when Murphy was accused of attempting to influence a case against a friend when he was a High Court judge. Kiely was a journalist at The Age at that time when the incriminating ‘Age Tapes’ surfaced.
Perhaps trimming the cast and focussing the script on action would lift the excitement and the sense of controversy of the production.
THE GRUFFALO, Arts Centre Playhouse, until July , 2011
THEATRE for children can be the best entertainment in town and when it's based on an enormously popular childrens book such as The Gruffalo, it really rocks.
This enchanting musical stage adaptation of the Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler picture book is magical fun for littlies and their grown-up keepers.
The songs are singable, the characters are lovable and the performers adorable and versatile. The spare staging and direction by Olivia Jacobs allow the imagination to fill in the blanks, just like childrens playtime.
The trio of actors (Crystal Hegedis, Stephen Anderson, Nate Jobe) bring characters to life with whimsical characterisations, simple costumes, crisp and stylised movement and joyful engagement with the audience.
Hegedis is sweet and playful as the fearful Mouse that took a stroll through the deep, dark wood and must talk her way out of being eaten by predators. She scares away the fox, the owl and the snake with tales of The Gruffalo, who eats roasted fox, owl ice cream and scrambled snake.
Anderson is hilarious playing a cocky, Cockney fox, a pompous owl who looks like a World War One RAF pilot, and a seductive, maracca-shaking, Spanish snake. Jobe is a suitably gruff but not too scary Gruffalo and is lithe and in fine voice in other roles.
The children participate at every opportunity because they adore this book, know every word by heart and shout lines out at will.
The Gruffalo is an imaginative, fresh and vivacious musical evolution of a treasured children’s story.