Saturday, 29 September 2012

DasSHOKU Shake! Sept 28, 2012 ***

By Yumi Umiumare & Theatre Gumbo (Japan)
Produced by DasSHOKU Project
fortyfivedownstairs, Sep 27 to Oct 7, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Version of this review online at Herald Sun on Tues, Oct 2, 2012. KH 
YUMI UMIUMARE'S PERFORMANCES OFTEN DEFY DESCRIPTION, and the only way to explain DasSHOKU Shake! is as a crazy collision of Japanese Butoh grotesque dance, Japanese TV game shows, contemporary, transgressive burlesque and the comic grotesquery of French Bouffon clowns.

Shake! is Umiumare’s response to the Japanese earthquake and Tsunami in 2010 and it tosses the physical and emotional devastation of the disaster into a blender with hope and the desire for a brighter, lighter future.

The concept of shaking is the glue that loosely links 17 disparate vignettes featuring local Butoh, burlesque and dance artists with visiting Japanese Butoh performers, Theatre Gumbo.

The idea of shaking ranges from convulsions to tantrums, panic, obsession, love, dance and sex.

The show is riddled with the social satire that characterises both Butoh and cabaret-burlesque, in scathing criticism of corporations and government or gently barbed, comical scenes about parenting, businessmen or love. 

Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Tuxedo & The Little Black Dress, Sept 27, 2012 ***1/2

Book & Music by Stewart D’Arrietta & Louis Nowra
Chapel Off Chapel, Sep 27 to Oct 14, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sept 27
Stars: ***1/2
Version of this review published on Sunday, Sept 30, in Herald Sun.
Stewart D’Arrietta, Rebecca Mendoza

WE SEE FEW NEW AND ORIGINAL AUSTRALIAN MUSICALS and those that prosper generally have small casts and low budgets, as does The Tuxedo and The Little Black Dress by Stewart D’Arrietta and Louis Nowra.

It starts with a shock and in near darkness, with the frightening, thundering sound of a building collapsing and the terrified cries of Jack (D’Arreitta) and Anouk (Rebecca Mendoza) who are trapped in the rubble of a restaurant housed in the old ballroom of a grand, old hotel.

These seemingly incompatible strangers are forced into unwanted proximity and intimacy as they await rescue and suffer the aftershocks of the earthquake. (Strangely, this is the second show this week that is about an earthquake. See my review of DasSHOKU Shake!)

Original songs by D’Arrietta and Louis Nowra pepper the narrative as the relationship between the pair slowly develops into a kinship that thrives on adversity and is built on shared secrets and their individual stories of love, betrayal, joy and loss.

Peppering the narrative are D’Arrietta and Nowra’s original songs with a jazz flavour and latin beats, sung by two performers with very different vocal styles.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Barassi – The Stage Show, Sept 26, 2012 ***

By Tee O'Neill, Jager Productions
Athenaeum Theatre, Sept 25 to 30, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sept 26, 2012
Stars: ***
 Review published in Herald Sun on Fri. Sept 28. KH

RON BARASSI IS A GOLDEN FOOTY ICON IN MELBOURNE, and Barassi – The Stage Show is a tribute show that tracks his life in VFL and AFL football as both a young, feisty player and an even tougher, volatile coach.

Director, Terence O’Connell, and playwright, Tee O’Neill, create a cheerful piece of identification theatre that will appeal to Aussie Rules footy fanatics who usually avoid theatre but who enjoy a laugh and some reminiscing about the old VFL and its transformation into a national league.

It would be churlish to focus entirely on the theatrical limitations of the script, because this is genuinely funny, good-humoured, playful production with a clever, committed cast, including former AFL footballer, Russell Robertson.

The play is book-ended with glimpses of Barassi’s dad, Ron Sr., who we see in the early 1940s as a Melbourne Football Club champion, as a young soldier who tragically dies in Libya and, in the touching final scene, at his gravesite in Tobruk when Ron Jr. visits in 1984.

Footy supporters of all AFL clubs will not be disappointed with this chronological, biographical storytelling that explores Barassi’s successes and failures in football from the ‘40s to the ‘80s.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

South Pacific, Sept 22, 2012 ***

Music by Richard Rodgers, Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, Book by Hammerstein & Joshua Logan
Adapted from Tales of the Pacific by James A. Michener
Opera Australia & John Frost present the Lincoln Center Production (2008 New York)
Princess Theatre, Melbourne, Sept 15 to Nov 11, 2012 then Brisbane
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sept 22, 2012
Stars: ***
Review not to be published in Herald Sun. KH
Teddy Tahu Rhodes & Lisa McCune in South Pacific

SOUTH PACIFIC, RODGERS' AND HAMMERSTEIN'S enchanting 1949 musical, is certainly a story about love burgeoning in the exotic south seas, but it also cunningly tells an accompanying tale of racism and war.

This Opera Australia production is based on the Lincoln Center production and is directed by American, Bartlett Sher, whose 2008 Broadway version won several Tony Awards.

The casting looks exceptional and hearing Teddy Tahu Rhodes’ soaring baritone sing Some Enchanted Evening is a thrilling experience.

Another high calibre operatic voice is that of tenor, Daniel Koek, singing the role of Lieutenant Cable, the young marine who falls in love with a young island girl, and his rendition of Younger Than Springtime is moving and exhilarating.

Koek’s character also expresses his self-loathing about how he learned his own racial prejudice at the feet of his parents, in the pointed lyrics of You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught.

Eddie Perfect eats up the role of Luther Billis, playing with playful impertinence and brash assuredness this dodgy sailor who has an eye to the main chance, and the rousing chorus scenes with Billis and his cheeky, navy chorus of dancers are high points.

  Eddie Perfect & chorus in South Pacific

Friday, 21 September 2012

Hello my name is, Sep 20, 2012 ***1/2

By Sans Hotel and Theatreworks
Theatreworks, Sep 18 to 29, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sept 20, 2012
Stars: 3&1/2
Full review will appear after publication in Herald Sun on Sun, Sep 23. KH
Nicola Gunn (L) in Hello my name is

NICOLA GUNN'S NEW SOLO WORK, Hello my name is, is an event rather than theatre, a community development rather than a play, and playful rather than earnest.

In anyone else’s hands, this type of work can look and feel pretentious, indulgent or alienating, but Gunn’s eccentricity, simple charm, directness and vulnerability, her unveiling of her own neuroses and musings, make this a gently engaging evening.

On entering the space, the audience knows that this is no ordinary show when we see plastic chairs in a circle, fluoro lighting and Gunn playing table tennis and wearing shorts and a T-short boasting, “I’m a volunteer”.

Her performance veers from hilarious satire of earnest do-gooders running community workshops or self-help groups, to barbed social commentary, introspective storytelling and poignant self-analysis.

Gunn is not really solo on stage as she has the entire audience as extras or participants in the evolution of this intentionally shambolic and loosely structured work that changes in each performance.
She introduces herself in various languages, all translating as, “Hello, my name is Nicola”, then leads us through an inspired agenda of activities including a community walk, life drawing, knitting, karaoke and scrabble.

The cheerful first half keeps us guessing at what Gunn will do next, and the warm, joyful ending almost allows one to forgive the slightly flabby middle section, although Gunn will lose those who loath audience participation or crave more theatricality.

Gunn’s sense of the absurd is bracing and we all leave wearing a broad smile and with an experience of communicating with strangers in a hearty and positive way.

By Kate Herbert 

Director, Nicola Gunn; dramaturg, David Woods; Video, Pier Carthew; lighting, Gwen Holmburg-Gilchrist; design Nicola Gunn & Lisa Höbartner

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The School For Wives, Sept 12, 2012 ***

Written by Moliere, translated by Justin Fleming
Bell Shakespeare
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne Sep 12-22, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***

Review not published in Herald Sun.  KH
Damien Richardson, Andrew Johnston, John Adam in Bell Shakespeare, The School For Wives. 
Photo Brett Boardman
JUSTIN FLEMING'S TRANSLATION of Moliere’s 17th century French comedy, The School For Wives, is playful and clever, reinterpreting Moliere’s social satire and rhyming couplets in contemporary language and a range of rhyming forms.

Lee Lewis directs an energetic, versatile cast in a broad, physical style with plenty of slapstick and caricature and set in a 1920s world of flappers and toffy-nosed Brits rather than French fops.

There are plenty of laughs although, sometimes, the direction feels laboured, the characters’ comic delivery overwrought and the pacing is stretched to its limit to over-emphasise a visual gag or verbal gag.

Arnolde (John Adam) believes that his young ward, Agnes (Harriet Dyer), is now the perfect, faithful bride for himself, after she emerges from years of incarceration in a convent where she was raised in total ignorance and innocence at his instruction.

Of course, his plan to avoid marrying a wily, cheating wife goes awry when youthful Horace (Meyne Wyatt) inveigles his way into Agnes’s willing heart.

Adam as the arrogant and rigid Arnolde is marvellously domineering, smug and sanctimonious while the pretty, petite Dyer is perfectly childlike, naïve and vacuous as Agnes.

As Arnolde’s servants, Alexandra Aldrich and Andrew Johnston are a mischievous clown duo, engaging is plenty of physical comedy and Damien Richardson’s opening cameo in the tooting 20s car is a bold and goofy caricature.

Mark Jones’ live piano and quirky percussion underscores the comedy impeccably and lends the production the style of silent movies or the early talkies.

Wyatt has a puppyish energy that works for Horace but lacks some subtlety in his playing of Moliere’s comedy while Jonathan Elsom adds both humour and gravitas in multiple roles.

The production might benefit from some tightening of the intentionally slow pacing of some comic moments but it is a bit of fun that does justice to Moliere's tomfoolery.

By Kate Herbert

BY Molière
TRANSLATED BY Justin Fleming
DESIGNER Marg Horwell
VOICE COACH Anna McCrossin-Owen

John Adam
Alexandra Aldrich
Harriet Dyer
Jonathan Elsom
Andrew Johnston
Mark Jones
Damien Richardson
Meyne Wyatt

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Rhonda Is In Therapy, Sept 9, 2012, ***1/2

By Bridgette Burton, Hoy Polloy Theatre & Baggage Productions
fortyfivedownstairs, Sep 7 to 23, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sept 9, 2012
Stars: ***1/2
Published on line in Herald Sun on Tues Sept 11. Print review later this week in Herald Sun.

Kelly Nash & Louise Crawford in Rhonda Is In Therapy, Photo by Fred Kroh
THE PAIN OF LOSS is sweetened by a little gentle humour in Rhonda Is In Therapy, Bridgette Burton’s play about a successful woman who grieves after the accidental death of her five-year old son.

Rhonda, played with brittleness and untamed passion by Louise Crawford, is a professor of Chemical Engineering who is driven by her work, compulsive about her therapy, unable to bond with her second child and unwilling to share her grief with her husband.

Ben Grant is warm, engaging and totally credible as Lief, Rhonda’s stoical, good-humoured but emotionally abandoned German husband who is also a professor of Chem. Eng. but chooses to stay home to raise their child.

Rhonda’s grief and despair drive her into a clandestine, foolhardy and lusty affair with her student, played by Jamieson Caldwell with youthful exuberance mixed with coyness and blind adoration.

Burton’s script keeps us guessing about Rhonda’s secrets and compulsions, although we do not like or sympathise with her as much as one would assume when we witness her neglect of her living child and loyal husband.

Kelly Nash as the glib therapist provides both insight and humour as she pressures Rhonda to face her truth.

Wayne Pearn sets the production in a fragile, cage-like design by Kat Chan, evocatively lit by Richard Vabre, emphasising Rhonda’s entrapment in her grief, both past and present.

There are explicit, simulated sex scenes in this production that effectively illuminate the odd combination of passion and lovelessness of Rhonda’s affair with the young man.

In some awkward theatrical moments, actors play scenes with an invisible child whose voice Nash provides off-stage, and these moments jar with the naturalistic acting style of the rest of the play.

Although some of the narrative twists are predictable and Louise’s predicament is perhaps too easily resolved in the end, the script has some clever nuances at times and it takes us on a poignant journey with Rhonda and her family. 

By Kate Herbert
Creative Team
Director Wayne Pearn
Dramaturge Julian Meyrick
Set and costume design Kat Chan
Lighting design Richard Vabre
Sound design Tim Bright
Jamieson Caldwell, Louise Crawford,
Ben Grant and Kelly Nash

Happy Ending, MTC Sept 7, 2012 **

Happy Ending by Melissa Reeves, Melbourne Theatre Company
Lawler Studio, MTC, Sep 5 to 22, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sept 7, 2012

Published online Herald Sun Tuesday Sept 11 and in print later this week.

 Fanny Hanusin & Nell Feeney in Happy Ending
WHEN THE PROGRAM CREDITS a Mandarin language coach and massage tutor, it’s not a stretch to guess that Melissa Reeves’ play, Happy Ending, features Chinese masseurs.

Susie Dee directs Reeves’ tissue-thin, situational comedy with light-handed humour and a sense of the absurdity of the plot and characters.

Louise (Nell Feeney) is 40ish and married with a toddler but is tormented by her ridiculous sexual obsession with a young, Chinese masseur, Lu (Gareth Yuen), who works in a massage shop in the soulless Northland shopping mall.

This premise might make a much shorter play or situational sketch, but with its insubstantial plot, two-dimensional characters, repetitive dialogue and limited dramatic development, it lacks the substance for a 90-minute play.

There are certainly some big laughs and mighty groans at the expense of the characters whose dialogue is peppered with jibes at the modern woman, politically incorrect, racist jokes (both Western and Chinese), and
some utterly tasteless humour about Louise’s fantasies about animals. Yes, really!

While Feeney works hard as yappy, stressed Louise, her character is so driven by her idiotic goal to bed the young masseur and she looks so demented, that we cannot sympathise with her predicament.

Fanny Hanusin is a marvellous, comic caricature as Jie, the smug, rude massage shop owner, Yuen is elegant and diffident as the relentlessly pursued Lu, while Keith Brockett, Roz Hammond and Christopher Connelly play multiple comic roles.

There is nothing erotic about this potential affair or Louise’s fantasies, so don’t expect a theatrical version of Fifty Shades of Grey.

Andrew Bailey’s stylish design captures the Asian style with its huge, modular and translucent paper screens.

Happy Ending is ultimately an unsatisfying play that relies heavily on cheap gags about unrequited sex/love at the expense of story and character, repeating itself until it reaches its oddly contrived ending.

 ... continued after publication online Herald Sun Monday Sept 10.

By Kate Herbert 

Director Susie Dee
Set and Costume Designer Andrew Bailey
Lighting Designer Katie Sfetkidis
Composer Ian Moorhead
 Keith Brockett (Wen/Jun), Nell Feeney (Louise), Roz Hammond
(Liliana), Fanny Hanusin (Jie), Jim Russell (Alec/Jeweller), Gareth Yuen (Lu)

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Angela’s Kitchen, Sept 5, 2012 ***

Angela’s Kitchen, by Paul Capsis & Julian Meyrick
Griffin Theatre Company presented by Malthouse Theatre
Beckett Theatre, Malthouse, Sep 4 to 23, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review also published in Herald Sun Sunday, Sept 9, 2012
Paul Capsis in Angela's Kitchen 
STORIES OF MIGRATION TO AUSTRALIA are always more poignant when they are personal, and Paul Capsis’s story of his grandmother Angela’s migration from Malta after the Second World War is no exception.

Capsis prowls the stage, narrating the story of his family and, more specifically, that of his beloved grandmother and his relationship with her.

He addresses the audience directly with his engaging, wry and intimate storytelling, speaking as himself much of the time, but also transforming into Angela, her daughters, her husband, grandchildren and Paul himself as a screaming, playful or isolated child.

The most memorable scene is when Capsis transports us to his riotous family dinner, shifting in an instant from one quirky family member to another: resentful Aunty Doris sucking on a cigarette, deep-voiced, patriarchal granddad, Paul’s manic, Aussie–accented mum, his surly brother and Angela, the peacemaker.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Mousetrap, Sept 1, 2012 ***

By Agatha Christie
Comedy Theatre, Aug 30 to Oct 7, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sep 1
Christie Sullivan as Mollie Ralston in the Mousetrap

The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie is certainly a peculiar theatrical creature. It has run for 60 years on the West End in London and is now touring countries all over the globe, including this Australia touring production.

You’ve gotta love a whodunit and a whodunit by Agatha Christie has to be the top of the pops for crime mysteries.

The Mousetrap is arch, silly and very old-fashioned (in the nicest possible way), with quirky characters, plenty of clues, red herrings, without bloody violence.

The plot resembles that of Ten Little Niggers and Murder On The Orient Express. Eight people are isolated in a snowbound guesthouse in the countryside far from London when the radio announces a murder in London and that police are looking for suspect wearing a dark coat, light scarf and felt hat and most of the guests fit this description.

This production, directed with humour and respect by Gary Young, is at its best when played straight, without any sense of the actors commenting on the oddity of their characters or parodying the period and the style.