Saturday, 31 August 2013

Salome, Aug 30, 2013 **

By Oscar Wilde
By Little Ones Theatre, Malthouse Helium
Tower Theatre, Malthouse, until Sept 14, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 30, 2013 
 Review also published in Herald Sun online and in print on Tues Sept 3, 2013 KH 
Paul Blenheim & Genevieve Giuffre

This cross-dressing parody of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé dilutes the controversial 1892 play with gender-bending gags and pop songs until it becomes silly rather than menacing or grotesque.

Wilde’s script is a confronting version of the biblical story about Salomé (Paul Blenheim), stepdaughter of King Herod (Alexandra Aldrich), demanding the head of the prophet, John the Baptist (Genevieve Giuffre) on a plate when he refuses her seductions.

It is impossible not to draw comparisons with Steven Berkoff’s inspired and grotesque production of Salomé that so elegantly accentuated the sexually transgressive nature of the story.

Stephen Nicolazzo’s production tries too hard to be provocative by making Salomé a pouting, bratty boy in a matador suit, and the prophet a trashy, show girl look-alike in silver lame shorts and bra.

The production lacks a balanced or cohesive directorial vision and it relies so heavily on gags, that it fails in its attempt to shift the atmosphere from broad comedy to dramatic horror in the final scene when Salomé kisses the beheaded Baptist’s dead mouth.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Rupert, MTC, Aug 29, 2013 **1/2

By David Williamson
Melbourne Theatre Company
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, Aug 28 to Sept 28,  2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 29, 2013
Stars: **1/2

This review is published only on this blog. KH 

David Williamson’s new play, Rupert, uses an old-fashioned, comic revue style to trace the rise and rise of the controversial Rupert Murdoch and his gargantuan media empire.

Directed by Lee Lewis, Rupert bears a startling resemblance to 1970s satirical, political theatre including productions at the Pram Factory in Carlton where Williamson began his career.

The sketch comedy style, with its deliriously nutty caricatures, is entertaining in the first half, but the production crams in so much information and so many years of Murdoch’s life, that it begins to sound like Wiki-theatre.

This leaves the script shallow and didactic, the dialogue expository and the characters mere sketches, and the play fails to illuminate the character of Murdoch or to provide any searing, satirical observations or new insight into the machinations of his empire.

Because a life, with its ups and downs, does not fall naturally into a dramatic form, Murdoch’s biography needs to be edited and massaged to give it the dramatic arc and tension required for a play.

The numerous, short scenes about Murdoch’s early, multiple newspaper takeovers all follow the same trajectory and become indistinguishable.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

The Comedy of Errors, Aug 24, 2013 ****

By William Shakespeare 
Bell Shakespeare
Fairfax Studio, Melbourne Arts Centre, Aug 21 to 31, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 24
Stars:  **** 
This review was NOT written for Herald Sun. KH

Imara Savage’s production of The Comedy of Errors is a boisterous and uproarious interpretation of Shakespeare’s early comedy about mistaken identities.

Savage maintains Shakespeare’s text and language but updates the characters and context to a seamy, inner urban, 21st century nightclub scene (looks like Kings’ Cross) that is rife with dodgy dealings, hookers and corruption.

Two sets of identical twins were separated as babes; the two masters called Antipholus survive in different locations – Syracuse and Ephesus – each with one of the servant twins called Dromio.

When all four appear in the same town, the slapstick chaos of confusion reigns.

Of course, Shakespeare, even in this early play, could not write a comic romp without inserting a dramatic component that, in this case, is a poignant, introductory lament by Egeon (Eugene Gilfedder), the aged father of the Antipholuses.

The comedy arises from the twins being mistaken for each other by family, business associates and servants.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Maria de Buenos Aires, Victorian Opera, Aug 21, 2103 ***

Music by Astor Piazzolla; Poetry by Horacio Ferrer
By Victorian Opera
Elizabeth Murdoch Hall, Recital Centre, Melbourne
Aug 21  to 24, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 21, 2013
Stars: ***

Review also published in  Herald Sun online on Thur Aug 22, 2013 and later in print. KH

If you relish the pulsing rhythms of Astor Piazzolla’s Nuevo Tango, then Maria de Buenos Aires may tickle your fancy.

This is not conventional opera, but a merging of Piazzolla’s jazz and classically influenced tango with Horacio Ferrer’s haunting libretto, metaphorical language and grim imagery that conjures this mythical Maria (Cherie Boogaart).

The Maria of Ferrer’s poetry is whore, saint, virgin, child, martyr, sinner and Madonna; the epitome of Italo-Argentinian, male fantasies and prejudices about women.

The great strength of this Victorian Opera production, directed by Leigh Warren, is the impressive Tango Nuevo Ensemble with James Crabb’s remarkable classical accordion that expresses the passionate heart of Piazolla’s tango.

Warren’s production, set in a sleazy bar, captures the decadence of the seamy underbelly of Buenos Aires, but the stage feels too cluttered with dancers, singers, prostitutes and drunks, so that we cannot the focus on the music, poetry and Maria.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Mature, experienced directors I want to see doing major productions for major companies

Mature, experienced directors 

I am preparing a list of those mature, experienced but largely ignored directors that I want to see doing major productions for major companies in Melbourne.

I am talking about capable directors – those over about 45 years of age – who get no work with major theatre companies but have a proven record of excellence in independent theatre projects or small companies.

This is by no means a final or definitive list and I may have omitted great directors simply because I haven't thought of them yet.
I am asking others to submit their nominees too. Some people are sending names while many are simply saying "Yes" to the entire list.  The list  is growing daily as I receive messages. 

As this is not a voting system with a broad reach, I've decided not to include initials of those who suggested directors. 

The following are in no particular order:

Tanya Gerstle 
Susie Dee 
Jenny Kemp  
Richard Murphet
Brian Lipson 
Stewart Morritt 
Greg Carroll
Fiona Blair
Kate Sulan
Bruce Myles 
Laurence Strangio 
Kirsten Von Bibra
Glenda Linscott  
Robert Reid
Chris Bendall 
Ariette Taylor 
Bruce Gladwin 
Sarah Cathcart 
Nadia Kostich 
Geraldine Cook 
Megan Jones 
Robin Laurie 
Nico Lathouris 
Lyn Ellis 
Melanie Beddie 
David Myles 
Suzanne Chaundy
Jane Woollard 
Chris Thompson
Russell Fletcher 
Andrew Grey 
Bagryana Popov
Kate Herbert   I swear I didn’t just add myself!)
Robert Draffin
Mary Siteranos
John Bolton

You can send it as a comment to this blog if you choose, with your reasons for choosing the director.

I have been astonished at the unwillingness of main stage companies to employ capable, older directors (unless they are part of their 'stable') and also at the growing habit of companies to promote inexperienced directors to major productions before they are ready.

These directors are talented, broadly experienced, qualified and often humble, the last of which means that they don’t trumpet their own skills so remain in the shadows.

I’m getting tired of seeing emerging directors getting all the major gigs and funding being directed toward them by major companies and finding bodies. Yes, we need development, but we need to value those who have worked for decades to develop their talent.

Is it only noise and self-aggrandisement that gets people directing jobs?

I'm sure this will cause ructions all over the place, but it's time to voice the opinions of those artists and audience members who've express their concerns to me.

More to come.

I'll eventually work up a list of those under 45ish too. (Apologies if I've put some people into over 45 when they are under.)

night maybe, Aug 17, 2013 **1/2

By Kit Brookman, Stuck Pigs Squealing 
Theatre Works, 17 Aug until 1 Sept 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on 17 Aug
Stars: **1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun online on Monday 19 Aug, 2013, and later in print. KH

Sarah Ogden, pic Sarah Walker

Kit Brookman’s stylised, non-narrative play, night maybe (sic), is written in such a circuitous and abstract form that it becomes a cryptogram that is virtually unbreakable.

This enigmatic play, directed imaginatively by Luke Mullins, opens with a beautifully lit scene (Richard Vabre) in which the timid, socially inept Sasha (Sarah Ogden) follows her gay, younger brother, Tom (Tom Conroy), as he escapes the family home.

The courageous, volatile Tom flees, leaving frightened Sarah alone to await his return.

As if in a smoky dream world or the afterlife, Sasha drifts through misty parklands, grim laneways, a riverbank – she even ends up in Siberia – meeting ghostly characters that sometimes resemble her brother and his friends or are just eccentric strangers.

Are you confused yet? The piece becomes more and more disconnected, obscure and dislocated until the final scenes that reveal no more than we knew at the beginning – despite the cryptic explanation in the program notes.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Savages, Aug 16, 2013 ****

By Patricia Cornelius
fortyfivedownstairs, 16 Aug to 8 Sep, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on 16 Aug
Review also published in Herald Sun online on Monday 19 Aug, 2013, and later in print. KH

In her confronting and poetic play, Savages, Patricia Cornelius unveils the machismo and misogyny of a group of mates celebrating their “trip of a lifetime”.

Four men, all forty-ish and all with troubled histories with women, embark on a cruise, vowing to leave behind their ordinary lives, dull jobs, bad divorces and unfulfilling relationships so they can enjoy their freedom to the full.

Very quickly, the pack mentality emerges when tough guy, Craze (Mark Tregonning), asserts his position as top dog and the others (James O’Connell, Luke Elliot, Lyall Brooks) fall into place behind him.

Cornelius’ thoughtful and skilfully wrought script deals sensitively with the difficult subjects of escalating male violence and the dangerous side of mateship and peer pressure.

On their first day on board, the men investigate their surroundings like animals sniffing out territory, all the time discussing – but not dwelling on – their disappointing lives, dreams and failures, women, work and fitness.

Friday, 16 August 2013

The Cherrry Orchard, Aug 15, 2013 **1/2

By Anton Chekhov 
Melbourne Theatre Company
Southbank Theatre, The Sumner, 10 Aug to 25 Sept 2013   
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on 15 Aug
Stars: **1/2

Review also published in  Herald Sun online on Fri 16 Aug and later in print. KH
 Robert Menzies (Gayev), Pamela Rabe (Ranevskaya), David Paterson (Yasha), Gareth Davies (Yepikhodov), Steve Mouzakis (Lopakhin

Simon Stone’s 21st century version of The Cherry Orchard fails to equal the lyrical beauty and poignant observations of Russian country life that Anton Chekhov captured in his original, 1904 play.

In this reductive and rather pedestrian script by Stone, bratty socialites and greedy, upwardly mobile land developers replace the fading aristocracy and rising peasant class of pre-revolutionary Russia.

After six, decadent years in Paris, Lyubov Ranevskaya (Pamela Rabe) returns to her formerly affluent family’s estate, but is unwilling to accept that their cherry orchard must be sold for development in order to avoid bankruptcy.

The cast boasts some fine actors and Rabe is a commanding presence as the pivotal Ranevskaya, capturing the confusion and resistance to change of a proud woman who is a remnant of the former gentry.

Robert Menzies is sympathetic and poignant as her bumbling brother, Gayev, the verbose, needy man-child, while Ronald Falk is delightfully befuddled but wise as the old servant, Firs.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Stories I want to tell you in person, Aug 13, 2013 **1/2

Written & performed by Lally Katz, Malthouse Theatre
Beckett Theatre, Malthouse, Aug 13 to 25, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on   
Aug 13,  2013
Stars: **1/2

Review also published in  Herald Sun online on Wed Aug 14, 2013 and later in print. KH
You may think Lally Katz’s solo performance, Stories I Want to Tell You in Person, is self-indulgent claptrap, or self-referential confessional theatre, or even stand-up comedy in the wrong venue.

Katz is not only the writer of this performance, but also the performer and the subject, and she regales the audience with tales of her life, playwriting, love and her obsessive visits to psychics.

In almost all Katz’s plays (apart from The Golem Story), she is on stage as a voice, or narrator, or just referred to by name.

She admits on stage that she is not an actor, and her limited acting skill shows in her awkward delivery and the lack of dynamic range in her narration, her damaged voice and some clumsy segues between stories.

Katz’s intentionally awful karaoke singing of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina is truly frightening –  albeit funny – but leaving an audience to “talk among yourselves” while she changes costumes is just lazy and annoying.

The performance, directed by Anne-Louise Sarks, is 30 minutes too long, but Katz channels three very funny people during her stories about plundering her personal life for characters for her plays.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Penny Plain, Ronnie Burkett, Aug 8, 2013 ****

By Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes, Arts Centre Melbourne
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, until Aug 18, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 8, 2013
Stars: ****

Review also published in Herald Sun online on Friday, Aug 9, 2013 and  in print on Monday Aug 12, 2013 KH

In Penny Plain, Canadian master puppeteer, Ronnie Burkett, creates an idiosyncratic performance using the traditional technique of marionettes, gloriously old-fashioned storytelling and a parade of eccentric characters.

In this grim, mysterious tale about the end of the world, blind, old Penny Plain’s boarding house becomes a refuge for those escaping the natural and man-made disasters outside.

Manipulating his creatures from a high gantry, Burkett populates the stage with dozens of impeccably crafted characters, instilling life into each and inhabiting them with love and commitment. 

The story has an underlying dark, satirical, and audacious social commentary, but it is Burkett’s impeccably observed characters – his villains and saints – that compel us.

At the heart of the tale is Penny Plain who is sympathetic, warm, fearless and gentle, but we fear for her when her blindness and frailty make her vulnerable to the self-centredness of others.

Burkett surrounds Penny with characters including her doggie-companion, Geoffrey, who leaves her to become a gentleman but is replaced by Tuppence, a pale, nervous orphan who pretends to be a dog to please Penny.