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.
By Guus Kuijer, Adpted by Richard Tulloch By Melbourne Theatre Company MTC Southbank Theatre, The
Sumner, until Dec 22, 2013 Reviewer: Kate Herbert Stars: ****
Review also published in Herald Sun online on Mon Dec2, 2013, and later in print. KH
The Book Of Everything is
a challenging and entertaining family show that balances light and darkness,
choosing not to underestimate children’s capacity to cope with tough issues
such as fear, violence and bullying.
Eccentric nine-year old,
Thomas Klopper (Matthew Whittet), deals with his fear of family violence by
escaping into a private, fantastical world that he records in his Book of
Thomas lives in 1951
post-war Amsterdam where, to combat his isolation, he conjures his own magical
world in which he sees tropical fish in the Dutch canals, a frog plague in his
street, and even chats with Jesus who is vague but friendly.
Australianised script captures the serious issues, harsh realism, fanciful
visions and humour of Guus Kuijer’s children’s book from which it is adapted.
Thomas’s emotive story of
facing his fears, confronting bullies with a wall of happiness and never
surrendering, echoes the Dutch Resistance to Nazi Occupation that is remembered
by his parents (Peter Carroll, Claire Jones), sister (Alison Bell) and
neighbour (Julie Forsyth).
Thomas is an odd kind of
anti-hero, who wishes biblical plagues upon his violent father to protect his
vulnerable mother, then, in a poignant moment, defies his father by asserting
that his single ambition is to be happy when he grows up.
Neil Armfield directs
imaginatively, creating a playful, energetic production that tells a powerful
story with humour, capable performances and simple but ingenious theatrical
He breaks the ‘fourth
wall’ by having Thomas and other actors directly address the audience,
delivering narration and characters’ personal observations.
production displays the mechanics of theatre, with actors perching on stools
when not in scenes, providing sound effects, and changing scenes by moving the
pages of the enormous picture book (Kim Carpenter) that replicates Thomas’s
Book of Everything.
Iain Grandage’s lively,
onstage music underscores dialogue and action, establishes location and period,
and provides atmosphere.
Whittet is playfully
awkward and introverted as Thomas, embodying the geeky outsider who seeks
solace in his imagination, and friendship in a disabled teenage girl (Andrea
Demetriades) and the quirky, old neighbour (Forsyth).
The inimitable Forsyth
deserves special accolades for her impeccable comic timing and hilarious
depiction of Mrs. Van Amersfoort, the weird, cackling witch, oddball hoarder
and indomitable survivor of Nazi occupation.
Carroll is compelling and
brittle as Thomas’s severe and self-righteous father, a misguided religious
fanatic and control freak who feels justified in hitting his mild-mannered wife
and son when he cannot control them.
Genevieve Picot is feisty
as rebellious Aunt Pie, John Leary is cheerfully casual as Jesus, and Claire
Jones is gentle and resilient as Thomas’s long-suffering mother.
This play provides no
trite solutions to social or family problems but is simultaneously confronting
and funny – but maybe it is best suited to kids over 8 or 9.
The Waiting Room by Born
In A Taxi, Big West Festival The Substation, Nov
28 until Dec 2, 2013 Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 28 at 8:30pm Stars: **** Review also published in Herald Sun online on Nov 29, 2013 and later in print. KH
Audience member in The Waiting Room: pic by Leo Dale
Don’t expect to sit passively in a darkened
theatre when you see The Waiting Room by Born In A Taxi because you will
incrementally become part of the performance without really noticing.
Waiting Room, directed by Penny Baron, is a beguiling movement performance that incorporates the signature, non-verbal,
improvisational style and captivating audience engagement that distinguishes
the award-winning Born In A Taxi.
piece is an idiosyncratic, inventive view of waiting, how we fill time while we
wait, the phone and public address messages that remind us how valuable our
time is, and the odd connections we make with strangers during the waiting
nothing happens while the 60 audience members sit in wooden chairs arranged in
regimented lines like a school exam room – until six performers enter the
waiting room one at a time, taking seats amongst us (Baron, Andrew Gray,
Carolyn Hanna, Kate Hunter, Nick Papas, Deborah Batton, Michael Havir).
and almost imperceptibly they start gesturing, moving, bobbing up and down in
their chairs, looking around, catching our eyes and, with gentle, unspoken invitations, compel the audience to participate with
them in a silent, simple dance.
invigorate the performance space and audience with their refreshing, surprising
style, keeping us watchful, excited and a bit tentative – at first.
with gentle, tacit offers and playful encouragement, the performers urge and
inspire people to leap to their feet, clamber across chairs, dance with a
partner, then create a mass improvised movement piece without even realising
that they are dancing.
not be afraid, because there is no pressure to join, merely quiet, persuasive
engagement and reassuring glances that embolden the audience and motivate them
and everything happens during the 90 minutes while the work evolves and
The outcome is soothing and playful, silent but not mime, dancerly but not
balletic, challenging without being confronting and comforting without being
all ends with a vivid, dramatic scene that cannot be revealed here, and The
Waiting Room leaves the audience cheering “Bravo!” and applauding itself for a delectable,
intimate, cheering and oddly therapeutic evening of waiting.
By Kate Herbert
"Unexpected, absurd and funny. Collective human behaviour
under the microscope from the amusing to the disturbing surreal. Physical
theatre, live art and dance. Winner of Brisbane Powerhouse Performance Award,
Melbourne Fringe. Presented by Born In A Taxi & The Substation."
We’re Going On A
Bear Hunt, based on book by Michael Rosen Playhouse, Arts Centre
Melbourne, until Dec 8, 2013 Reviewer: Kate Herbert Stars: **** Review also published in Herald Sun online on Thur Nov 28, 2013 and later in print. KH
West End production of the award-winning
book by Michael Rosen illustrated by Helen Oxenbury.
Pics of UK cast, not visiting cast
“We’re Going On A Bear
Hunt. We’re going to catch a big one,” chant hundreds of pre-schoolers in this
impishly cute adaptation of Michael Rosen’s award-winning children’s picture book.
This visiting, West End
production, directed by Sally Cookson, captures the mischievous quality of the
popular book and has everything you need for family entertainment: a gently
adventurous narrative, recognisable characters, singable songs and fun
An intrepid father
(Gareth Warren) takes his two kids (Adam Collier, Emily May Smith), dog (Ben
Harrison who is also musician) and baby on an adventure to hunt a bear, but
they encounter all sorts of obstacles on the way.
Their impediments include
swishy-swashy grass, splishy-sploshy water, sticky, oozy mud, a big, gloomy
forest and a scary bear cave.
On a simple stage, three
actors and a musician create a genuinely entertaining journey for the children,
with a perky and catchy title song that the kids all learn (I sang it all the
way home), and plenty of other cheerful, singable tunes (Benji Bower).
The characters are
charming and the actors are warm and engaging, addressing the children directly
and inviting them to participate in singalongs and be the expert on a bear’s
The children delight in
the actors’ slapstick antics, shrieking with delight at the naughty, messy
bits, particularly the cast spraying water pistols over the entire crowd and
doing icky, muddy hand painting on each other’s clothes.
It’s delicious to hear
the crowd squeal when a huge bear appears, and tiny, shrill voices calling out
suggestions or warnings of danger.
Rosen’s book works on an
educational as well as an entertainment level, with the children learning some
intricacies of language – prepositions in particular – when they repeat at
every obstacle, “We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, so we’ll
have to go through it.”
We’re Going On A Bear
Hunt is wholesome, cheeky fun for young families so get down to the Arts Centre
before it leaves town for another adventure,
By Lucy Kirkwood, by Red Stitch Actors Theatre Red Stitch Actors Theatre,
St Kilda, until Dec 21, 2013 Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 24, 2013 Stars: **1/2 Full review also published in Herald Sun online on Nov 26, 2013 and in print. KH
no great stretch to imagine the editor of a sensationalist, men’s magazine as
self-serving and mean-spirited, but you’d think he’d insist on due diligence
checks before running an explicit, exploitative photo of an unknown girl.
in Lucy Kirkwood’s play, NFSW, the editor of Doghouse magazine, Aidan (Ben
Prendergast), faces catastrophe when a staffer, Sam (Matthew Whitty), chooses an
underage girl as the winner of their sexy pic-of-the-month competition.
ignorance is not much of a defense for the indefensible, but Aidan tries it on
when the girl’s scruffy father (James Wardlaw) arrives from Manchester in full
script demonstrates that exploitative, trashy men’s and women’s magazines both
trivialise issues, reduce analysis to shallow commentary, objectify bodies and
demean their junior staff.
However, her analysis is
almost as thin as the magazines she criticises, her characters are
two-dimensional caricatures that bicker, banter, monologue and repeat
Sam is fired from Doghouse for his role in the nudey photo debacle, he staggers
into a women’s magazine, Electra, only to discover that editor, Miranda (Olga
Makeeva), is an unscrupulous shark just like Aidan.
Tanya Dickson’s direction
feels superficial, missing the potential light and shade of the story and
leaving the actors looking uncomfortable.
There are certainly some
laughs at the awfulness of the ethical wasteland that these characters inhabit
and their willingness to abandon their principles at the office door.
However, the jokes fall
flat in early scenes, it is hard to enjoy such thoroughly dislikeable characters,
and Miranda’s inexcusably laboured, final costume change wastes time getting to
a bleeding obvious visual gag about feminism.
Whitty gives an aptly
wide-eyed, lamb-to-the-slaughter look to Sam, the over-qualified graduate, while
Wardlaw earns the only sympathy as the girl’s unsophisticated father.
Kasia Kaczmarek plays
Oxford grad, Charlotte, with slightly awkward, pained restraint, Ben
Prendergast captures Aidan’s deceptiveness but does not quite balance his
egotism and benevolence, while Mark Casamento pushes too hard as trust fund
the end, NFSW is not sufficiently scathing as satire, lacks the belly laughs of
a broad comedy and barely penetrates the surface of its subject, UK trash mags.
by: Tanya Dickson
Cast: Mark Casamento, Olga Makeeva, Ben Prendergast, Matt
Whitty, Kasia Kaczmarek, James Wardlaw.
Review also published in Herald Sun online on Tues Nov 26, 2013 and in print. KH
Rod Quantock is the Eveready
Bunny of Australian Comedy and he’s been joking for 45 hilarious years since he
first sauntered on stage in the Melbourne Uni Architecture Revue.
In his one-night-only
show, First Man Standing, he recounts highlights and lowlights of his
four-decade career as a stand up/sit down comedian.
Quantock is a comic subversive
and a political satirist whose comedy is guided by his principles and a boundless
need to scratch at social problems that plague him.
His casual, chatty
performance style feels deceptively improvisational, but his rigorous structure
is evident as he fills a huge blackboard with chalk scrawling, graphs, brain
maps and compelling arguments for social change and revolution.
Decades ago, his comedy bus
tours proved him courageous and fearless as he ferried his audiences around
Melbourne in a commercial bus.
Looking like an insane
jester, Quantock carried a rubber chicken on a stick while his audience wore
Groucho masks that made them anonymous and as intrepid as their leader.
He relates riotous tales
of arriving uninvited with his masked marauders at major events, one of which
was a Police Awards ceremony where they delivered a fake singing telegram to a
On his later walking
tours (They have a lower carbon footprint!), he took a bunch of insurance
salesmen into a private home and made the resident’s night by washing her
dishes then inviting her entire family to dinner.
With his wicked and
engaging demeanour, louche physique and shambolic appearance, Quantock strolls around
the stage, making us feel as if we are in his lounge room having an intelligent,
Quantock is an equal
opportunity political satirist who attacks all political and socio-economic groups,
although Kennett and Abbott get the biggest serves along with bogans who give
their kids idiotic names – and stupid people in general.
He bends mad statistics with
weird logic to reach bizarre conclusions about controlling population growth (Who
do we eat first when the food runs out?) and, by doing so, he highlights the
social issues that have concerned him for 45 years.
commentary and acerbic wit are distinctively Australian with jokes about
dunking Teddy Bear biscuits, the Tim Tam’s role in social breakdown, our national
obsession with lawn mowing, and Melbournians endless capacity for apathy after
we lost our tram conductors.
He revisits his childhood
role as the Star in a Christmas pageant, his TV success in Australia You’re
Standing In It, his Comedy Cafe and Banana Lounge that spawned his Tram and Bus
shows, and his years protesting social issues.
Rod Quantock is a Living
National Treasure and, it seems, the only surviving, committed and hilarious
political comedian in the country. Long may he prosper!
Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne, Nov 21, 2013 (Sydney Nov 26, Brisbane Nov 28) Reviewer: Kate Herbert Stars: ****1/2 Review also published in Herald Sun online on Nov 22, 2013 and later in print. KH
Mandy Patinkin & Nathan Gunn
Mandy Patinkin perform live is like watching musical alchemy. He is
Patinkin (even his name
sparkles!) is a beacon of American musicals, TV and film (The Princess Bride,
Homeland), and is joined on stage by the distinguished US baritone, Nathan
Gunn, and two virtuoso pianists (Julie Jordan Gunn, Paul Ford).
than being a curated, thematic program, the evening is a collection of Patinkin
and Gunn’s favourite tunes including opera, musical theatre and American
classics, all linked with stories, banter and jokes.
could rhapsodise for hours on Patinkin’s consummate professionalism, charismatic
stage presence and his impeccable timing and delivery, but words seem too tepid
to describe his inspired, live performance.
two men’s styles are polar opposites, with Patinkin capering about in sneakers
and casual black clothing while Gunn looks classically formal in a tuxedo.
bright, pure upper register and idiosyncratic vibrato make his voice utterly
distinctive and recognisable, and he creates a strange and wonderful harmony
with Gunn’s dark, velvety baritone.
is a master of the operatic style and his rich and emotive renditions of If I
Loved You (Carousel) and If Ever I Should Leave You (Camelot) are moving and
remains the overwhelming star of
the evening, despite the marvellous collision of vocal styles and the genuine
generosity and warmth between the pair.
has an easy charm, a delicious wit, a surprisingly lithe, muscular physicality
and sensuality, and he inhabits every song, immersing himself physically and
emotionally in character, story, lyric and music.
song surges with a wave of dramatic energy until it reaches its passionate
is a renowned exponent of Stephen Sondheim’s music and, in Ballad of Booth from
Sondheim’s Assassins, he brings to vibrating life Lincoln’s obsessive assassin,
John Wilkes Booth.
expresses Sondheim’s complex, dramatic and passionate qualities in his nuanced
performance of two songs from Sunday In The Park With George, magically
conjuring an entire, vivid and passionate world in the signature song, Sunday.
performs a remarkable, unique version of Bohemian Rhapsody and a vivacious
rendition of Rockabye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody that pulsates with energy.
laughs come thick and fast with Patinkin’s audacious, comic sensibilities and,
with Gunn, he creates hilarious Yiddish-English versions of Maria from West
Side Story, and Bing Crosby’s White Christmas.
between the songs, Patinkin and Gunn perform a startling patter poem about
dodgy salesmen (think Bernie Madoff), a riotous, rapid-fire, hand-puppet
routine, and Patinkin tickles the audience with his jelly-legged cowboy
one minor hiccup is a chunk of Americana – Civil War anthems intercut with the
entire Gettysburg address, followed by cowboy songs – that probably has more
cheesy, US nationalism than Australian audiences can appreciate.
performance is a sublime master class in acting, and his merging with Gunn’s
accomplished classical voice makes a quirky and compelling evening.