Wednesday, 29 June 2016

L’amante anglaise, June 26, 2016 ****1/2

Written by Marguerite Duras
At fortyfivedownstairs until July 3, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ****1/2
Review also published in print in Herald Sun Arts on Tues June 28, 2016, KH
 Jillian Murray
Marguerite Duras’ compelling duologue, L’amante anglaise, is both haunting and haunted as it slowly and quietly unravels the grim story of the gruesome and mystifying murder of a deaf-mute by her peculiar, but formerly non-violent cousin.

Laurence Strangio’s skilful direction is deceptively simple and his production is simultaneously intimate and alienating as the two accomplished and inspiring actors (Robert Meldrum, Jillian Murray) sit opposite each other for 100 minutes.

The bleak tale unfolds in two interviews: the first with Pierre Lannes (Meldrum) and the second with his wife, Claire Lannes (Murray), the confessed murderess of her cousin, Marie-Thérèse.

When playing the objective interrogators, both Murray and Meldrum function almost as disembodied voices that pose obvious or unexpected questions, but, in contrast, their portrayals of Claire and Pierre are complex, nuanced and spiced with humour, impeccable timing and consummate skill.

Meldrum’s Pierre seems cold, self-absorbed, smug, inflexible and insensitive as he responds to Murray’s gently probing questions about his wife, his marriage and the victim’s role as cook in his household.

However, Pierre’s abrasiveness is peppered with sadness and perplexity, and he gains our sympathy when he reveals his past, deep love for his wife and the emotional injury she caused him with her incomprehensible indifference to him over 22 years.

Meldrum is contained and compelling as Pierre and his rich, dark, velvety voice is almost hypnotic in both of his roles.
 Robert Meldrum
Murray is remarkable and disconcerting as the eccentric, mercurial Claire, depicting her as a woman teetering on the brink of psychosis but hauling herself back to some version of reality in which she is a bewildered, light-voiced and child-like creature.

Meldrum, as her interrogator, gently and persistently penetrates her psyche until Claire reveals that, during her marriage, she lived in a world of gardens, interesting and ‘intelligent thoughts’, memories of her first, passionate love and diligent avoidance of her husband and the ‘fat calf’ who was her deaf-mute cousin.

Our sympathies shift with Claire’s changing moods and, through the questioning, we come closer to an understanding of her incomprehensible motivation to kill her cousin, although Claire still refuses to reveal her last secret, the final crucial piece of information.

The bizarre nature of the woman and her crime leaves the audience confounded and desperate to understand why this unfathomable woman would commit such a horrific crime. 

L’amante anglaise is an engrossing theatrical experience with assured acting and direction. Duras should be delighted.

By Kate Herbert

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Skylight, June 23, 2016 ***1/2

By David Hare, Melbourne Theatre Company
Southbank Theatre, Sumner, until July 23, 2016 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2
Review also in Herald Sun in print on Mon June 27, 2016. KH

 Anna Samson, Colin Friels, photo Jeff Busby
 In David Hare’s play, Skylight, the personal collides with the political and the value of public service conflicts with that of business achievement and its resultant ‘wealth creation’.

Skylight is set in London in 1995, but its social commentary is still relevant twenty-one years on, in our 21st century world that is rife with social inequality.

The characters’ opposing attitudes to wealth, work, public duty and personal ambition could be a dinner conversation in 2016.

Kyra Hollis (Anna Samson) fled her comfortable, privileged life as employee and secret lover of Tom Sergeant (Colin Friels), a wealthy, ambitious and married restaurateur.

Now, three years later, Tom arrives at the door of Kyra’s icy, rundown flat in the down-market suburb of Kensal Rise, from which she commutes to her job as a dedicated teacher of difficult kids in a tough school in East Ham.

Since the death of his long-suffering wife a year earlier, Tom has been crippled by grief and guilt, and he seeks solace with his former lover, Kyra, whose life and views are now polar opposites of Tom’s own.

Hare’s intense dialogue is a passionate argument that balances the characters’ opposing attitudes, shifting our allegiances and sympathies in each exchange.

Tom’s arrogance, vanity and self-absorption counter Kyra’s self-righteousness and adamant disapproval of the world of business and finance.

In Dean Bryant’s production, Friels gives a compelling, well-judged and nuanced performance as Tom, plumbing the depths of his needy vulnerability and highlighting Tom’s acerbic, rapid-fire wit as he assassinates the character of his management adviser.

Samson plays Kyra with a nervous energy that is barely masked by her frosty reception of Tom, and Samson is at her best in the rare moments she is still and focused and when Kyra’s tirades about education garner the audience’s sympathy.

However, Samson’s characterisation is not always credible, her jerky and unnatural physicality is often distracting, while the cool reserve with which she plays Kyra belies the intimacy that Tom and Kyra shared in the past and present.

Occurring over a single night, Hare’s masterly play cunningly dissects social and political inequity through Tom and Kyra’s passionate but disintegrating relationship, while their vehement argument about politics reveal the yawning gap that now exists between them.

However, in this production, Tom and Kyra’s relationship lacks that palpable, barely contained passion that should match the political fervour that underlies their communication and drives Hare’s story.

Toby Wallace, as Tom’s 18 year-old son, Edward, provides some genuine warmth, human concern and a strangely objective view of both characters in his two short visits to Kyra’s flat that act as bookends to the conflict between his father and Kyra.

Hare’s Skylight is an impassioned commentary that highlights social inequities through personal pain and political outrage and it is a tribute to his capacity to write drama that challenges an audience to think.

By Kate Herbert 

Director: Dean Bryant

Set & Costume: Dale Ferguson
Lighting: Matt Scott
Sound: Mathew Frank

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Events, June 22, 2016 **1/2

By David Greig, Malthouse Theatre co-production with Belvoir and State Theatre Company of South Australia (STCSA) 
Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, until July 10, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: **1/2

Review also published in print in Herald Sun Arts. (May not be online in Herald Sun) KH 

Johnny Carr & Catherine McClements & choir- photo by Pia Johnson
 The horrors experienced by a small community when a demented killer invades its normally safe space to murder its members are all too topical, given the spate of mass shootings recently.

The Events, by English playwright, David Greig, depicts Claire (Catherine McClements), an Anglican minister who struggles with despair and incomprehension after her church choir suffers a mass shooting at the hands of a young man, known in the play only as The Boy (Johnny Carr).

McClements is the highlight of this production and she portrays with nuance and sensitivity Claire’s bewilderment, anxiety and disorientation as she wrestles with her own demons while trying to understand the inconceivable violence that drove The Boy to murder her congregation.

Carr depicts not only The Boy but also a range of other characters – a journalist, a right-wing politician, a counsellor, The Boy’s father and Claire’s partner, Katrina – that serve the dramatic role of assisting Claire in her quest for truth.

Greig’s script requires an on-stage choir, so Clare Watson’s production introduces a different, Melbourne choir each night to join the actors, perform several choral songs and play a variety of roles.

On opening night, THECHO!R, with musical director Jonathon Welch, features as the on stage choir that gives some sense of community and fills the stage with humanity.

With their live piano accompaniment, the choir’s hymns and other tunes provide warmth to this story that, otherwise, chills to the bone.

The intention of the play is admirable, but it lacks dramatic tension and fails to adequately penetrate or illuminate Claire’s predicament or The Boy’s story.

The dislocated, episodic structure may be intended to mirror Claire’s own inner chaos, but it ends up merely being fragmented and lacking coherence, depth and genuine emotional connection with the characters.

The production is patchy, the script is flabby and the dialogue awkward, particularly when the choir members are required to communicate with Claire and The Boy or speak in unison.

The role of the choir is confused and lacking clarity when they are not singing, at which times they sound under-rehearsed rather than authentically fresh, the latter probably being the director’s original intention.

Strangely, the script includes plenty of talk about emotions, empathy, healing, forgiveness and even revenge, but little genuine sympathy is generated for the characters, except in the final scene when Claire meets the killer.

Claire’s angst, despair and mania are resolved rather too quickly and conveniently in the last scene after her compulsive quest for the truth.

The dramatic investigation of mass shootings is an admirable aim for a new play but The Events misses its mark in too many ways.

By Kate Herbert

You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, June 21, 2016 ***1/2


Music, lyrics & book by Clark Gesner
Based on Peanuts comic strip by Charles M. Schultz
Produced by Aleksander Vass & Vass Productions
Alex Theatre, Fitzroy St., St. Kilda, until July 2, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ***1/2
Review also published in print in Herald Sun. (May not appear online in Arts Herald Sun.) KH

 Clockwise from L-Courtney Glass, Joshua Robson, Luigi Lucente, Cameron MacDonald, Adam Porter, Sarah Morrison
Charles M. Schultz’s whimsical and enduring comic strip, Peanuts, is lovingly recreated by live actors in You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, Clark Gesner’s charming and entertaining American musical for the entire family.

Gary Abrahams’ production is swiftly paced and gleefully silly, with snappy choreography by Dana Jolly, slick musical direction by Ben Kiley, vivid costumes (Chloe Greeves) and it is performed on a cartoonish stage design (Jacob Battista).

Gesner’s episodic narrative echoes the structure of Schultz’s comic strips and the dialogue incorporates such timeless, Schultzian gems as the characters’ exasperated exclamations, “Aaaargh!” and “Good grief!”

The live songs, accompanied by a backing track, are perky, cheerful and eminently singable musical theatre tunes with witty lyrics that also pay tribute to Schultz.

Cameron MacDonald is perfectly cast as the hapless, Charlie Brown, playing him as perpetually bewildered with a downward-tilted mouth and drooping shoulders that embody Charlie’s melancholic attitude, heightened childhood anxiety and desperate need to be liked.

MacDonald’s voice has a bright timbre and warm tone and he expresses Charlie’s simple need to succeed in the kite-flying song, The Kite.

The title song provides a jaunty and animated opening chorus that introduces Charlie and all of his childhood pals, while the finale, Happiness, ends the show on a positive note after so much childhood angst, with Charlie and his friends celebrating things that make them happy.

A highlight is The Book Report, an ensemble number that depicts the children’s various struggles, joys and distractions as they each complete a book report on Peter Rabbit.

Luigi Lucente capers and sings as Snoopy, playfully giving this much-loved, doggy character a human personality as he does his funky dude dancing and dreams of being a World War One Flying Ace fighting the Red Baron from the comfort of the roof of his kennel.

Courtney Glass captures Lucy’s infamous crabby bossiness, vanity and bullying of Charlie Brown when singing The Doctor Is In, and Adam Porter is suitably philosophical, sensitive and intellectually superior as her little brother, Linus, who rejoices in his baby blanket in My Blanket and Me.

Joshua Robson revels in Schroeder’s Beethoven obsession while Sarah Morrison portrays Charlie’s sister, Sally’s childish imagination and her resentment about getting a D for her schoolwork.

This production is a diverting and authentic homage to Schultz’s genius and it elicits shrieks of laughter from the kids and is a hoot for those adults who are nostalgic about Peanuts.

Buy Kate Herbert

Saturday, 18 June 2016

The Honey Bees, June 17, 2016 **1/2

Written by Caleb Lewis, Red Stitch 
At Red Stitch, St Kilda, from June 17 to July 16, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 17, 2016
Stars: **1/2
Review also online at Herald Sun Arts on Mon June 20 and in print after that. KH
Marta Kaczmarek & Christopher Brown - Photo Jodie Hutchinson

On an isolated, Western Australian apiary – let’s call it a honey farm – a dysfunctional family confronts the possibility of bee ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ that mirrors the disintegration of their family unit in Caleb Lewis’s play, The Honey Bees.

The dramatic potential of the play and its premise are not fully realised in Ella Caldwell’s uneven production for Red Stitch Actors Theatre.

Since her husband’s death, Joan (Marta Kaczmarek) struggles to run the honey business with her daughter, Clover (Rebecca Bower), and Clover’s partner, Kerrie (Katerina Kotsonis), but son, Daryl (Christopher Brown) returns to rescue the farm with his plan to sell 600 healthy, Australian hives to the US.

The sale is in jeopardy after the arrival of Melissa (Eva Seymour), a funky, young stranger who crashes her car, destroying over 100 hives.

Kaczmarek is compelling and wry as Joan, the matriarch whose iron grip and dogged determination to maintain the farm strangles the life out of her adult children.

Bower imbues Clover with a hapless naiveté as she blithely carries on tending her dead father’s bees, foolishly believing that her colourful, organic hives will avert any impending disaster.

Brown plays the returning prodigal son, Daryl, with a hint of desperation and recklessness, while Kotsonis’s Kerrie represents the sad inevitability of the family’s failure and Seymour’s Eva reminds them all of their isolation and unrealistic hopes.

Much of Lewis’s brisk, clipped dialogue sounds unnatural out of the mouths of the cast and it becomes more awkward when delivered with languid pace, loose cueing and limited emotional connection between characters.

Despite a strong and emotional final scene led by Kaczmarek, the production lacks dynamic range and it is difficult to sympathise with Lewis’s characters who are all rather pallid or disagreeable.

With its gritty, red sand and piles of greying, wooden boxes, Sophie Woodward’s design expresses the grim and tough environment, although it provides little sense of the various locations on the farm.

The mysterious disorder that has decimated the honey industry in every continent other than Australia could provide a strong framework for a family drama but this production and script of The Honey Bees is, ultimately, less than engaging.

By Kate Herbert 

Ella Caldwell - Director
Marta Kaczmarek
Christopher Brown
Rebecca Bower
Katerina Kotsonis
Eva Seymour
 Eva Seymour, Marta Kaczmarek & Christopher Brown - Photo Jodie Hutchinson

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Opening Gala, Melbourne Cabaret Festival, June 14, 2016 ****

Love Machine, 228A Malvern Rd., Prahran, Festival runs until June 26, 2016 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 14
Review also online at Herald Sun on Wed June 5, 2016 and later in print. K
 Amy G. pic Olivia Rutherford
OK, it’s Melbourne Cabaret Festival time so you need to go to your computer and book a ticket to any or all shows in the program. I mean now!

Excerpts from eight productions featured in the Opening Gala and the absolute must-see is New Yorker Amy G, in Entershamement, an audacious, blindingly skillful and achingly funny show that incorporates slapstick, roller-skating, impressive vocals and a titillating blend of glamour and wickedness.

Amy G has an easy charm and a big, belting voice and she does a Buster Keaton-style fall-down routine on skates then plays the Stars and Stripes with kazoos that she secretes in all the wrong places.

The next remarkable and accomplished act is Geraldine Quinn whose original, hilarious, satirical songs parody both those childlike pop singers who think they are cool but are just pretentious, and also ridicules desperate musical theatre tragics.

Quinn is an accomplished talent and her show, Bang On The Strillers Live, will highlight her musical skills and those of her guests.

 Geraldine Quinn_Fox Poncing_pic by Theresa Harrison

Keep the credit card handy so you can book big-voiced, big-haired Yana Alana, our very own transgressive, camp cabaret artist who usually performs wearing nothing but blue paint but is clad in a red, sequined lycra jumpsuit this year.

In her show, Covered, she sings none of her own material, but messes with other people’s songs including the bizarre Dinosaur Egg by Scout Niblett, as well as tunes by Alanis Morissette, Jim Morrison and Jennifer Lopez.

 Yana Alana, pic Peter Leslie

Ash Flanders is best known as an award-winning theatre performer but in his solo show, Playing to Win, he teases out issues of being a winner or a loser in this fickle performance industry and he does so while being perky and adorable.

The snapshot of Sam Hooper’s show, Death Suits You, is a dark and compelling monologue in which he portrays Death as a mild-mannered but determined forward planner.

Hooper has a fine singing voice and Death’s song, Embrace Your Child, is a sweet ballad that confronts suicide.

Otto and Astrid are the faux-German brother and sister act, Die Roten Punkte, although their usual brand of outrageous punk/cabaret/rock did not feature in their Oompah-Oompah, German drinking song at the Gala.

Host, Mike McLeish, the newly minted Festival Artistic Director, was as excited as the crowd about his Festival program and, given the caliber of the acts at the Gala, this will be a bumper season for music, comedy and off-the-wall cabaret acts.

The Melbourne Cabaret Festival runs until Sunday June 26 and you can find the program at Go book a show now.

By Kate Herbert

Monday, 6 June 2016

Blonde Poison, until June 11, 2016 ***1/2

By Gail Louw, by Strange Duck Productions 
The Lawler, Southbank Theatre, to June 11, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 2, 2016
Stars: ***1/2

 Review also published online at Herald Sun Arts and in print later. KH

Belinda Giblin in Blonde Poison

Seated in our comfortable lounge chairs, we may believe that we would make the moral choice if faced with the decision to collaborate with brutal tyrants to save our families and ourselves from torture or death, but would we?

Blonde Poison, by Gail Louw, is a monodrama based on the life of Stella Kübler (née Goldschlag), a beautiful, blond and indulged German Jewess who collaborated with the Gestapo in Berlin in World War II by informing on Jews who subsequently went to death camps.

Dressed in a stylish, black frock, Belinda Giblin is elegant and handsome as the 71-year old Kübler as she shifts the character from ecstatic, self-congratulatory reminiscences about her younger self to anxious defensiveness and defiant justification of her reprehensible, past actions.

Shuttered in an old-fashioned living room (designer Derrick Cox) with only stuffed toys and photos of her doting parents for company, Giblin’s Kübler intermittently garners sympathy for the torture she suffered, her decade in prison, the loss of her baby daughter who now hates her and her current loneliness.

However, any sympathy vaporises when she gloats over her betrayal of Jews, revels in their desperate plight, aligns herself with the Nazis and reveals her seething anti-semitism.

She fondly recalls her first husband, another unusually blonde Jew, talks nostalgically of her Art School days and nude modelling, her numerous lovers and her irresistible beauty.

She jubilantly lists the advantages she gained from her Nazi collaboration that left her unwilling to abandon her role as snitch even when she could no longer save her parents from the camps.

In Jennifer Hagan’s production, Giblin as Kübler becomes more unstable and fearful as the clock ticks away the hours leading up to her unwelcome interview with an old journalist, a Jew Kübler knew as a child and who escaped Berlin before the war.

Giblin plays the character with a persistent, nervy edginess that captures Kübler’s instability, but this keeps her voice in a heightened upper register that limits the dynamic range of the performance.

Gail Louw’s script reveals Kübler’s intense, treacherous life through memories and stories that she tells to her parents, her husbands and to the soon-to-arrive journalist, or in flashes from the past when she faces a Gestapo torturer, begs for her life or betrays a Jew in the street.

Louw’s text is dense and Hagan’s production craves periods of silence and stillness to provide a dramatic balance to the wordiness.

This is a conventional monodrama that explores a tragic historical period through the eyes of a woman who is guilty of atrocities against her own people and this creates an intense piece of theatre.

By Kate Herbert

Double Indemnity, June 3, 2016 ****


By Tom Holloway, adapted from book by James M Cain, Melbourne Theatre Company 
Playhouse Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne, until July 2, 2016 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert  on June 3, 2016
 This review also published in print in Herald Sun Arts on Mon June 6 and online at H-Sun Arts. KH

If you like your crime writing hardboiled, your films noir, your characters fatally flawed and their dialogue witty and acerbic, this stage adaptation of Double Indemnity, James M Cain’s 1936 novella, will tick all your boxes.

In this entertaining and atmospheric production, Sam Strong’s direction is assured, Tom Holloway’s script is intelligent, the acting accomplished and the design, costume and lighting are stylish (Andrew Bailey, Esther Marie Hayes, Paul Jackson).

Cain’s story was also the inspiration for Billy Wilder’s 1944 movie, but Holloway’s play adheres more faithfully to Cain’s book about disgruntled insurance salesman, Walter Huff (Leon Ford), who plans with femme fatale, Phyllis Nirdlinger (Claire van der Boom), to murder Phyllis’s wealthy husband (Richard Piper) to claim his hefty, double indemnity accident insurance.

Strong’s production is dynamic, shifting gears frequently between brisk exchanges of abrasive, clipped dialogue, suspenseful silences, meaningful gazes and Walter’s wry, step-out narration that he delivers directly to the audience and which drives the action just as film noir should.

Performing on a revolving stage, the characters stroll languidly through dimly lit doorways or appear behind mesh screens, travelling between locations including well-appointed rooms in the Nirdlingers’ mansion, Walter’s seedy office and apartment, a moving train or an isolated meeting place.

Ford is suave and brittle as Walter whose whip-smart, caustic dialogue comes to life with Ford’s elegant and impeccably timed delivery.

Van der Boom is glamorous and sophisticated as Phyllis, the manipulative, greedy, blonde dame with a dark past. and these two self-absorbed and murderous lovers pace and prowl like animals circling each other before going in for the kill.

Peter Kowitz is convincingly crusty and gruff as Keyes, Walter’s shrewd and streetwise insurance boss, while Piper embodies the over-confident, rude and smug corporate bigwig, Nirdlinger.

Jessica Tovey is suitably naive as Lola while Lachlan Woods shifts with ease from the inarticulate Sachetti to the eloquent insurance manager, Norton.

To commit the perfect murder you need help, a plan and audacity, says Walter, but he does not account for the unpredictable human factor that interferes with his scheme nor is he aware of the secrets and lies of his seductive partner in crime.

This stylish production is a reminder of all that was great in 1940s film noir and it is also reminds us that crime never pays – and neither does insurance.

By Kate Herbert