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.
THEATRE By Joanna Murray-Smith,
Melbourne Theatre Company Southbank
Theatre The Sumner, until May 27, 2017 Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 22, 2017 Stars: ***1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on April 27, 2017 and in print. KH
Peter Houghton, Catherine McClements- Pic Jeff Busby
separation is not a contagious condition, witnessing the breakdown of friends’
relationships may be distressing and it can certainly be unsettling for other
Little Words by Joanna Murray-Smith, Tess and Curtis (Catherine McClements,
Peter Houghton) blithely announce to their closest friends, long-term couple,
Annie and Bonnie (Kate Atkinson, Katherine Tonkin), that they are splitting
after 20 years of wedded bliss.
follows is the brutal, and often funny dismantling of Tess and Curtis’s
marriage as well as the destabilising of Annie and Bonnie’s relationship as
they are forced to confront the rusted-on patterns of behaviour in their own,
begins as absurdly reasonable negotiation between Tess and Curtis soon develops
into nit-picking criticism that morphs into vindictive arguments then escalates
into scrappy, idiotic physical fighting.
quick-witted dialogue and Sarah Goodes’ sleek direction keep the action moving
and the emotional conflict searing.
captures Tess’s manipulative and insensitive nature without losing our
sympathy, despite Tess being absolutely slappable when she spouts pop
psychology, declares her ‘yearnings’ to find herself outside of her marriage,
or denigrates Curtis’s choice to be a school teacher.
convincingly portrays Curtis’s evolution from confused, beleaguered and
obliging husband to confident, happy, middle-aged man who moves on with his
life – rather too quickly and successfully for the women around him.
plays the naive and loving Annie with warmth and sensitivity, allowing her
gentle and accepting nature to shine despite the criticism she suffers when
Bonnie treats her as a lovable under-achiever.
Annie’s partner, the capable and high-earning art-dealer, Tonkin balances
Bonnie’s patronising and controlling behaviour with her fierce loyalty and
of their alarming and childish behaviour and their obvious flaws, all four
characters are strangely likeable, perhaps because of the familiarity of their
living areas of the two couples’ homes sit atop a suspended, solid square floor
that revolves between scenes (design by Michael Hankin), gives the impression
of time passing, the world spinning and people changing but the overall effect
is disorienting for both audience and characters.
the brutality of the demise of Tess and Curtis’s relationship is alarming, it
is also recognisable and Murray-Smith’s treatment of it is witty and
By William Shakespeare, by
Bell Shakespeare Company At Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne until May 7, 2017 Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 21, 2017 Stars:***1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on April 27, 2017 & later in print. KH
is blighted with political corruption, bloodthirsty despots and blind ambition,
so Shakespeare’s manipulative and murderous Richard Plantagenet may have more
in common with 21st century leaders than we would like to believe.
Evans’ production of Richard 3, the diminutive but volatile Kate Mulvany
successfully crosses gender to play the notoriously brutal but physically
disabled Richard 3 (AKA Richard III, Duke of Gloucester or Richard
testament to the potency of Mulvany’s performance that most of the opening
night audience leaps to its feet when the lights fade on her Richard as he lies
defeated and alone on the battlefield.
On a set
resembling an opulent cocktail lounge (design by Anna Cordingley), Mulvany’s
Richard surrounds himself with supporters, frenemies and those who are outright
hostile to his naked ambition to become king by murdering his way to the
not in scenes, the actors remain on stage in soft tableaux, watching the
unfolding action with trepidation, pleasure or amusement, all of which
emphasises the intense, dangerous and claustrophobic quality of the royal
court; nobody can leave and their loyalties are constantly tested.
painfully contorted, physical portrayal of Richard is compelling – in a ‘can’t
look away’ way – and expresses literally Shakespeare’s characters’ grotesque
descriptions of Richard as a ‘bottled spider’, ‘lump of foul deformity’ and
‘poisonous, bunch-back’d toad’.
wonder a man who suffers such cruel abuse and ridicule from family and peers –
even from his mother – becomes a villainous, sadistic, misogynistic and
resentful loner bent on a power grab.
depiction of this smiling, witty and intelligent villain is credible from the
very start of Richard’s famous, opening soliloquy, ‘Now is the winter of our
discontent’, when she establishes Richard’s credentials as a scathing,
scheming, Machiavellian leader.
our better judgment and despite Richard’s viciousness, Mulvany cunningly
garners our grudging sympathy for Richard when we witness his increasing
isolation and the abuse he endures.
Richard is often funny, but her conspiratorial winks and grimaces to the
audience sometimes dilute the impact of Richard’s vile machinations when
significant or grim moments elicit unexpected or inappropriate laughs.
to set the play in a modern but unspecified period, during which characters
appear to be at a boozy party, is inventive, while his use of unaccompanied
singing during scene changes is atmospheric.
not all of the script adaptations are effective, but the altered final scene,
with its borrowed excerpt from Henry VI, Part 3, sees Richard, not Richmond,
closing the play, and this provides the opportunity for the crowd to cheer
Mulvany at the end.
A cast of
nine supports Mulvany, with the women playing single characters, while most of
the men play multiple roles that depict the constantly changing parade of
Richard’s supporters and opponents.
Kate_Mulvany & cast RichardIII_photo_PrudenceUpto
Evans plays the dignified kingmaker, Buckingham, Gareth Reeves is the trusting
Clarence, Ivan Donato the homicidal Tyrell, James Lugton portrays snooty
Rivers, and Kevin MacIsaac is both King Edward and the invading upstart,
Penman’s Elizabeth captures the emotional torment of the widowed queen and
mother of the murdered heir to the throne, while Rose Riley, as Lady Anne, is
suitably timid and confused by Richard’s seduction.
Woods finds passion in the Duchess of York’s disdainful and harsh attack on her
son, Richard, while Sandy Gore delivers Queen Margaret’s venomous curses with
cold restraint, although her style is too mannered to be threatening.
inhabits the role of Richard with relish and this production, although not
entirely successful, is certainly an interesting re-imagining of Shakespeare’s
vile usurper, Richard 3.
Reeves,Ivan Donato,Rose Riley,James Lugton,Meredith Penman,James Evans,Sandy
Gore, Kevin MacIsaac & Sarah Woods
Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Howard
Ashman, Tim Rice & Chad Beguelin; Book by Chad Beguelin
Produced by Disney
Theatrical Productions; based on the Disney animated movie, Aladdin
At Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, until
August 27, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Thurs April 20, 2017
Review published in Herald Sun Arts online on Thurs April 20, 2017
Genie - Michael James Scott_Photo By Deen van Meer
With its blazing jewel colours and the electrifying energy
of Michael James Scott as the audacious Genie, this luscious production of
Aladdin ignites the stage at Her Majesty’s on its Melbourne opening night.
In this stage musical based on the 1992 Disney animated
movie, Aladdin (Ainsley Melham) is a poor thief who falls in love with Princess
Jasmine (Hiba Elchikhe), stumbles upon a magic lamp, then enlists the help of
the Genie in the lamp (Scott) to secure his marriage to Jasmine.
Aladdin is an effervescent, musical romance for the whole
family with its jaunty, singable tunes (Alan Menken) that draw on a range of
music styles, witty lyrics (Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, Chad Beguelin) and a
cheeky, comical story (book by Beguelin).
Casey Nicholaw’s direction, staging and vivacious
choreography drive the production at a lively pace and owe a great deal to the
Broadway and Hollywood musicals of the 1930s and 40s, which is exemplified by
the feverish, tap-dancing routine in the Cave of Wonders.
The non-human stars of the show are the lavish set (Bob
Crowley) and vivid costumes (Gregg Barnes) that echo the opulence of the fabled
Arabian Nights with Moorish tiles, Middle Eastern minarets, decorative screens,
draped silks, sequins and gem-encrusted fabrics.
The colours are almost lickable with their rich turquoise,
royal purple and blue, magenta, emerald green and gold – lots of gold.
Friend Like Me-Michael James Scott, Ainsley Melham with cast. Photo Deen van Meer
Scott is charismatic and mischievous as the Genie, commanding
the show with his rich voice, irresistible energy and ratcheting the
entertainment level up several gears with his sassy, sexy, show-stopping
number, Friend Like Me that brought the audience to its feet.
Melham has a boyish charm as Aladdin, and his voice has a
bright timbre and attractive vibrato as he sings Aladdin’s poignant ballad,
Proud Of Your Boy, and leads the chorus in the perky, pacey song, One Jump
Elchikhe is pert and spirited as Jasmine and Melham’s voice
blends well with her warm and pretty tone in their romantic duet, the
Oscar-winning tune, A Whole New World, which is literally elevated to new
heights as the couple soars over the stage on a magic carpet that defies
Adam Murphy is the consummate dastardly villain as Jafar,
the evil Grand Vizier who carries a cobra-headed staff and communes with his
sly sidekick, Iago, played with comic book deviousness by the diminutive Aljin
Aladdin’s loyal trio of thieving paupers comprises Adam-Jon
Fiorentino as feisty Kassim, Troy Sussman as ever-hungry Babkak and Robert
Tripolino as sensitive Omar, and their goofy, comic business and song and dance
routines are highlights. George Henare is dignified as the beleaguered Sultan.
Aladdin pulsates with vitality and its simple and familiar
story of love and magic overcoming adversity and rigid tradition will win the
hearts of audiences of all ages.
By Kate Herbert
Casey Nicholaw - Director
Bob Crowley - Set Design
Barnes - Costume
Katz - Lighting
James Scott - Genie
Melham - Aladdin
Elchikhe - Jasmine Adam Murphy Jafar – Grand Vizie
Soleimanpour, presented by Arts Centre Melbourne in association with Aurora
Arts Centre Melbourne, The
Pavilion; 12 monthly performances.(Next performance by John Wood on May 6, 2017)
Kate Herbert on April 12, 2017
Review also published in Herald Sun online on Thurs April 13, 2017 and later in print.
Picture this! You are a well-known actor standing on stage in front of
200 people and you are about to perform a solo show – about which you know
absolutely nothing! An Actor’s Nightmare, or an exhilarating, theatrical
both eager and vulnerable, Eddie Perfect opens a large, sealed envelope,
withdraws a script and embarks on a ‘cold read’ that is a one-hour performance
of White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, an idiosyncratic and challenging play by Iranian
writer, Nassim Soleimanpour.
a different actor will perform Soleimanpour’s experimental piece, but Perfect
is the first rabbit in the headlights; a frisson of excitement and trepidation
ripples across the audience as he reads his instructions – and ours – from the
crisp, new script while he narrates Soleimampour’s disarming story.
I’ll not ruin the experience with spoilers,
but suffice to say the performance is often funny, sometimes menacing, always engaging
and accessible and it involves some obligatory audience participation.
Soleimanpour addresses us through his ‘dear
actor’ who relates a tale about white and red rabbits that crosses borders and
languages, making audience members confront their own humanity and consider
life, death and freedom.
In a state of cheerful naiveté, Perfect leads
us on this emotional and intimate journey that challenges us gently to think about how fortunate we are in our safe
The play has travelled
the world without its writer who is forbidden to leave Iran, butSoleimanpour seems eerily present throughout the show.
White Rabbit, Red Rabbit will be different every month, and the next
actor to take up this unknown script written by a distant writerwill
be John Wood on May 6, 2017.
committed comics use their material for good in a one-off charity show to raise
funds for the Human Rights Law Centre. Melbourne International Comedy Festival Australian & International acts Lower Melbourne Town Hall, one night only, April 10,
2017 Stars: ***1/2 Reviewer: Kate Herbert Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on April 11, 2017
Iranian comedian Mehdi Savari
Monday is the comedians’ night off, but eight
committed comics take to the stage on their precious off-night to use their
material for good in a charity show to raise funds for the Human Rights Law
Stand Up For Mehdi, hosted by Tom Ballard, is a
tribute to Mehdi Savari, an Iranian comedian who became a refugee and has been
detained on Manus Island for nearly four years.
Tom Ballard is the show’s fast-moving, cheerfully
wicked MC, and his acerbic and funny opening routine shines a bright light on
the flaws in Australia’s treatment of refugees, with a particularly severe view
of our Minister for Immigration.
Ballard accompanies his rapid rant with a slide show
of entertaining images as well as some snaps of a smiling Mehdi.
The first of the overseas acts is David O’Doherty, a
droll Irishman who underscores his witty ramblings with hilarious backing music
on a keyboard that perches on his lap. O’Doherty is avidly trying to be hauled
in by Customs at our airport so he can feature on Border Security.
Two local comics follow: Judith Lucy is as laconic and
dry-witted as ever with her fractured tales of ageing and about her (much)
younger boyfriend, while Claire Hooper bemoans the travails of being a mum with
two kids – two is enough, it seems.
South African comic, Loyiso Gola, bluntly and
hilariously tells us Aussies to stop bloody complaining about every little
thing when we have such a great life. So it’s raining! It’s just rain!
Next, Sami Shah, who is formerly from Pakistan, explains
that Mehdi’s name means ‘the one who comes to save the world’.
The inimitable UK comic, Daniel Kitson, brings his
gentle cynicism and fierce intellect to seven minutes, much shorter than his
usual ‘powerful, long-form narrative’ shows, but he is both wildly entertaining
and challenging in these few minutes musing on social change.
Musical trio, Tripod, closes the show with three
songs, one telling us that Santa is an unwanted refugee and a final, original
tune that is a moving reminder about living behind bars and craving freedom.
If we are no yet sufficiently reminded of our
privileged lives, Daniel Webb from the Human Right Law Centre delivers an
address about refugees and reads a moving message from Mehdi who hopes to join
us at the Comedy Festival in 2018 – if he is released from Manus Island by then.
Melbourne International Comedy Festival International act (UK) Lower Town Hall, Melbourne Town Hall, until April 16, 2017 Stars: **** Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on April 9, 2017. KH
With his auburn hair and fair complexion, UK comedian James
Acaster could be a lost Weasley brother and his eccentric and brain-bending
comedy would certainly meet that wizard family’s standards.
Acaster’s absurd storytelling, nerdy style and quirky delivery
are unlike any other comic and this is a welcome relief in a festival riddled
with cookie-cutter stand-ups.
He is thin as a reed with a twitchy, birdlike manner
and a peculiar, tilting physicality that sees him leading from the knees – or sometimes
from the pelvis – so that he appears to be about to topple backwards.
With his weird magic, he weaves several stories
together, starting with a philosophical voice over in the dark about the start
of the universe, then surprises the crowd with his version of ‘celebrity
gossip’ that involves those almost-forgotten Chilean miners.
He meanders skillfully into rambling tales of his jury
duty, playing Devil’s Advocate, discussing the verdict and assessing the level
of likeability of the members of said jury.
Acaster recollects his childhood as ‘a little
Christian boy’, talks about the perils of Secret Santa and reveals the
inexplicably oddball, UK Christmas ritual known as ‘Kris Tingle’ that involves
an orange, a candle and – well – you’ve gotta see it to believe it!
His fractured fable, The Goose and the Sloth, is a
hilariously bizarre conflation of morality tales and his horror story about the
dentist’s waiting room is like no other.
Acaster is a master of reincorporation and he teases
and tests the audience as he reintroduces references from earlier in the show,
checking if they remember them and expertly using silence to titillate his
audience as they wait for his segue into the next mad story.
The Trelogy is actually three, different Acaster shows
– Recognise, Represent and Reset – that Acaster performs in turn over his
season so you could see him three times and witness a totally new show each
time. And he uses no expletives at all!
James Acaster is unique and you’ll sit open-mouthed
watching this totally bonkers comedian.
(2014) on 4, 7, 11,
14 Apr (not previously seen in Melbourne)
In Completely Improvised Potter,
the cast improvise a new narrative based on the characters in the Harry Potter books. Melbourne International Comedy Festival By D.A. -Australian
act, improvised theatre At Trades Hall, The
Meeting Room, until April 23, 2017 Star
Review: ** Reviewer:
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts on April 5, 2017. KH
are an improvisation expert or a Harry Potter purist, this 50-minute improvised
story may turn your Dumbledore-style beard grey.
Improvised Potter, seven performers make up a new story based on the narrative
style, characters, relationships and themes of J K Rowling’s books.
starting point for their original, improvised play is the title of an
as-yet-unwritten Harry Potter novel that they pull out of a ‘goblet of fire’
filled with audience suggestions. Tonight’s title is Harry Potter and the
Trumpet. Yeah, they could have inserted a useful word such as ‘enchanted’ or
‘cursed’, but the details of this trumpety tale are now the responsibility of
must rehearse the Hogwarts’ Orchestra to play his original composition at the
Yule Ball, but none of the students can play an instrument, Voldemort lurks
around the castle doing nasty, sexual things with Nargini the snake, and Harry
behaves like a bit of a whinging smart alec.
youthful audience laughs at absurd or familiar character traits such as Harry’s
smugness, his constant attention seeking and continual whining about his dead
parents. They chortle at Snape’s sliminess, at Dumbledore’s weirdly piping
voice and camp demeanour and at Neville’s adolescent crush on Harry.
this show looks and sounds like a very bumpy student show, so do not expect high
quality improvisational technique or acting and vocal skill. Improvising a
full-length play is not child’s play and it requires enormous skill and extensive
technique. This cast might be better at improvising shorter scenes that are
easier to control.
performers break just about every improvisational rule: the narrative is
inconsistent and lacks a clear through-line, the performers block each other’s
offers, they don’t advance the action and rely too heavily on gags for their
laughs, and these interrupt the advancement of the story.
at each other and at their own jokes, they are often inaudible, the
performances lack dynamic range and there is little physicality, a problem that
makes the staging static and visually uninspiring.
its obvious flaws, Completely Improvised Potter is a cheerful, playful evening
for those who know the Potter books. We can only hope that D.A. got the performance
rights from Rowling – because she’ll find out! Expelliarmus!
Melbourne International Comedy Festival Jenny Eclair in How To Be A Middle Aged Woman (Without
Going Insane) International act (UK) At Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne until April 23, 2017 Stars: **** Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on April 1, 2017
Jenny Eclair pounds around the stage like a menopausal
storm trooper in her show, How To Be A Middle Aged Woman (Without Going Insane).
When she says she’s hot, she means in a sticky,
sweaty, hot-flushed way, not in the sexy, sassy, I-look-great-in-a-bikini way.
To a chorus of audience hoots and gasps, Eclair
bustles on stage wearing only her skimpies: a slightly saggy, white bra and
black, snug-fitting knickers with lacy bits. (That’s no spoiler as she wears
precisely this outfit in her poster.)
For one hour, in her audacious, outrageous and shameless way, Eclair scuttles about, grimacing and growling about the
horrors of middle age and, more specifically, the disaster that is menopause.
The 57-year old Eclair
may be bemoaning her scaly, flabby, sweaty, slovenly condition, but she cleverly
integrates merciless attacks on some pet subjects that include ‘Poor Madonna’ (who’s
a year older than Eclair) and her Cuban boy-lovers, Simon Cowell, and the
impossibility of wearing jeans at 57.
She peppers her
hilariously wicked tales of womanly woe with rude
language, risqué topics, references to bodily functions and private bits, all
delivered with a belligerent feistiness that is simultaneously alarming and
This is identification
comedy that draws a crowd of women of a certain age who squeal or howl as they
recognise themselves in Eclair’s startling anecdotes about old people’s drugs,
supermarket blues, losing the fighting against cellulite and giving in to
Eclair’s a wonderfully wild child with a wild past and, by the looks of
it, an even wilder future.