There's a lot happening across Melbourne's stages, so how do you know where to start? Thankfully our critics are always on hand to help with a recommendation.
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4 stars: excellent and recommended
When you hear that an outdoor Shakespeare company is mounting Hamlet, you approach with caution. There’s virtually no chance the play will be performed without massive cuts to the text, for a start; you can’t have people sitting outside for the four hours it would take to play it in full. And the nature of outdoor performance means you’d expect to lose a lot of the nuance and subtlety. Things tend to be played “big” when played against high winds, car honks and the squeak of fruit bats. But Glenn Elston’s Hamlet is something of a joyous surprise, as clear and as moving as any you could hope for. It’s certainly the best Melbourne has seen in years. It has a wonderful and winning lead in Andre de Vanny. He’s hardly a household name, but he’s been quietly building a seriously impressive body of work in this city, and his royal Dane feels like a culmination of his talents. Mercurial without being fidgety, melancholy without being dour, he manages the transcending mutations of the role so naturally that, in Harold Bloom’s words, “the abyss between playing someone and being someone has been bridged”. We don’t get the sense of an actor climbing a mountain in front of us, which can often be the case, because he makes it look so effortless, a perfect extension of the self. The supporting cast are to die for (which of course most of them do). Alison Whyte is a magnificent Gertrude, her clarity of purpose snagging on the barely suppressed guilt, tripping her into the light of revelati
It’s hard to think of a title more self-explanatory than War Horse – except perhaps Snakes on a Plane, and that one’s a joke. It is a tale about a horse who goes to war, and was written by children’s author Michael Morpurgo back in 1982, to some success. It wasn’t until the National Theatre of Great Britain came along in 2007, though, that this simple story etched its way into the public imagination. A theatrical adaptation of the novel seemed like a ludicrous concept, but the difficulty of making horses the centre of a play became its key selling point. Puppetry is rarely a mainstream art form, unless it’s as astonishing as this. From the opening moments at the birth of a foal, as it struggles to stand and slowly gathers its strength and vitality, to the gruelling charges and driving work of the actual war, the puppetry (by Handspring Puppet Company) is never less than sublime. The puppeteers, fully visible but totally integrated into the physicality of the animals, are so supple and responsive that the horses, and swallows and crows and one fabulous goose, are easily as vivid as the humans. Of course, very fine animal puppetry won’t in and of itself create a hit show – just ask the producers of King Kong, which had a five-star monkey sitting in a one-star white elephant – and the success of playwright Nick Stafford’s adaptation is due to as much to its stagecraft as its conceptual vision. Everything under Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris’s direction – from Toby Sedgwick’s
The first rule of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is that you don’t talk about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Safeguarding spoilers is an expected responsibility for anyone who attends the Potter-verse’s first on-stage outing. There’s even a hashtag: #KeepTheSecrets. But in truth (as far as theatre critique is concerned, at least), JK Rowling needn’t have worried. This marathon, five-hour spectacle has a plot so dense and sprawling, so wonderfully, unashamedly elaborate, it would take many thousands of words more than any theatre review to even scratch the surface. While we may have been sworn to secrecy about Cursed Child’s plot, we can reveal that the hype – and rarely has a piece of theatre ever generated such fever-pitched buzz – is entirely deserved. And not just because of the quality of the production. The masterminds behind the show – led by Rowling, playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany – have not merely set out to put on a play, but rather craft a rich and detailed immersive experience. To this end, Melbourne’s Princess Theatre has undergone a top to bottom $6.5 million makeover, transforming its interiors to match a Hogwartsian, Potterfied aesthetic. If this sounds like an unnecessary extravagance, it’s probably an indication this play isn’t for you. The success of Cursed Child, which has smashed box office records on Broadway and the West End, is powered by its unapologetic exclusivity. Those without any prior knowledge of Harry and co will be b
Melbourne audiences get a rare chance to compare two jailhouse musicals from composers John Kander and Fred Ebb, written 17 years apart but playing only metres from each other. The first to open here was Kiss of the Spider Woman, originally written in 1992 and currently blundering its tonally-confused way through a season over at Melbourne Theatre Company’s Sumner Theatre; their 1975 hit Chicago, in spiky, spiffy contrast, surges onto the State Theatre stage in this vivid and rollicking revival. The contrast couldn’t be starker. Actually, it’s not really a fair comparison. Spider Woman is a noble misfire from the pair, and Chicago is one of their masterpieces. The MTC production is an original, designed and directed by local talent, whereas this is a remount of a tried and tested winner. Nothing originated from here, not the set (John Lee Beatty), nor the lighting (Ken Billington), nor the choreography (the legendary Ann Reinking). Which means there is only one real point of difference between this and any number of productions currently playing around the world: the cast and the musicians. Melbourne has seen several iterations of this production – ironically starring Caroline O’Connor, who is currently hamming it up rather joylessly in Spider Woman – but this is possibly the best of the lot. There’s something about the pops, the slides and the smoky knowingness that is just right; it’s slick without being soulless, and it’s tight without being impacted. It shouldn’t be sur
This is a review of the Sydney Festival season of Double Delicious Double Delicious is the perfect title for this nourishing night of storytelling and food by Contemporary Asian Australian Performance. Perfect because it has the double-punch of engaging your tastebuds as well as your emotions, and because the five storyteller-cooks all share their experiences of living with two cultures: Australia, where they all currently live, and their Asian heritage. It’s also an apt title because the food that emerges from that fusion is properly delicious. First up is Korean chef Heather Jeong, who shares her love of the rituals of kimchi alongside the story of her sometimes difficult relationship with her father, eventually serving up a dish that’s not at all the kind of refined cuisine you might expect from a chef of her talents. Actor Valerie Berry shares a story of her family migrating from the Philippines, and the way her mother used food to stay anchored to her culture. Dancer and choreographer Raghav Handa talks about his attempts to connect with India, and how living a fulfilled single life presents a unique cultural challenge, and Benjamin Law ruminates on life on the Sunshine Coast in the 1980s and ‘90s as one of the only Asian-Australian families around, while picking up cooking techniques that his ancestors have been practicing for hundreds of years. The audience all sit at large round tables, like at a wedding reception. As each story ends, a group of waiters whisk into