Tag: Bert LaBonte


Quite breathtaking

By Michael Olsen

Take a deep breath and plunge into the Australian premiere of Lungs this season at Melbourne Theatre Company. Written by award-winning British playwright Duncan Macmillan this 90 minute two-hander (without interval) charts the life, death and (re)birth of a modern relationship. Funny and real by turns, and quite touching in the end, it charts what happens when we start to question our lives and our effect on the planet.


The play opens in an IKEA store, as the unnamed man gingerly suggests to his unnamed partner that they have a baby. Well, the floodgates of anxiety, doubt and interminable analysis are opened (she’s doing a Ph.D, we don’t know in what) and we bear intimate witness to their attempts to make sense of themselves and their relationship, all starting from the effect one baby would have on the planet. (I forget how many trees they would have to plant to mitigate their offspring’s carbon footprint.) We are made to feel like a fly on the wall of these characters’ lives as they search for meaning and answers where perhaps only faith of a kind will see us through.

Kate Atkinson (of Wentworth and Sea Change fame) and Bert LaBonté (Mountaintop among many others) deliver powerhouse performances in this single almost unbroken dialogue that carries us through the ups and downs of this couple’s relationship. Whilst we might not get the answers to all the problems they face, it’s this very questioning that helps propel the play forward. Director Clare Watson‘s direction is slick and sophisticated, always keeping the myriad changes in time and place clear and immediate. Whilst Andrew Bailey‘s set design (an IKEA kitchen that imperceptibly rotates a full 360º and lets gravity slowly toss the kitchen’s chair, books and cutlery like a tumble drier) conveys the idea of the couple’s life going topsy-turvy as they explore the intricacies of their relationship, it’s also a mite distracting, but really a minor criticism in an overall production that grabs you right from the start and doesn’t let up.

Lungs was something Macmillan wrote as “a challenge and a gift for actors.” In presenting the problems and challenges of its characters, it’s also a gift for the audience. Showing until 19 March at the Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio.


REVIEW: Declan Greene’s I AM A MIRACLE

Grim tales woven together with heavenly music and powerful imagery

By Margaret Wieringa

Chairs are strewn across a bare stage, and a few other items, hard to distinguish, lie in piles. Three actors in the orange jumpsuits recognisable as those worn by people incarcerated in US prisons are in place around the stage. As the lights come down, one begins to address a prisoner on death row who has only a few minutes to live, while the others whisper, possibly prayers. Thus begins the intense journey of I Am A Miracle.

I Am A Miracle

The title comes from the last words of Marvin Lee Wilson, a man with an extremely low IQ who was executed in 2012. Such a low IQ should have prevented his death, but did not. Declan Greene wrote this play for Marvin, to document various miscarriages of justice. There is the story of a young Dutch solider in Africa in the eighteenth century, sent on a mission through the jungle to quell a slave uprising, and that of a man in Melbourne entrapped by his carer.

This is a hard production to watch; the Malthouse publicity has the message that this is “not for the timid”. The story of the Dutch soldier has images that are hard to forget, and while the boy is seventeen, Melita Jurisic brings an innocence and purity to the character that makes him seem so much younger, so much easier to be broken. Later, she plays the carer (and possibly partner?) of Bert LaBonté‘s character, and while this woman seems to have the emotional control, he is clearly physically able to overpower her. It is the music, notably the beautiful singing of Hana Lee Crisp, that ultimately brings the pieces of the play together. Crisp drifts through the performance, or stands aside, like some kind of angel.

At times, the combination of the soundscape and music and lighting are overwhelming, as though director Matthew Lutton is deliberately creating a religious experience. Indeed, the powerful climax is the world being reborn, blinding the audience with light and deafening with sound. While I must admit that I did not understand everything that happened, it was a theatrical event that I am very glad I experienced.

Where: Malthouse Theatre, Sturt St Southbank
When: July 18 – Aug 9.
Tickets: $30-$60
Box Office: www.malthousetheatre.com.au
WARNING: Contains dynamic sound, strobe lighting and some adult language.

REVIEW: Malthouse Theatre Presents TIMESHARE

Excellent performances in eccentric new play

By Ross Larkin

Australian playwright Lally Katz is known for her offbeat, droll creations, and her latest effort, Timeshare, will no doubt please die-hard fans, though it is, as expected, an acquired taste which will not appeal to all.


Iconic comedienne Marg Downey plays Sandy, who is holidaying on a fictitious island resort positioned on the international dateline. Her lonely daughter Kristy (played by Brigid Gallacher) is vacationing with her, and looking for love with the likes of resort worker Juan-Fernando (Fayssal Bazzi​). Meanwhile, resort manager Carl (Bert LaBonte), is trying to sell timeshare packages to Sandy, while she becomes convinced Carl is romantically interested.

Touted primarily as a comedy, Timeshare unfolds more like a drama with the laughs thin on the ground. Downey is disappointingly responsible for virtually none of the laughter in, what is, a very sombre and vacant part. Naturally, however, Downey still delivers, although one might argue hers is more a support role than a lead. The rest of the cast also deliver – all equally as engaging and impressive in their performances.

The first half of the script is somewhat meandering and slow, with seemingly little purpose. Fortunately, the pace and stakes later pick up when the action is shifted to ‘yesterday’s’ side of the date line and the confusion which ensues reveals the sad truth of the situation.

Timeshare unexpectedly features singing and dancing throughout, enough to consider it a musical hybrid, though Katz insists it’s a play with musical numbers, as opposed to a musical. The songs by Jethro Woodward are appealing and often beautifully sung (in particular by LaBonte and Gallacher), but there are times when they seem ill-fitting with the story and characters, and the dancing especially is so self-aware and corny that it detracts from the show’s credibility.

There are some lovely metaphors which emerge here, and New York director Oliver Butler does mostly a fine job with this offbeat, peculiar piece, save for some of the more over-the-top, caricature moments. LaBonte’s solo singing finale about pools and chlorine for example, which, although performed incredibly well, felt like an inappropriate ending that seemed to make a mockery of the journey we’d just been on.

Timeshare is playing now at The Malthouse Theatre, 113 Sturt Street, Southbank until May 17. For bookings, visit http://malthousetheatre.com.au/whats-on/timeshare


Marvellous home-grown musical

By Bradley Storer

Australian music theatre composer Matthew Lee Robinson, after the acclaimed concert production of his musical Atlantis earlier this year, returned to Chapel Off Chapel with the presentation of his original work Happy People, a behind-the-scenes examination of the world of children’s entertainment.

Happy People - Photo Credit James Terry Photography

The titular group, ‘Happy People’, are a Hi-5/Wiggles-style collective of children’s entertainers who, after ten years working together, are falling apart. Bobby (Bobby Fox) and Sunny (Sun Park), formerly married and recently divorced, are conflicted over residual bitterness and Bobby’s self destructive tendencies. Flamboyant Jewish boy Benny (Tom Sharah) seeks to re-invent himself as a member of a boy band pop star. Jeff (Bert Labonté), the elephant-suited mascot of the group, wants nothing more than to move to his recently-bought new home and settle down with the fifth member of the group, Sally (Gretel Scarlett) – a bright bouncy blonde with the sugary sweetness and rigidity of a Stepford housewife.

The show as a whole is fantastic – Robinson, doing double duty as composer and librettist, crafts hilarious sendups of songs that seemed almost ripped from a real-life children’s TV show, as well as some emotional ballads and duets that throb with the complexities and heartaches of adulthood, alongside well-crafted scenes that had the audience in tears from laughter.

In the cast, there are no weak points – even from behind music stands and carrying books, they delivered fully committed and individuated performances. Scarlett as the manically cheerful Sally shows off some fantastic comedic chops, as well as her stunning voice of both range and power. Sharah as Benny comes close to stealing the show with every line, and his song ‘Boyband’ is a comedic and physical tour de force of every 90’s boyband stereotype. Robyn Arthur in the small but crucial role of the band’s manager Poppy brought a solid and earthy maturity to the part, as well as a rafter-shaking belt in the touching penultimate song ‘Young’.

Happy People stands as a strong work from an established Australian composer, and is great evidence of the vibrancy and originality of the emerging Australian musical scene.

The premiere of Happy People in Concert took place at Chapel off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran on the 18 – 19th October, 2014.

Review: MTC’s Production of CLYBOURNE PARK

A funny, confronting and fascinating look at life over the fence…

By Diana Tarr

MTC’s latest production Clybourne Park, the Pulitzer prize-winning play by Bruce Norris, is a frank and honest depiction of the racial tension in northern American cities in the 1950’s and raises the question of what, if anything, has changed in our attitudes in the subsequent years.

In 1959, in the affluent Chicago suburb of Clybourne Park, a white couple is forced to consider the impact that selling their home to a black family will have on the neighbours they are leaving behind.  Fast-forward fifty years, and a young white couple tries to go forward with their plans to demolish the same, though now sadly decrepit, house and rebuild – with considerable resistance from their soon-to-be (black) neighbours.

The set, designed by Christina Smith, included just the right details to send me straight back to the homes and neighbourhoods of my childhood in suburban Detroit: the built-in bookcases, the string dangling from the basement light, even the sound of footsteps on the carpeted stairs.

Each of the superb cast (including Patrick Brammall, Bert LaBonte, Zahra Newman, Luke Ryan and Alison Whyte). portrayed at least two unique characters, though Greg Stone and Laura Gordon produced the most convincing and dramatic transformations in mannerisms, voice and characterisations for the second act. As grieving father Russ and then forthright tradie Dan, Stone gave the stand-out performance of the night, inspiring incredulous belly laughs and shocked silences from an audience that was eating out of his hands from his first bite of Neapolitan ice cream.

There is so much of the familiar in Clybourne Park, which is at times comforting but also self-convicting: not only in acknowledging the awkward relationships and social niceties, but particularly in recognising the people with good intentions who either don’t realise or don’t want to acknowledge how much they misunderstand about the experiences of others.

By the end of the first act, I was mentally kicking myself for even considering that perhaps a few of the arguments for keeping the neighbourhood unchanged might just have a certain logic to them. By the end of the second, I was cringing by how much I recognised myself in the comments and ideals of the yuppie wife, Lindsey (Gordon). But although Clybourne Park acknowledges these feelings of confusion and guilt, it does not seem to try to invoke them – just poke fun at them.

And oh my, what fun it was!


Clybourne Park: The Black and White Picket Fence

17 September – 26 October

The MTC Theatre, Sumner

140 Southbank Blvd, Southbank

Tickets: $30 (29 & under); $86-$97 (full)