Author Archive for Xanthe Coward

23
Nov
14

Gasp! and a chat with Ben Elton

 

Gasp!

Queensland Theatre Company & Black Swan Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

November 17 – December 7 2014

 

 Review by Xanthe Coward

 

Interview by Guy Frawley

 

Imagine a world in which the air we breathe is just another commodity like food and fuel. Something that can be bought and sold according to market forces…

 

QTC_Gasp_14_event

 

You must be quite excited. It’s been 24 years since Gasping opened. I’m quite interested in hearing why you decided to rework the piece into Gasp! for 2014 and why the choice of Australian setting?

 

It’s very much the other way around, I didn’t choose to rewrite the show and use an Australian setting. It’s more the Australian setting just kept bringing me back to that show. I’m pretty fortunate, I have a pretty big back catalogue and there’s a lot of it that I could do with revisiting and could probably be improved. But you don’t normally do that, you just go forward. But with Gasping, my first professional play, I always thought it was one of the best ideas I’ve ever had.

 

Using this grand conceit of air that becomes this attainable, mineable commodity, resource as we call our planet. It was performed several times around the world and I never thought I’d revisit it, although I always thought it would be nice to and I’ve occasionally played with the idea of a movie. I talked at some length with Russell Crowe about it, who also liked the idea of it for a movie.

 

Anyway, I now live in Australia and am Australian and for the last few years I’ve been very fortunate in that Kate Cherry at the Black Swan Theatre Company in Perth has often said to me, “When are you going to write an Australian play?” I thought about it and thought how lovely it would be to write an Australian play and I wondered what is it that we feel about Australia?

 

What’s moving me? What’s getting me excited? What’s getting me angry? What am I passionate about?

 

And basically for the five years we’ve been living in Oz with our kids as a part of the society, well it’s been the bloody resources, the mining boom! That’s all anybody ever talks about! With the exception of Jihad taking over. All we talk about is the carbon tax, the mining tax, global warming, the resources industry, is it good? Is it bad? Gina, Twiggy, Clive. It just looms so large, that I started to think about a play that talks about our duties and our responsibilities and the grand comedy that has been the public debate about these topics over the last decade. I kept going back to Gasping and thinking, well I’ve already written the bloody play it’s just set in the wrong time, in the wrong place and with the wrong dialogue. But it was the right idea! So I went to Kate and told her I’d like to rewrite my first play and take that idea of air as a resource and set in in Australia in 2014, she was very excited about it. And that’s why Gasp! has a new title, because it is an entirely new play, although still very similar. It’s a weird hybrid but I think it’s a much better play; it has much better dialogue, a few new characters, a love interest, subtler sort of development although it’s still a very broad comedy. It’s a reimagining of a comedy about answers. So yes…a long answer!

 

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Ben Elton’s Gasping (1990) was his first play and GASP! is a solid attempt to breathe some new life into it.

 

Given the same sleek and easy “it’s funny, it can’t fail” treatment by Director, Wesley Enoch, as QTC’s production of Williamson’s Managing Carmen and with the same smooth, slick looking set design by Christina Smith as Other Desert Cities (I love the gliding scene changes), this rich excuse for a satire is simply overcooked. Elton’s writing is known for its witticisms and political and social stings, and for its PLAIN FUNNY STUFF. THIS IS NOT THAT WRITING. I loved Maybe Baby and watched the VHS tape until it stopped working one day. I still love Popcorn, The Young OnesWe Will Rock You (Silly Cow not so much) and I’m a loyal Blackadder fan. Unfortunately, Gasp! is overwritten, over directed and over acted, with little allowance for nuance. Written for laughs, it needs thinning, like a cool, clever summer haircut.

 

The cast give accurate portrayals in essence but they have so many gags to get through! Oh my goodness, I almost feel sorry for them! I feel they are waiting for us to laugh out loud! Exhausting! And frustrating…

 

You talk about Black Swan Theatre Company in Perth and the show is then transitioning to QLD to QTC. Considering the content of Gasp! and the impact of the mining boom in both of these states specifically, was there a conscious decision to premiere the show in these states?

 

Absolutely, it wasn’t my idea, it was Kate’s. She liked what I was talking about and the first thing she said was that this would be a great co-production with the other great ‘mining state’. QTC and Black Swan have a great relationship, they’ve had a number of collaborations and this one struck her as the most obvious collaboration. So she approached Wesley Enoch with my idea, and much to my great delight, he wanted to bring QTC into it. It’s been rehearsed in Brisbane before opening in Perth, and we hope the rest of Australia at some point will get the chance to see it as I think it is that rare thing, a very topical satire about what’s going on right now. It’s unashamedly contemporary, there are gags that if the play has legs I’ll have to rewrite in a year or two because the PUP’s latest successes will be history by then.

 

Perhaps a small project here for posterity then, that you can keep updating as the show travels.

 

Well that actually slightly scares me as it’s exactly what I’ve had to do with We Will Rock You, which has taken over my life! It was written many years ago and obviously jokes about Boyzone and a young Britney just don’t work any more. We’ve now got a middle aged Britney, which shows just how long We Will Rock You has been going. But look, if it turns out that people like the show, if the show has legs, I’d happily keep it current. It’s a satire, not a polemic.

 

The original Gasping used the caricature of the new ‘Yuppie’ in the early 1990s as a central part of the show and also handled the concept of environmentalism very much from the perspective of it’s own time. I’d suggest that both of these concepts have developed and changed quite drastically over the past 24 years and the conversation today is markedly different. How, when taking your original inspiration, Thatcher, the UK of the late 80s etc have you adjusted this to suit a contemporary Australia?

 

Well you know the more things change the more remain the same. When I was writing Gasping Thatcher was in power and now when I write Gasp! Abbot’s in power, so there are some things that are quite similar. Mind you there are some things that are quite different. As you say, a lot of the humour of Gasping was a sort of jolly take on the Wall Street Wanker London Brits pretending they were brilliant, pin stripe suited Americans in that Yuppie explosion of the late 80s. That’s all comic history now! I was saying at the rehearsals how I’d changed the description of a trendy advertising exec, in the original show he drove a 10-speed racer and now he’s a hipster with a fixie. But actually, the much broader context is that whilst with Gasping I was dealing with a very fictionalised comic world of Yuppies as the cartoon image of Thatcherised horror, I’m now dealing with a real world. I’m now dealing with the real world, I’m talking about the mining sector which isn’t peopled with cartoon villains. It’s the real world, with real resources, real jobs. I think it’s now much subtler, not really subtle, but much more so than Gasping was.

 

Throughout the rewrite I’m interested to know how much the actual characters themselves have been adjusted. Are these primarily superficial updates that leave the original motivations and personalities quite similar?

 

It’s the same play and it’s completely different. All the characters from the original are still there, with the addition of one very significant new one, which is Phillip’s (the lead protagonists) emotional life, Phillip’s love interest. She gives a little bit more emotional reality to the reason he makes the moral compromises that he does and gets tied up in the moral dilemmas that he gets tied up in. It’s more of a character driven story and narrative than an ideas driven polemic, which it was originally. A load of gags with a big satirical sledge hammer point to make at the end of it, which is what the original play was.

 

It’s still not Chekov in terms of psychological astuteness but it’s got more to offer the audience in terms of character development. But then I’ve really learned more as a writer. When I was writing my first professional play I’d never written a novel, we’d only just started on Blackadder, I was mainly a sketch writer and a stand up comedian, and I’ve learned quite a lot about story telling and characterisation since then. There’s not many writers that get the privilege that I’ve been given to take something they wrote as a young man and to be able to rewrite it as a middle aged man.

 

I know that Hugh Laurie originally played Phillip when the show first opened. Had you originally envisioned him as your Phillip and did the spectre of Hugh hang over Phillip as you re-wrote the play?

 

Well there’s no doubt when I wrote Gasping I wrote it with Hugh in mind, there’s no doubt about that. We worked together very closely throughout the 80s and when I was writing the play I had his voice, as almost a modern Bertie Wooster figure, an imbecilic enthusiast but placed in an 80s, yuppie, Thatcherite Britain and I very much had his voice in mind. But with Gasp! as I say, I think it’s a little subtler, it’s more open to interpretation, the character isn’t so sketch like in his qualities. I think that offers the actor more room. It’s fun to have the play now being cast and played by actors that I haven’t cast, Wesley’s cast, and it’s a really interesting exercise for me to let the characters breathe more and not just make them ciphers for my own comedic voice. Losing the voices of the late 80s was actually joyful for me, because the ideas of the play are interesting and it was fun to be able to write them with a little more care. I just sort of dashed Gasping off. I was young, exuberant!

 

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Phillip (Damon Lockwood – also a director & writer – watch this space) reminds Sam of John Tuturro; the lanky, awkward, unusually bold nerd, and Kirsten (Caroline Brazier) reminds us both of a gorgeous, gun publicist we know and love. Chifley Lockheart (Greg McNeil) is everything a mining magnate needs to be and Sandy (Steven Rooke) goes above and beyond to bring us the suited up stereotype of an actual noughties Mad Men man. Peggy (Lucy Goleby) sneezes and sniffles to death in too abrupt an end! (Also, is 2014 the year we started shouting to be heard in the Playhouse?!).

 

Nobody really gets a chance to shine, but everybody gets a chance to bedazzle. We’re not fooled. Gasp! is the Payless pair of shoes once you’ve been wearing Jimmy Choos. You can’t go back, baby.

 

You’ve been a citizen now for over a decade but have been travelling back and forth from the UK for much longer than that. How have you witnessed the growth of the theatre scene over this period?

 

Well call me a bit naughty, but I’m only just now really getting into the Australian theatre scene. In the old days I’d visit and there wasn’t really much going to the theatre, my girlfriend was a professional musician and when we’d go out it was mainly to her gigs, then we got married, based ourselves in Britain and didn’t see a lot of Australia during the 90s, and when the kids were born around the turn of the millennium we remained based in Britain. Even though we constantly came back to see the family, again it wasn’t really about going to the theatre. We did a bit more of that when we were in London. Then we came here in 2010 to live and that’s when I started to really take a broader interest in Perth’s cultural life. That’s when I met Kate Cherry and we started going to the theatre and really there’s a very hot scene going on in Perth. We’ve got two fringe theatres, we’ve got two theatre companies, Perth Theatre Company and Black Swan and it’s a very vibrant time!

 

gasp_digger

 

While the premise is well established (it’s so crazy it just might work and truth is stranger than fiction and all that stuff), the cogs don’t turn together. The pieces don’t quite fit. Seeing Gasp! is like punching into the wrong place the piece of a puzzle that doesn’t look right, but you try it anyway. It’s forced and it’s not as funny as it should be. Still, some will enjoy the references to local bits and pieces and people. I guess Elton proves with this piece that he knows – no, he KNOWS – Australia.

 

22
Nov
14

Or Forever Hold Your Peace (The Story of Iphigenia)

 

Or Forever Hold Your Peace (The Story of Iphigenia)

La Boite Indie & Motherboard Productions

With the support of QPAC

November 12 – 29 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

iphigenia_hero

 

Well, I don’t know WHAT that is…the hero shot appears to be a mash up of Athens Fashion Week, Jane Eyre, Lauren Jackson’s Medea for Zen Zen Zo, Face Off and The Lion King. Sure, I get it – a leopard doesn’t change its spots, we wear many masks, we are aligned with many tribes, we run with the pack, we are wild at heart and of our own making, etc. – but I don’t know if it’s the best match for this production, which is in fact the best we’ve seen this year, in the line up for La Boite Indie. YOU CAN VOTE FOR IT HERE.

 

Or Forever Hold Your Peace (The Story of Iphigenia) is a show that has just about everything. It’s a contemporary Greek tragedy, complete with a stripper, a wedding and The Last Supper. Well, no, alright, not really. But nearly!

 

Do you know the story? Sure you do. Agamemnon, pressured to prove his commitment to the Trojan War before sending thousands of men to their deaths, agrees to sacrifice his daughter’s life. But that’s not the worst part! He uses the gorgeous Achilles and a last-minute sham wedding to lure the lovely girl to her untimely death, changes his mind and sees her give herself up after all! It’s not just the ancient war we’re dealing with here. This is a timely statement on the “necessity” of war v the desire for peace, the responsibilities of leadership, and the repercussions of an individual’s actions.

 

Guy and I should have propped up an iPhone and filmed our post-show discussion – it would have served as a fine review – but we didn’t think of it at the time and besides, I know how tired I look this term. I was never going to be ready for my close up, Mr DeMille.

 

iphigenia_opening

 

When we walk into The Roundhouse with our plastic cups of cab merlot (keep it classy, Brisvegas), it feels like we’ve entered life’s locker room, as the chorus of casually dressed soldiers warms up, apparently preparing for battle, for life. I can only assume they’ve been doing their drills for some time, since we’ve strolled in at the last second to take our seats. It’s a highly stylised (let’s call it choreographed) opening sequence, which immediately sets a brutal, intense, and slightly unnerving, very intimate tone. At the same time, we get a sense of something bigger than all of us; a force beyond our control. The physical discipline, rigour and collective energy inspires me to sit up straighter, though not to join Bootcamp. It’s only Wednesday but it’s already been a long week. Also, these performers are not afraid of a little eye contact. But you might be. If so, probs don’t sit in the first three rows. This is live theatre remember, at close range. INTENSE. I LOVE IT.

 

An epic soundtrack & soundscape (is there an album? I’d buy the album) by Dane Alexander, and dramatic, cinematic lighting (Daniel Anderson) fill the space and then make it sparse… I love the alternate light and shade on Peter Cossar’s face as he speaks on leadership, and the inspired use of the bank of seats opposite us. Sleswick notes in the program that he wanted to express himself as a director through this piece and this he has done in abundance. Or Forever Hold Your Peace perhaps says more about Sleswick than anyone or anything else. His is a bold world, populated by courageous, dedicated and loyal soldiers, through whom we discover an intelligent and intriguing perspective on our country’s journey and the uses of power…and theatre. Remember, I told you in 2012:

 

Dave Sleswick is a director with guts and vision. Motherboard’s La Voix Humaine will have you thinking and feeling deeply. This is not just new world theatre; it’s a new world order. Motherboard is here to stay.

 

If you caught the previous “version” of this production (also in 2012: QUT’s student company, Vena Cava, directed by Dave Sleswick, does Charles Mee’s Iphigenia 2.0), I hope you haven’t missed this one thinking it’s simply a remount. Because Sleswick has taken Mee’s polarising play and introduced Dramaturg, Morgan Rose to it, then invited all those words to a summer rooftop party with all of his friends and Djuki Mala, and thrown them into the pool with all of the furniture, the pot plants and the sound system, before wringing them out, ripping them up, and stuffing them into the pockets of a pair of cargo pants as he goes on his way through the mud run of life.

 

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He’s cast some excellent performers, including Chris Farrell, who moves like dirty mercury across the stage, and Erica Field, gorgeous in the wise vulnerable role of bridesmaid and bestie. Guy says she looks like Bryce Dallas Howard in The Help and shows me the image to prove it.

 

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Achilles (Rowan Davie) also looks like he’s already famous, though I can’t think of whom he reminds me, and I make a mental note to start watching movies again. Menalaus (Ben Warren), the voice of Mee’s hard-wired, intelligent take on current warfare, holds us still with his compelling storytelling, the retelling of the atrocities, informing every subsequent moment. Tormented, Warren’s eyes are windows to a broken-and-glued-together-again soul. He’s beautifully supported by the chorus (easily the ensemble of the year).

 

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The thrown-together wedding of, er; convenience, gives us a clash of different coloured cloth, plastic picnic wares, bright bouquets on a couple of long trestle tables, and garb that’s almost clownish, garish. We could be between the pages of a Harpers Bazaar Summer Brights edit. Or trapped in a Costumes by the Performers university production of Barnum. (There are times when I do actually like Barnum).

 

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It’s unfortunate that Iphigenia’s final monologue (“I like…”) – feels overwritten and overplayed but others continue to giggle long after I want to holler, in that unbearable audition panel manner, “OK. GOOD. THANK YOU”. If I were not a mother I might feel similarly about Clytemnestra’s wailing, which goes on and on, as indeed it would, as her daughter is slaughtered (in the wings, in a perfect example of the less graphic the violence viewed, the more violent the act), but this performer succeeds in sending chills down my spine, and making me hate, even more than before, her husband, Iphigenia’s father, Agememnon. The parallels are clear throughout and I can’t imagine a current political leader even considering going to such lengths to prove his loyalty to the people.

 

“…there’s another chorus at work in Iphigenia in Aulis, and that’s the one in our educated heads, reminding us how the story will end. Iphigenia will be sacrificed. Agamemnon and his army will go off to a ten-year war in which Achilles will die. Troy will burn. Odysseus will find it almost impossible to get home. And though Agamemnon will survive and return, he’ll be ambushed by his wife and revenged by his children. Greece will eat its young only slightly less literally than Thyestes ate his. Knowing all this makes us witnesses to both the necessity and the uselessness of every action. That’s the bitter absurdity of Euripides’s play.”

 

Tony Adler for chicagoreader.com

 

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22
Nov
14

Flaunt

 

 

Flaunt

Brisbane Powerhouse & Claire Marshall Projects

In association with Metro Arts

Brisbane Powerhouse

November 18–22 2014

 

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

 

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We are exploring women’s gender, sexuality and power, and how it can be ‘socially inscribed’ on the body …

Claire Marshall, Director/Choreographer

 

Before the first performance of Flaunt, Powerhouse Artistic Director Kris Stewart made a short, impassioned speech about the Powerhouse’s support for independent dance artists such as Director/Choreographer Claire Marshall and her group of dancers. This support is partly funded by the drinks you buy at the Powerhouse, so drink up, everyone!

 

Flaunt opens with a woman climbing a ladder onto the roof of a metal-framed structure. She writhes and poses there. Later three others appear and two women manipulate the limbs of the others. The end of the work recapitulates these moments.

 

In between are a number of other short scenes. The women struggle to escape from behind a glass screen, on which images of sultry-looking formally dressed women are projected. They walk in the strange crossed-over way that models do, they pose and pout, and do some pole dancing moves, using the uprights of the shelter. At another point, the feel is of a nightclub, with very loud, pounding electronic sound. The soundtrack also features a robotic female voice discoursing on gender and sexuality.

 

In a creepy sequence, the dancers manipulate shop mannequins and dismember them. The cross-section of the bottom half of one mannequin is blood-red.

 

In her program notes, Marshall says the work is ‘about women and power’ – but only sexual power is on display here, and competition between women. The women appear to be trapped by their gender and sexuality, managing occasionally to break out and escape. The ladder offers a way out, but it’s narrow, and can take only one person at a time.

 

The overall impression of the design (Frances Hannaway) is of darkness, and entrapment – overlaid with allure. The costumes were mainly black and silver – dark silver leggings and black tops for the opening scene, clear plastic tops with crisscrossed strips of black, transparent white skirts that looked like organza, and dark silver tops with black bike shorts. They suited the dancers, and had a welcome elegance contrasting with the dark themes of the work.

 

The dancers (Mariana Parizo, Miranda Zeller, Amelia Stokes, Kirri Webb) were strong and athletic, demonstrating a power that their characters in this piece are denied. The strength of the movement, combined with the pouting and posturing that reproduce some of the stereotyped sexualised images of women, results in an uneasy mix of voyeuristic appeal, parody, and critique.

 

Flaunt is an hour long, with no interval. Sometimes the time dragged, and at others the work was absorbing. Final show tonight 7pm.

 

16
Nov
14

I Can Keep A Secret

 

I Can Keep a Secret

Judith Wright Centre & Little Black Dress Creatives

Judith Wright Centre Shopfront

12 – 15 November 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

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I’d heard about this fun show, which came out of the collaboration between four Queensland Con students with musical tastes reaching beyond their operatic studies. One of our multi talented writers, Michelle Bull, featured in the original cast and another, Guy Frawley, reviewed the first season. This is the Queensland Cabaret Festival remount, directed by Cienda McNamara. Having experienced Women In Voice (their 21st “birthday party” last Saturday night at Flinders Performance Centre in Buderim), I was keen to see this comparatively new group.

 

Don’t mistake Babushka for a cheap copy of anything we’ve seen before. But do demand more because they’re capable of delivering it.

 

The premise is all wicked little secrets and “glorious, guilty pleasures”; it’s a (mostly) upbeat show, with the odd – and I mean odd – inclusion about a serial killer. As far as shock factor goes, this show is more for those who are looking for a bit of sophisticated fun and laughter under the guise of cheeky secret sharing.

 

Interestingly, ArtTour’s brief for I Can Keep A Secret specifies a black box theatre venue, but the Shopfront at the Judy, without any decoration, fits that requirement a little too well. It’s A BLACK BOX. In the context, it’s a confessional, but ideally, I imagine Babushka would perform in sumptuous surrounds, or on the main stage bathed in beautiful light and lounging across lush furnishings. The assumption is no doubt that the singers need nothing more than a mic  (and Matt Sarner on keys). Let’s call it rock bottom budget confidence.

 

The girls are gorgeous and they wear their frocks well. Arleigh McCormack is emerald green glam cruise ship style, She’s fab, but Bethan Ellsmore’s Embraceable You unnecessarily encumbers McCormack’s rendition of The Other Woman; it over-complicates that excruciatingly vulnerable moment. Somebody probably thought it clever. So much of this show is overdone, and what I’d love to see instead of a cabaret recipe half-baked (Ellsmore told bmag that cabaret’s lack of rules appeals to her), I’d love to see the girls chill out and trust the material a little more, as well as their obvious talent, which will bring about their own version of the style. Perhaps, like Women in Voice, it will come with a few more years of doing the work and experiencing other work. I hope they’ve seen superstars such as Meow MeowChristie Whelan-Brown and Naomi Price at work. These are the girls who make cabaret look (and sound) dead easy and any aspiring performer in this genre should be hell bent on studying the hot tips and tricks contained within their shows.

 

Ellsmore’s Portishead is a little slicker and sexier than we’d heard previously, but her Gotye? Not so much. And she seems a little unsure in those shoes…oops. I wouldn’t usually mention it but there’s something not quite right on the night, not quite settled enough. Should we (all) have had more to drink?! Next time? Tequila!

 

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Alicia Cush’s mother schtick is some of the funniest stuff of the night. Hers is the most operatic performance (Ellsmore’s, the most “dramatic”). An amusing number about how she came to be pregnant for the last two Babushka seasons has most of the opening night audience in stitches.

 

Judy Hainsworth’s Babushka is another terrific moment but it ends abruptly and there’s another moment of…something. During the awkward pause I wonder if there might be a Kate Bush show in the making. Hainsworth’s comedy is more often the most natural and her connection with the audience is real, even up close (we are up closer than expected, at a table dead centre front row). Her encore performance is full of awesome angry faces for a wild White Wedding conclusion. In fact, the opening number (a mash up of Bizet’s Carmen and Kylie’s Confide in Me) and the finale are the perfect bookends and perhaps, more than anything else, it’s a case of KISS: Keep it Simple Sweethearts. I think they thought they already had but when the pace lags it’s because the girls stick to their rehearsed “patter” and wait the full length of their intros. Less is more. Make it up. Break the rules. Relax.

 

I Can Keep A Secret is certainly a fun, fine, enjoyable night out; the talent is easy to appreciate. Babushka will continue to come across as slick cabaret, but I ‘reckon these girls can be slicker yet, and in the increasingly competitive global cabaret market, they’ll need to be.

 

10
Nov
14

Blak Electric

 

Blak Electric

QPAC & ACPA

QPAC Cremorne

6 – 8 November 2014

 

Reviewed by Michelle Bull

 

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A great show can leave a lasting impression on me for weeks after its curtain falls. Sometimes it’s the right words at the right time, a display of brilliant skill, a moment of complete sincerity, and sometimes it’s something I can’t quite put my finger on, an energy that stays and burns particular moments and images into my heart and mind.

 

On Thursday night, I experienced this and more as students from the Aboriginal Centre of Performing Arts performed their new work Blak Electric. Playing to a full and vocal audience at the Cremorne Theatre, QPAC, Director Stephen Lloyd Helper and these young artists propel this work forward with an enthusiasm and force that is undeniably likeable and equally as thought provoking.

 

The work explores the personal journeys of young Indigenous Australians leaving their homes and their loved ones to chase their dreams in the urban chaos of the city. Through each of the character’s journeys, we see these young people discover their identity and strength through a connection to culture, the land and ultimately each other.

 

Featuring song, dance and drama, Blak Electric showcases the skill of these young developing artists who perform with heart and vivacity, displaying versatile skill across the art forms. The personal connections between the artists and story are tangibly felt through sincere and thoughtful performances that contest the idea of stereotypes and lead to a more positive message. Poetic compositions written and performed by the students express this personal relationship to the work.

 

While a deeper conversation runs through the production, a sense of fun and cheekiness throughout makes for a joyful and highly engaging piece of theatre.

 

Leonard Donahue in his cheeky role as The Sweeper adds a dash of contemporary Shakespeare to his portrayal of his adorable Puck-like character, charming the audience in the delivery of physical comedy and drawing our attention to the messages embedded in each scene.

 

His continued clean-up throughout the production leads to a particularly poignant moment towards the end of the work where the entire cast is needed to move the weight of his broom. This reference to the power and strength in community once again drives this message of connectedness home.

 

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With a live band providing dynamic musical accompaniment, the ensemble is strong, and enhanced by some standout vocals delivered with control and heartfelt musicality. Original composition Blue in my Heart (written by music student Manduway Dutton) is a standout moment, beautifully delivered by vocalist Naomi Summers whose performance shows maturity beyond her years.

 

Energetic choreography by Niki-J Price, Bradley Chatfield, Nik Hills and Andrew Toby weaves indigenous culture with contemporary forms and pulses with life, the final ensemble song Blak Electric infectiously joyful and a rousing end to the production.

 

Blak Electric is a fantastic and refreshing voice for young Australian theatre that engages, provokes and inspires with its joyful message of connectedness and strength. The students of Aboriginal Centre for Performing Arts are fearlessly talented and filled with a passion and enthusiasm for their art that I know will see them continue to grow as young artists and inspire all who have the opportunity to be a part of that journey.

 

 

 

07
Nov
14

Sediment

 

Sediment

Company 2

Judith Wright Centre

November 4 – 8 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

“Talking nonsense is the sole privilege mankind possesses over 
the other organisms. It’s by talking nonsense that one gets to the truth!”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

 

Inspired by Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground and combining the physical world of acrobatics and dance with an original live score from Ben Walsh which features the Theremin, amongst other interesting and unusual instruments. Sediment is Company 2’s new three hand theatre work, directed by David Carberry in Collaboration with Ben Walsh and Chelsea McGuffin; in which these three seasoned artists explore themes of truth, adversity, amity and affray.

 

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It’s no surprise that a thing of unusual beauty and delicate strength, Sediment, comes to us from Chelsea McGuffin’s Company 2 (Scotch and Soda, She Would Walk the Sky, Cantina), and comes upon us like a summer storm in an attic. There is static – in the air and on an old television screen that periodically rolls out Dostoyevsky’s words – and rumbling thunder in the twitching, muscular beginning, all funny faces and the somewhat familiar struggle to sit comfortably on a wooden cabaret chair. Then there are lightning flashes – teases and surprises – pages that fly and flutter like Harry Potter’s letters, chairs that magically follow the performers onstage and off, an actual magic trick, and a glass bowl drum kit on a blanket. A steady downpour and gentle rain comes in the form of extended percussion sequences across an old fashioned office desk, a typewriter, and later, the array of glassware. Each musical piece is a delight, and thrilling in the most unexpected, unassuming way; a crumpled piece of paper becomes an entire soundtrack. The typewriter sequence is looped live, and the the glass bowl arrangement is set out like a picnic, a prelude to rain, as simple and gentle as a child’s quiet game set up on the grass in the back yard, the bowls forgotten, left to catch the drops of water as they fall from the sky. The final number, a soft shoe shuffle performed centrestage in a sprinkling of sand, which Carberry empties from his pockets whilst standing on his hands, is impressive but it leads to an anti-climactic (some will say thoughtful and thought provoking) end.

 

What is truth? Indeed.

 

Chelsea McGuffin and her partner in life and art, David Carberry, demonstrate the subtle, silent and increasingly forceful manipulation of one partner in a relationship. I’m not sure that this is exactly the story they will feel they intended to stage but for me it’s very clearly a tender, bitter battle. The most disturbing aspect of a beautifully passive aggressive pas de deux for instance, is that we recognise the efforts of both parties to come out on top while knowing, with that sudden chill one feels when one suspects a friend is in trouble, that only one can “win” in this situation. Is it the thrower or the one thrown? When McGuffin, after a fast, fraught sequence, turns her back on her partner and exits stage left in no particular hurry, I’m inclined to think it’s she.

 

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We see the exquisite balance of the same intimate relationship put to the test by the individuals, on the trapeze and over glass. I love the sound the bottles make as they are rolled out into the space, across the floor from the wings. (Cue sound, then let us see its source). Danger and fragility pervade, as man and woman step gingerly across the tops of empty champagne bottles to meet in the middle and (almost, sort of) embrace. Even at their most intimate, there is distance between them. We’ve seen the trick before, but not like this. It’s a slow motion moment, vaguely reminiscent (but not really) of the famous Dirty Dancing sequence… (I love it so I’m embedding it!)

 

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And probably only because of the bottles on stage (and okay, perhaps because of the delicacy of the relationship), I cast my mind back to the days and nights spent with actors in a tiny workers’ cottage in Paddington. Oh no, we weren’t working, we were studying and no one had any money for food, though there always seemed to be money for beer. Someone – probably Clayton – had started keeping the empty Hahn Ice bottles around the little concrete patio, serving as a garden border. Of course there was no garden, just the back patio and a Hills Hoist. Our impressive “empties” collection was all that grew in that place. The relationships developed awkwardly; everyone was there to serve their own agenda and their own beers unless someone asked someone to get them one. Years later, only recently in fact, Clayton and I stepped towards each other from opposite lives to spend time once again talking over a few beers, balancing for hours on our memories of past lives.

 

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Sediment’s musical element is crucial; it sets up every act and provides intrigue, awe and wonder. It’s a fantastic showcase for Ben Walsh – he’s made it so – with a couple of highlights all his own. (The Theremin! And the drum bowls, seriously, will blow your mind and settle your soul; a kitchen meditation). His tendency to dramatise even the slightest sound is testament to his musical ability, timing & perfect confidence as a performer. I can imagine he might have been the distracting, disarming, amazing kid in the classroom whose spirit you would not want to crush! His is a bold, patient presence, befitting Company 2’s vibe. I think it’s worth noting that despite the different requirements, he brings his own easy style to these proceedings with a greater degree of sophistication and control than we saw in Scotch and Soda. I look forward to seeing more of this side of Walsh.

 

If you’ve seen their work you’ll recognise the Company 2 elements and appreciate the degree of difficulty in these performances, making Sediment an engrossing, entertaining and challenging show. It’s circus changing the face of circus and it’s worth your attention.

 

Sediment from Company 2 on Vimeo.

29
Oct
14

Dangerfield Park

 

Dangerfield Park

La Boîte Indie & Pentimento Productions

Supported by QPAC

The Roundhouse

21st of October – 5th of November 2014

 

Reviewed by Guy Frawley

 

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In Dangerfield Park we’re introduced to a group of gay men from different backgrounds who through differing connections of friendship and sex are brought together at the same moment one of their friends is brutally bashed in a homophobic attack. The Noel Coward-esque theatrical producer Sholto (Sven Swenson); his journalist amore d’jour Tim (Michael Deed); solicitor Marc (Christos Mourtzakis); his paramedic fiancé Perry (Zachary Boulton); and the young, inexperienced Reyer (Nick Barclay) form the core cast of characters in the play who are all gathered in the St Lucia apartment of Sholto when they learn their friend Otis (Brian Lucas) has been bashed in the eponymous Dangerfield Park.

 

Dangerfield Park is a show a decade and a half too late to the stage that attempts to build it’s emotional core with outdated subject matter.

 

Yes the ‘gay panic defence’ is still on Queensland’s law books in some form (sigh) but changes several years ago by the state government have made the conditions of claiming the defence stricter and the defence of provocation can technically be applied equally across all genders and sexualities. Are beats still a thing? Sure, but they’re fast diminishing as the internet and mobile devices fundamentally change the mechanics of modern gay sex. Several references in the script imply a modern context but how can that even be with all the talk of sex and nary a mention of Grindr?! Religious discrimination? You bet it’s still a problem, but when we meet the fundamentalist Christian father of Reyer the painful struggle of dogma, love, salvation and family is reduced to an archaic stereotype that would have appeared comfortable in The Crucible. Most grating of all beleaguered and outdated messages was the constant harping upon gay couples suffering legal discrimination at the hands of a society that refuses to validate the love that dare not speak it’s name. I say this as a gay man who recently married his male partner of 6 years, and yes most of would like gay marriage to pass in parliament (even the polls agree!), but after the massive overhaul of policy in regard to same sex relationships under the Rudd government there isn’t a great deal of legal discrimination left to overcome. Yet we endure clunky monologues on the rights (or lack there of) of gay couples wrenched apart and disenfranchised by the unaccepting establishment.

 

By no means am I implying that all is good and right in the land of Oz when it comes to societies treatment of sexuality and same sex relationships but so much of what was obviously written to outrage and impassion just felt stale. Our primary cast of characters are an interesting and varied group that could have made much of contemporary issues but were instead left to stumble through tired tropes. Look to shows like Holding the Man and The Laramie Project for examples as to how similar subject matter is handled with far greater poise and nuance whilst being restrained by similar issues of contemporaneity.

 

Running at three and a half hours long the sheer length of Dangerfield Park makes the piece a laborious viewing experience. Swenson’s sharp dialogue and delightfully entertaining turn of phrase keeps the pace bustling along initially however the second act suffers as a result of the far too common polemic speeches that replace the witty repartee of earlier scenes. Cast your aspersions upon me as a product of the ‘Gen Y generation’ but everything I enjoyed about Dangerfield Park was tarnished by the utter boredom I felt by the end. Apathetic towards the conclusion and wishing a firmer hand had been shown with the editorial red pen.

 

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There’s a lot in this show that I obviously disliked but the performances in Dangerfield Park are really very good. Swenson does a thoroughly fabulous job as Sholto, playing the deliciously funny ageing queen with a delicate mixture of acidic bite and emotional depth. I would have enjoyed the show far more if we could have remained within Sholto’s domain and revelled in his lighting fast tongu. Brian Lucas brings the character of Otis to the stage in a fully realised and authentic performance that in many ways is the polar opposite of Sholto character. Otis is really the hardest role to play in this show requiring a performance that at times requires lecherous but never predatory, sleazy and sincere. Lucas carries the role beautifully and to me imparted the only sense of true authenticity I felt throughout the show.

 

I think Dangerfield Park would have made a real impact on me if I’d seen it a decade ago as a young gay man growing up in the changing world of the new millennium, but in 2014 it just left me underwhelmed and disappointed. When Swenson’s script succeeds it truly sparkles and allows the cast to shine but spread over three and a half hours these moments are sadly few and far between.




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