Author Archive for Xanthe Coward


Bradley McCaw: The Complete Unauthorised Biography of Cabaret


The Complete Unauthorised Biography of Cabaret

Brisbane Powerhouse & An Old Fashioned Production Company

Brisbane Powerhouse Graffiti Room

December 5 – 7 2014


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 




Bradley McCaw won Your Theatrics International Cabaret Contest in 2012 (book tickets here for the 2015 comp, the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere). Part of the prize package was to take his original show on an all expenses paid national tour and on to New York. It sold out. This year, for the first time, Brisbane Powerhouse has added Wonderland, a “night-time playground”, to this city’s cabaret calendar. McCaw’s show fits the bill in a slightly more conservative and sensible manner than most, giving us a refreshing break from all things outrageously and outlandishly “cabaret”. (Don’t worry, I also love outrageous and outlandish!). His show is a lesson in the genre and without a doubt the most fun you’ll have in the cabaret classroom, though we’re far from the traditional classroom.


We find ourselves in the intimate Graffiti Room with only 28 others. I know this space as a meeting room so I’ll admit I was dubious interested to see what sort of performance space it would make. Artistic Director of the Powerhouse, Kris Stewart, told me that previously the room has been claimed by Comedy Festival acts. The teeny, tiny, carpeted space works well in this context too, with a raised stage beneath a proscenium arch made from striped butchers’ paper. Note to self: Pin that in Event Inspiration.


McCaw greets us just as casually as if we were still standing by the bar outside (has it ever been busier?!), and introduces what will become a 50-minute 100-year history lesson, complete with his easy humour and musical interludes. I wish my Modern History lessons at high school had been as fun as this fascinating look at the European timeline. We begin in Paris, to seek an answer to the question, “What is Cabaret?” It’s a question that’s been asked many times of course, but McCaw narrows the context for us and cleverly sings a comical song of an afternoon spent shooting hoops and talking shop with a mate named Steve. McCaw realises he is unable to give Steve a straight answer and determines to find out for himself.


What is Cabaret?




Yes, and…




Le Chat Noir – the Black Cat Café – tells through its haunting ugly lights time of night melody and eloquent storytelling about the drunken proprietor of an empty venue, who opens his doors one night in 1878 to a group of artists, creating a magical space where cabaret is born. At this time it’s the sharing of stories, songs, skits, drinks… Is it still? In this quiet number lies the essence of the show, but there’s much more to come and a lot of it is surprisingly upbeat!


It’s in the lilting ballad tones and also, when McCaw opens up mid-range, that we hear the famous Ten Tenors quality in his voice. And when he rocks out in Hard to Keep a Good Girl Down we hear (and see) the unmistakable confidence and showmanship of a true Piano Man. Quick! Last drinks!


“I heard Billy Joel and a song of his ‘Just the Way You Are’ and I thought wow, that’s possibly the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. I want to make something like that, so I started making [music].”


It’s a rousing, cheeky song, boyish, fast and fun. Unknown to McCaw, however, is the ambition of the microphone on a stand above the Roland, which spins of its own accord, distracting and delighting us all. Its accidental choreography is actually perfectly fitting. He stops and laughs with us, swings it back and around and around it goes in stubborn, joyous pirouettes like a barefoot child at the end of a birthday party until McCaw pushes it aside again and begins the song again. In any other genre this part of the show might be forgotten; that is to say we might try at least to forget about that awful, embarrassing moment with the mic. But in this case it’s testament to McCaw’s ability to nurture the relationship with his audience in a shared moment of unexpected comedy.




Gentler, and presented with a direct challenge to the audience is All I Need Is You. McCaw reaches for a ukulele and teaches us a line of the song – it’s call and response – and in the small space, in which everyone can hear everything, it feels like a big ask! Luckily we’re seated next to Lizzie Sing It a Third Above Moore so it’s a pleasant experience and we sing along too. The opportunity comes again at the end of the show with Daydreamin’ Girl, a fun way to finish. Poppy knows how all this audience participation stuff goes and we already have McCaw’s EP; it’s a souvenir from Noosa Long Weekend Festival, which he signed for Poppy, and which we often play in the car. When I mentioned this to McCaw after the show it was hard to gauge whether or not he believed me, but it’s true. We’ve just started listening to Mama Kin again too, in case we run into Danielle & John at Woodford this year. “How can you chat to the singer, Mum, if you don’t know their songs?” So asks the wise child!


We travel with McCaw on an intriguing journey through tumultuous times, across borders and oceans, and all the way into 1940s American Ragtime. The show works well like this, as a chronological effort to discover a working definition for cabaret, but it means it’s a little less personal than the first version. I couldn’t help but think No Feelings Today made a deeper impact in its original 8-minute competition context and McCaw let us in on some heart thoughts about the time two brothers might spend together. Now, in representing the artists’ perspective on cabaret (“we can do whatever we want”), I feel this song loses its beautiful, soaring sadness. There’s always a place for beautiful, soaring sadness, for longing, particularly within cabaret and we can’t shy away from it for the sake of an academic argument!


“I think that’s what cabaret’s greatest asset is; it is always evolving. It takes whatever is around its community and it makes it seem fresh because it’s so new and so contemporary.


McCaw’s versatility is actually astounding as he shifts effortlessly between musical styles. I’d love to hear him sing more. Less shtick and more song!


I guess the answer to Steve’s question lies in each artist’s interpretation of the genre and if this show is cabaret too, let’s have more of it!




Briefs: The Second Coming (again)


Briefs: The Second Coming

Brisbane Powerhouse & Briefs Factory

Brisbane Powerhouse

December 3 -14 2014


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


Featuring Louis Biggs, Fez Faanana, Evil Hate Monkey, Dallas Dellaforce, Thom Worrell & Mark Captain Kidd Winmill.




Briefs: The Second Coming is a riot of colour, sparkles, stilettos, feathers, flesh and outrageous, over the top, total fabulousness.


I can’t believe I hadn’t caught this show until now! Last time it came to Brisbane Powerhouse, Guy wrote it up. This time it’s part of the venue’s inaugural festival, Wonderland; very clever programming. Briefs is a multi award winning, internationally touring, crowd-pleasing all-boy burlesque beauty, which showcases extraordinary talent and impressively sculpted bodies. These guys are works of art, and it’s easy to see why this show appeals to all sorts. There is actually something for everyone (even the fetishists), and with its recent embellishments thanks to a successful funding bid, Briefs is a gorgeous, hilarious show well worth your (festive season) time and money.




The show opens with the stunning Shivannah (Fez Faanana)  cursing gussets and offering the most down to earth acknowledgement of country ever, asking that we place both feet firmly on the floor and think of the ground beneath us, not just now and at official events, but often, and anywhere. Then, Las Vegas style, we’re gifted with some of the best fan work ever; think Busby Berkeley…boys. If you wanna’ learn to fan dance, ask one of these fellas to coach you. The ensemble effort doesn’t end there. If there’s anybody not already laughing out loud, a terrific eighties dance routine (and these boys can dance!), reminiscent of Young Talent Time, has everybody in stitches.




The aerial routines are slick and sexy – no fuss, no nonsense – it’s yet another different approach to circus (because circus is the new black, it’s everywhere); it’s completely unassuming, and this makes the evening more like a party than a show, during which each performer simply starts the routine and ends it and exits while we are still smiling and gasping in delight! (Thomas Worrell is exceptional!). A hula-hoop routine goes beyond (deceptively) simple artistry to become an exquisite new act, which could just as easily open for Gaultier on the runway during Paris Fashion Week, and a rubric cube challenge is met in a minute! And it’s this (twenty year old) naughty schoolboy at play with his iconic toy that makes me sit up and forget to finish my vino… Louis Biggs, hailing from Broome and neither straight nor gay (not his claim but part of Shivannah’s shtick), is one beautiful burlesque boy. Happily, this kid is as skillful as he is sexy, and I had to avoid meeting him after the show because WOAH BABY. (Also, WOE. Because I had not won the raffle. Pip and I waited to see if a similar offer would be made to those who had not only bought another drink but splashed out on the tea towel, but alas…). Biggs actually does great character work (no really, his naughty yo yo nerd is priceless), as well as a succession of cute hat tricks, in case we were not in lust with him already… #itsjustatalentcrush #noreally #nonotreally




King of Boylesque, Mark Winmill, presents a prelude to a spectacular finale that is not dissimilar to Bath Boy’s hot wet act, but in an ornate bird bath. As a beautiful, colourful, tropical bird. He is a sight to behold. Only David or Dita would do it better. JEALOUSSSSS.




Evil Hate Monkey presents crude comedy in the form of a mad balletic monkey (BANANA!), and Dallas Dellaforce brings such fierce elegance and grace to proceedings that I think it is she and not Grace Kelly or Ga Ga we’ve probs all wanted to be when we grow up, proving that as performer and costume designer, Dallas is certainly a force to be reckoned with! This is burlesque in its original and neo forms, incorporating circus and cabaret, and the effect is like a night out that begins with bubbles, stockings, stillettos and no cover charge, and ends with OMG-I-don’t-remember-what-I-drank-or-where-I-left-my-shoes and WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU?


Briefs: The Second Coming has come full circle, returning to Brisvegas, the boys’ original stomping ground, with more glam, glitz (and enviable, perfectly toned guts) than I’m led to believe it’s ever boasted before. It seems the show will continue to evolve and in its current form it’s absolutely fabulous, the perfect festive fare. A delectable feast for the eyes and senses, you’ll high kick yourself if you miss it. Must finish December 14 2014.



Freud’s Last Session


Freud’s Last Session

Strange Duck Productions

QPAC Cremorne

November 26 – December 7 2014


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


tea or coffee?

white or red?

boys or girls?

god or no god?

jung or freud?



In each case, we generally subscribe to one or the other, don’t we?



Google paid homage to Anna Freud today. Her part in Mark St Germain’s play is minor – we never actually meet her – but her presence is felt throughout and the relationship between father and daughter is never made any clearer…






Also, I’m listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things at the moment. I love Alma’s reassessment of the works by famed natural philosophers of the time. Her opinion of their notions seems to me to be on a par with her housekeeper’s summation of her husband; a bit of “nonsense”.






“My opinions may have changed, but not the fact that I’m right.”
― Ashleigh Brilliant



Freud’s Last Session is imagined, but the fascinating conversation might actually have taken place if C.S. Lewis had ever taken a train into London and paid a visit to Dr Sigmund Freud at his country house in Hampstead. I love hearing the sound bites (Frank Harlow) of Chamberlain’s speech and King George’s address to the British people, which place us precisely on the morning of the day before the Empire goes to war. I realise, if we are to tune into the wireless every so often as well as to what these great minds are thinking, there will be a lot to get through in a 60-minute show. And overall, the play is a scatty, hurried work, at times delving just deeply enough to challenge the most highbrow theatre goers and fancy dinner party throwers, and at other times flitting over and away from the most intriguing subject matter, coming close to missing the mark! I know! *Ducks to avoid the shots being fired because this is an internationally successful play and thus, brilliant, obviously. (Is it a writer’s ploy, to have us ponder the big questions for days afterwards rather than present them himself in any detail during the show?)


We are indeed presented with them all. Is there a god? Are we actually bisexual? Why is there war, and evil amongst men? Whatever happened to the Catholic Church? We are offered no answers. The two men share their contrasting views and we are simply challenged to consider those that are not our own. It’s a fleeting investigation when I’d expected more…well, just more.


Also, I had rather hoped for an actor in the role of C.S. Lewis to come up against William Zappa’s Freud with all of his might and intellect and imagination, but Andrew Henry has given us a young, wide-eyed character half-baked, which can’t be an accurate portrayal/imagining because C.S. LEWIS Y’ALL. ALREADY ON THE UP AND UP. He has some wonderful moments of intent listening and instantaneous responding, but the moments are few and far between. We believe him when he describes the horror of the battlefield, though why he moves to centre stage to deliver the monologue out front, one can only ponder later, (oh yes, we imagine there’s a lovely garden out front, sure, okay) and also, earlier in the piece for a brief moment when he speaks about running ahead, as a child in the woods, away from his father. The performance lacks a little imagination, that’s all. and I don’t warm to him. At all. Ever. Sorry. Really. I feel bad because he’s simply miscast.

Zappa, on the other hand, presents a masterclass in character and nuance, bringing the bonus quality of innate confidence to the stage, not only as a character trait but also, as an unmistakable quality of the seasoned actor. Zappa IS Freud and I watch his every move. He’s powerful and intimidating in his convictions and vulnerable, desperate and decidedly weary in his pain.


The conversation leaves much unsaid and I wonder how differently a play in two acts, perhaps with the distraction of a third character, might play out. You see, I can’t help but imagine there would have been a maid to make the tea…well, there would have been!


Anyway, attention to detail is perhaps not Adam Cook’s strongest point. Oh, I know! He’s done so much! But I haven’t seen it. (I wish I’d seen The Motherf*cker With the Hat!). As director of this production, might he not have felt obliged to consider the continuation of a dog barking, when once we have heard said dog’s bark, and subsequent reference to it? Surely a siren, signalling the planes overhead and evoking a frenzied panic in the actors would bring about some howling or barking, however; we hear nothing and see neither concern from Freud, or curiousity from Lewis. All I can think about for several moments (at several points throughout the play), is “Where the hell is the dog?!” Had the dog not been spoken about I might not have mentioned it here but the playwright makes a great deal of the dog, with Freud espousing its psychoanalytical talents and its penchant for standing by Freud rather than lounging by the patient if a patient appeared suspect…


Mark Thompson’s detailed set, which is an authentic replica of Freud’s study in Hampstead (The Freud Museum), is superb and supported by warm, cosy lighting (Gavan Swift). It’s so cosy a scene, complete with the famous couch, that we almost feel as if we’re in the room with the gentlemen but alas, they appear eager to get out into the sunshine or something and we gallop along through what would, in real life, take an entire impromptu poker night to address.


It’s a slightly awkward end, despite being obviously The End, and the audience sit for perhaps a moment longer than usual before applauding. They’re thinking. You can hear them thinking. After the curtain call, Mum and I join a terrific conversation with a Matilda Committe mate outside the Cremorne before continuing to debate the merits of the show and the workings of the universe during the drive home. We don’t yet solve the problems of the world, and nor do we answer the big questions, but we are each assured that what we believe in is enough for now. Well, aren’t we? At least we can keep the debate raging conversation going. (Christmas dinner, after all, is really just DAYS AWAY!). And Freud’s Last Session must finish on Sunday. See it if you can – it’s food for thought and surely Zappa at his best.




Gasp! and a chat with Ben Elton



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…




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!




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!




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!




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.



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




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.




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.




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.




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).




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).



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








Brisbane Powerhouse & Claire Marshall Projects

In association with Metro Arts

Brisbane Powerhouse

November 18–22 2014


Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway





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.



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




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!




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.



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