Author Archive for Xanthe Coward

29
Jul
14

And that’s a wrap! Noosa Long Weekend Festival 2014

 

And that’s a wrap! Noosa Long Weekend Festival 2014

 #NLWF2014 #NLWF14 #NLW14

 

diabolique_collagepic_NLWF14

 

We’re back! But if you’ve been following on social media, you won’t have missed us at all! We’ve been tweeting and instagramming for the last 10 days from the 13th Noosa Long Weekend Festival! And what a festival!

 

Oh yeah. Right. There are still some theatre and cabaret reviews to catch up on…dating back to MAY. I KNOW. I’M APPALLED BY ME TOO.

 

But those will have to wait a little longer because you should really know what you’ve missed out on SO YOU CAN BOOK EARLY FOR NEXT YEAR’S NOOSA LONG WEEKEND FESTIVAL! Lock it in!

 

Noosa Long Weekend Festival July 17 – 26 2015

 

There really is nothing like a Noosa Long Weekend – it’s 10 days of warm winter sunshine, beautiful beaches, the best accommodation, bars and restaurants, and top shopping, arts, literature, forums, food and fun! I honestly don’t know why you’d be anywhere else.

 

XS Entertainment has been involved before – we took Erotique to NLWF12 after sell-out seasons in a Mooloolaba shop front and at the Sydney Fringe Festival in 2010. We had developed Erotique after staging Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde, and never felt satisfied with the woman’s character, played at various times by Sharon Grimley and Sarah McMahon (and in Schnitzler’s original script was written as a male character, a fop; we hated him). The Woman we created was elusive but she’d been so strongly brought to life by Sharon, and then by Sarah, we couldn’t let her rest. Or, she wouldn’t let us rest. Sam proposed a new show, which would focus on The Woman, and he cast the three of us to play her – Sharon Grimley, Stephanie Brown and me. Steph was also engaged to choreograph the show, and once I faced facts and realised I was too busy (or too distracted) to write the thing myself, we collaborated beautifully and each wrote our own monologues and selected our own songs.

 

As far as process goes, Sam and I love to work this way, allowing the performers to sing the flesh onto the bones of their characters and discover for themselves why they end up doing what they do. Sam hasn’t always directed this way – he used to be bossier! I’ve loved seeing him discover a magical relationship mantra that goes something like, “Watch, listen, trust, adjust.” He didn’t tell me that, it’s just what I see. Perhaps he’ll disagree. We often disagree and so the two of us working together is not always ideal. The rehearsal studio can get quite heated at times, and it’s not anything to do with the eroticism of the show! Due to its adult content, this show has been particularly challenging to rehearse at home, where an eight-year old has learned to come to terms with getting her own dinner, tidying the kitchen and disappearing to put herself to bed twice a week. We don’t want that to ever happen again. However, everyone has certainly appreciated Poppy’s newly acquired barista skills. She was even making money from the Managing Carmen cast, who left a tip for her at the end of the night!

 

I don’t consider dancing to be my strongest point so Steph’s fabulous choreography was challenging for me. (With any luck, those of you who saw the show wouldn’t have known!). Don’t expect me to take on a dance role again anytime soon, although if I continue to get enquiries I’ll consider giving Burlesque classes. Seriously. Hopefully we’ll see some of those enquiring aspiring strippers work really hard before October on stylishly shedding their layers and singing and chatting away for our inaugural Keep Calm and Cabaret competition because here’s the thing: let’s keep the styles evolving. Some of the best feedback we got from audience members at Diabolique was:

 

I love the old burlesque but I love your new burlesque more.

 

You girls can sing!

 

The character was so strong and the story was so beautiful and sad we forgot you were nearly naked!

 

This is theatre to make you think.

 

It’s theatre on a high wire.

 

This is cabaret? I like this cabaret!

 

Highly sophisticated.

 

Mesmerising.

 

Beautiful theatre.

 

 

diabolique_stephandx_NLWF14

 

 

We were lucky to have Travis MacFarlane stop by to design our lighting after just one viewing of the show.

 

Of course the audiences responded to Managing Carmen in an entirely different way. The production was cleverly staged, just as beautifully lit, and so funny, starring Frank Wilkie, Adam Flower, Simon Denver, Marina de Jager and Ashleigh Muekenberger.

 

“It was hard,” says Sam, of directing two productions at once. “The greatest challenge” he says, “was to keep two teams who were very different in nature, in style and in preparation, in my head at the one time.”

 

“I’m very proud to again prove that local talent can mix with our national and international talent. We can hold our own.”

 

I’ll offer some more reflections on the festival along the way, as we catch up on the reviews that are missing here.

 

In the meantime, check out Barry Alsop’s Eyes Wide Open Images from Noosa Long Weekend Festival 2014! Cheers!

 

managingcarmen_castandcrew_NLWF14

 

15
Jul
14

2014 Helpmann Award Noms Announced!

 

Helpmann Awards Nominations Announcement

QPAC Playhouse

July 14 2014

 

Attended by Meredith Walker

 

Independent theatre and Indigenous stories have important roles to play in Australian theatre. This was one of the messages to be taken from this year’s Helpmann Awards nominations announcement.

 

Since their establishment in 2001, The Helpmann Awards, named in honour of Australian dancer, actor, director and choreographer Sir Robert Helpmann, have aimed to recognise, celebrate and promote Australia’s live performance industry, similar to the Tony Awards on Broadway and the Olivier Awards in London.

 

Nominations for the awards in the fields of theatre, musical theatre, opera, music and dance were announced at simultaneous events in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Hobart and Perth. The Brisbane nomination event was hosted by internationally acclaimed, Queensland Ballet’s Artist Director, Li Cunxin, with local theatre figures Nelle Lee (shake & stir Theatre Company), Kris Stewart (Brisbane Powerhouse), Russell Mitchell (Opera Queensland) and Erica Hart (Queensland Music Festival) assisting in announcing the nominations within the 41 award categories.

 

With such a plentiful and diverse theatrical landscape from which to garnish nominations, it is of little surprise, perhaps, that the final nominee lists came from more than 700 nominees. And while the final list was predominantly in favour of New South Wales based shows (Opera Australia and Sydney Theatre Company dominate in the opera and play categories), there were opportunities for cheerful celebration of Queensland’s representation among the accolades.

 

Expressions Dance Company’s beautiful and poetic work, When Time Stops, whose world premiere featured as part of 2013’s Brisbane Festival, featured in two categories, Best Choreography in a Dance or Physical Theatre Production for Natalie Weir and Best Original Score for Iain Grandage.

 

natalie-weirs-when-time-stops-promo-2-pictured-edcs-samantha-mitchell-image-by-dylan-evans

 

The local accolades also include nomination of Ursula Yovich as Best Female Actor in a Play for her role as the titular character in 2013’s Queensland Theatre Company production of Mother Courage, which continued the political commentary theme of Brecht’s original text by examining the moral ambiguity around mining.

 

There were also nods given to shows seen on or forthcoming to Brisbane’s stages. Among the 11 Indigenous nominations across nine categories is the Queensland Theatre Company and Sydney Festival Production Black Diggers, which explores the untold and exceptional stories of Indigenous Australian soldiers who fought for the British Commonwealth. The Best New Australian Work nominee is set to not only feature as one of this year’s Brisbane Festival highlights, but will be broadcast live to nine major regional centres across Queensland in a state-wide first.

 

black diggers-Jamie Williams-12

 

Malthouse Theatre’s The Shadow King, which will also feature at this year’s Brisbane Festival, is also represented, with nominations in four categories, Best Play, Best New Australian Work, Best Director of a Play (Michael Kantor) and Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role in a Play (Jimi Bani). The epic play, which reworks Shakespeare’s tragedy, King, Lear, in an Indigenous setting, incorporating a number of Indigenous languages is set to be an unmissable theatrical event.

 

Also featuring at the 2014 Brisbane Festival will be Best Cabaret Performer nominee Sarah Ward (for Between The Cracks) as her fabulous character creation Yana Alana. Last seen early this year at WTF’s 지하 Underground Up Late, this much loved cabaret provocateur will feature in the intimate Tears Before Bedtime, in the September festival.

 

The star of the night, however, had to be Hayes Theatre’s first production, the musical Sweet Charity, which scored a total of eight nominations, one more than its high profile Sydney counterpart, Strictly Ballroom the Musical. This is particularly significant given that the new, intimate not-for-profit Potts Point Theatre (named after Australian musical theatre legend, Nancye Hayes) has at its focus, the provision of a permanent home for small-scale, independent musical theatre and cabaret.  

 

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For a nation with a relatively young theatre history, our artistic achievements fare well across the many genres of our vibrant and dynamic preforming arts industry. However, we cannot afford to take this for granted or slip into complacency. And as long as we have new work and independent shows of the calibre of those nominated at the 2014 Helpmann Awards, then the future is looking exciting indeed.

 

After five years at the Sydney Opera House, this year’s Helpmann Awards will be staged at the Capitol Theatre on August 18, where they will be hosted by Jonathan Biggins (author of this year’s QTC opening work, Australia Day). The ceremony will take place on the set of The Lion King and will feature musical performances from The Lion King, Les Misérables, Strictly Ballroom and Djuki Mala (Chooky Dancers). As in previous years, Foxtel’s Arena channel will officially broadcast the Awards night in August.

 

 

11
Jul
14

CATS – the arena spectacular spectacular

 

I THOUGHT I WOULD FINISH WRITING ABOUT CATS BEFORE THE NOOSA LONG WEEKEND FESTIVAL BEGINS. YOU MIGHT NOT HEAR FROM ME NOW UNTIL AUGUST.

 

ACTUALLY THAT’S NOT TRUE BECAUSE, AS YOU’LL RECALL, WE’RE GONNA’ TWEET AND INSTAGRAM THE HELL OUTTA’ #NLW14

 

COME UP AND SEE US SOMETIME.

 

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The closest I will ever get to playing a cat.

 

CATS

Harvest Rain Theatre Company

Brisbane Convention Centre

July 4 – 6 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

When CATS first opened in Australia none of the members of this production’s mass ensemble were born. (When it opened in London I *might* have been just born. Alright, I *might* have been in preschool already but let’s not think too long about that).

 

CATS has been performed in over 20 countries and in over 250 cities.

 

The song Memory has been recorded by over 150 artists.

 

1700 meters of lycra and 2000 metres of faux fur were used to create the costumes.

 

Over 3000 pots of Kryolan make-up were used to create the make-up designs.

 

The dance floor comprises over 500 pieces weighing over 10 tonnes.

 

Over 1500 young performers auditioned for the mass ensemble and 800 were chosen.

 

The mass ensemble rehearsed on weekends for 6 months and the professional cast rehearsed for 3 weeks.

 

70 individual body mics were used in this production.

 

There are over 400 lights in the rig and over 400 stage management cues to call.

 

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This is the second largest production of CATS ever! (The largest featured over 3000 cats in London in 2013). That makes it the largest production ever staged in the Southern Hemisphere. I think I’ve finally worked out Harvest Rain’s caper.

 

THEY ARE AFTER THE NEXT OLYMPICS OPENING CEREMONY GIG

 

They’ve certainly proved with this super-sized production that they have the team to pitch something!

 

With more than #800cats on stage in the Brisbane Convention Centre, including a heap from the Sunshine Coast (and you know I know that drive! Well done, Mums and Dads!). At times it felt like we were caught in a musical epic about the bubonic plague, as hundreds and hundreds of cats swarmed into the space, looking for the first few moments more like rats than cats, upon a ship’s deck, which indeed, seemed to be where we were meant to be. That’s right. No garbage heap here. I actually overheard somebody explaining to his companion that the original had been staged on a rubbish heap and I was suddenly reminded that THERE ARE PEOPLE IN THE WORLD WHO HAVEN’T YET SEEN CATS. I KNOW.

 

I remember the first time I experienced CATS, at QPAC’s Lyric Theatre in 1989 (the Australian and New Zealand tour), in which Trevor Green played Skimbleshanks to great acclaim. We were sitting next to Trevor on opening night of Harvest Rain’s CATS and I thought I noticed the same consternation on his face that I too was feeling during Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat, as the pace began to lag a little. Perhaps it was a trick of the light; Jason Glenwright’s rock star lighting design is a show unto itself! Anyway, what I remember most about that first experience was that the cats actually came through the stalls, purring and climbing all over us! Also, we were allowed on stage at Interval to see the set up close. Unheard of! Years later, Sam played Old Deuteronomy in a local production with Nathanael Cooper as Munkastrap. (Nathanael would probably prefer you didn’t know about that but I’m telling you because he did real GOOD!), and I’ll never forget my first singing teacher, Judy, who wore face paint and cute little cat ears to sing Memory at a closing night party at our place in Buderim. I think it was after a very successful Buderim run of Waltzes From Vienna.

 

These cats did not disappoint either, settling into various reposes upon the floor and on the stairs at points throughout the show when not dancing, keeping character all the while and delighting patrons with their cheeky grins and fabulously feline characters, upheld by all within my scope at least. Paired with the synchronised moggie moves of over 800 performers, including fifteen or more legit tap dancers, it’s a totes impressive effort!

 

MD Maitlohn Drew leads a confident lot of cat wig clad musos, and the music, which is usually easy to get sick to death of – c’mon, be real, it is – was actually really enjoyable. I even loved lots of little moments largely because of the music. Mostly, if I’m completely honest, I ACTUALLY LOVE CATS. I love CATS because of Sarah Brightman, Elaine Paige, Macavity the Mystery Cat and RUM TUM TUGGER. Unfortunately, HR’s Rum Tum (Ethan Jones) gave us more Ty Noonan than Mick Jagger and you know I’m a big fan of Ty’s stuff but it has its place, and it’s place is not in Lloyd Webber’s CATS. (WE LOVE YOU, TY!). That’s not to say that Jones disappointed anybody else on opening night – he was a hit! Mungojerrie (Callan Warner) and Rumpleteaser (Hannah Crowther), though a bit breathless, wowed us with their acrobatic song and dance routine and it’s testament to Harvest Rain’s training program that these two – two of the strongest of the core ensemble, along with Munkastrap (Dean Vince), Mr Mistoffelees (Stevie Bishop) and Jennyanydots (Astin Blaik) – are stand outs in terms of their performance flair, energy and vocal and physical prowess. (It should be noted that I felt Jones redeemed himself in his rich contribution to Magical Mr Mistoffelees). CATS is considered a dancers’ show, sure, but it’s a much more entertaining dancers’ show when the dancers can hold a tune and convey character.

 

Steven Tandy makes a delightful Bustopher Jones and a lovable Gus. Our leading lady of musical theatre, Marina Prior, is an apt choice for Grizabella, giving the famous role a beautiful blend of fragility and fallen grace, not to mention making a pristine appearance in her Wheels & Dollbaby at the after party.

 

 

poppy_marinaprior_cats_july2014

 

Choreographer and Director, Callum Mansfield has always worked meticulously and he had his work cut out for him on this one – we know that CATS is really the choreographer’s show – and word is that Mansfield started work on this production a year ago. Actually, Mansfield choreographed Harvest Rain’s 2007 production of CATS, at their teeny tiny Sydney Street theatre in New Farm, with Designer Josh McIntosh and Producer, Tim O’Connor. Mansfield was 17 years old. During that original run he’d said, “For a choreographer and dancer, Cats is THE dream gig. It’s athletic, energetic and joyful and it’s a challenge to ensure that the choreography reflects the feline movements of the characters while also communicating with the audience.” He also played Mr Mistoffelees in that production. We can only imagine his horror delight when O’Connor suggested staging the show again but this time, on a much larger scale! This time Mansfield says (and this I LOVE), “…here was my chance to provide 800 young performers with the same kind of opportunity that was given to me. Whether they were eight or eighteen years old, I set out to make this experience an enjoyable journey of music, dance and storytelling that would solidify their passion for performing and help them on their way.”

 

Mansfield has BOOKS of choreography – I’d love to see those – and this time he engaged two assistant choreographers (Jennifer Miller& Courtney Underhill), and thirty-nine dance captains to lead the mass ensemble in “tribes” of different colours. Wow! And yikes! And it’s because of these sorts of logistical nightmares that no one else comes close to even attempting anything of the size and scale of this production. I’m not even joking about the Olympics’ bid.

 

I’m actually convinced now that Harvest Rain can (and will) do anything.

 

Look, if you hate CATS you would still have hated it after seeing this production – just face it, you’re a Hater and not even Harvest Rain’s eight million cute kids in furry costumes can cure you – it’s still a whimsical non-story using the poems by T.S. Eliot in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, about a bunch of cats with human qualities who come together for the Jellicle Ball, the cat event of the year, akin to Damien Rossi’s Oscars’ party, obviously, during which (the Jellicle Ball, not the Oscars’ party), one cat will be chosen to become elevated to somewhere vaguely above us. Of course that cat is Grizabella, an outcast and set up beautifully to be the underdog who comes out on top, literally, disappearing via smoky scaffolding into the mystical realm of the Heaviside Layer. The tales within the tale are beautifully realised, allowing for the most plot-like non-plot I’ve seen in a production of CATS.

 

Cats-HarvestRain-2

 

Apparently, without Marina Prior signing on as the Glamour Cat, this production would never have gone ahead, and whether or not her star power has attracted just as many audience members as family members of the kids involved, what it does do is this – it reaffirms Harvest Rain as one of our premiere performing arts companies, giving them the sort of street cred that only Prior’s sort of star power can buy (check out the cast of Spamalot!), and it gives the younger members of the company a legit role model and mentor. Just as those of us who are *slightly older* looked to Sarah Brightman before her crazy-ass experimental pop chart electronica era (I saw her live on stage, y’all. She sang off key), these aspiring performers look to Marina and her industry peers. It’s obviously been such an awesome opportunity, on so many levels, to be part of Harvest Rain’s Wakakirri Creative Generation Arena Spectacular Spectacular Rock Challenge CATS! Congrats, all! I’m looking forward to seeing all your lovely new faces, although perhaps not all at once, on a stage somewhere again soon!

 

 

07
Jul
14

Caligula

 

Caligula

The Danger Ensemble

With support from Judith Wright Centre’s Fresh Ground program

Judith Wright Centre

July 3 – 12 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

CALIGULA+hero

 

Right after seeing The Danger Ensemble’s latest visual feast mindfuck, Caligula, Sam offered Director, Steven Mitchell Wright, the most apt description I’ve ever heard of his work:

 

“Someone shot you in the head, and the bits of your brain that slid down the wall to land on the floor is what you’ve made this show with.”

 

The design elements are beautiful (Designers Benjamin Hughes & Nathalie Ryner), the first ten minutes – otherworldly beautiful – and then, once we’ve heard from two tour guides (not your usual suspects and serving in this moment as Greek Chorus) about Caligula’s character and infamous short reign over the Roman Empire, all descends into chaos. We transcend time and place to find ourselves lost somewhere between “history” and the fetish clubs of the 21st century. It’s loose, it’s a little wicked, and it’s not anything at all like you might expect, even if you thought you were familiar with The Danger Ensemble’s work. And that’s the thing.

 

The Danger Ensemble is the only company in the place doing this work. It’s bold and cheeky, and it’s quite often crass and downright revolting (it’s no secret that I disliked Sons of Sin), but it’s being made and THAT is a beautiful thing.

 

The work itself usually contains, on some level, a whole lot of brutality, sensuality, classically derived text, and new interpretations of ancient beliefs or popular opinions or bits of history. This work, just as Loco Maricon Amour did, boasts moments of immense beauty, and subtlety too. The images conjured (and they are conjured, as if by magic; as I’ve noted before, Steven Mitchell Wright’s expertise in painting pictures on stage is impressive), are capable of affecting us in a way that only art can. Each piece or tiny moment is unique and we respond to it in such a personal way that sometimes the effect is difficult to describe. Sometimes, when I’m writing up a show like this, I just wish you’d been there. You need to get out more! Experience the work!

 

Had you been there, you might have breathed more quietly, or held your breath, or tried not to visibly squirm, or tried to stop yourself from digging your nails into the palm of your hand as the beating of your heart quickened…

 

Have you ever sat through a delivery boy’s litany on the pros and cons of fisting (Stephen Quinn), or listened to the deadpan delivery from a woman wearing the horns of Beelzebub (Lucinda Shaw) on how to skin an animal while the “animal” twitches and tenses and dances and stumbles and eventually dies in front of you, collapsing into a deep pool of plastic party cups? No? See? You just don’t know how you’ll respond to that! How good is live theatre!?

 

The cast has been literally cast to create white plaster torsos that hang from the gods and rise to reveal the actors behind them, only to stop and hang in mid air, to look over the strange, sordid action that follows. The effect is a haunting reminder that somebody, whether or not we believe it to be a pantheon of gods, is always watching. We are, each of us, responsible for the way we choose to feel but we realise too that our words and actions have an impact on those around us.

 

DRIVE CAREFULLY, PEOPLE.

 

Sometimes while Sam drives I write, and as I write I’m grateful the P Plater in front of us has wrenched himself back onto the highway instead of dying in the gutter tonight. How close we can come to death. How sad it is that we need these reminders to truly value our lives. And then there are those who ignore the reminders and continue to live ungratefully, recklessly, selfishly, and viciously. They make me sick. And then I remember I can try not to feel disgusted by their apathy for the feelings of others. Try to frame it differently. Try to feel compassion. Poor, stupid people who go through life hurting others… That’s right, isn’t it?

 

An entire section of Caligula (and, it seems, the Dharma), has been completely lost on me; it’s almost a stand-up comedy segment comprising Chris Beckey and Nerida Matthaei using hand held mics to hold a rather odd conversation about the ways she wishes to be hurt by him.

 

I want you to hit me with your car.

 

Really? YOU WANT HIM TO HIT YOU WITH HIS CAR. Who would want that? Is it a metaphor? Is it a kiss with a fist?

 

 

It made me think of a few things, including another song, you know, the Swedes singing about driving a car into a bridge? I’m appalled that Poppy knows the lyrics and we’ve talked about how crazy and ungrateful it is that she wouldn’t even care, about her life, about other peoples lives, about what happens in the lives of the people she leaves behind… I also think of an ex-boyfriend who was genuinely an emo (I know, what was I thinking? I’m actually a beach baby! And I love happy endings!), and that stupidly disturbing and unnecessarily revoltingly violent film, which I never finished watching and never will, Irreversible.

 

There’s the thought too that Nerida Matthaei’s choreography makes Caligula a convincing “dance theatre” piece (it’s a term that seems to be bandied about a bit at the moment), as much as it is a work of theatre or contemporary performance art. I can imagine this show performed in all its parts at various times of the day and night in a place like MONA.

 

I enjoyed Beckey’s voice – rich and salubrious – vocally and physically his is a consummate performance as always, right to the glittery end. And the twitching, dying movement sequence mentioned earlier, performed by Gabriel Comerford, will be sure to sear some sort of cruel image on your mind so you’ll certainly remember him the next time you see him (or hear about Anna Krien’s Us and Them). Even without Steven Mitchell Wright on stage – he cut his role the day before opening, as it seemed superfluous – this is another bold configuration of one of the country’s most confident, most consistently challenging creative companies. What we’re seeing here is the earliest version of this piece, thanks to The Judy’s Fresh Ground program; it’s a slightly messy birth but we know that whatever this baby looks like in the first instance, we’ll give it a chance.

 

Caligula comes to us at the perfect time, challenging our perceptions of what art is, what is acceptable to see and to talk about in public, and what parallels are to be drawn between historical and current leaders and followers. Power, wealth, sex, power. Power. Who else is asking the questions? Who else is presenting multiple possible answers for us to discuss and digest?
It’s true (and unfortunate) that The Danger Ensemble flirts with financial ruin when compared to the obvious commercial successes of our pretty, lovely, light and fluffy theatre companies but then, why compare? The work is unapologetic, pushing the proverbial boundaries and promising nothing at this stage but a unique night out, which you certainly won’t forget but you might not want to remember. Regardless, let’s see more of it!

 

CALIGULA2

04
Jul
14

The Red Shoes – a chat with Natalie Weir

 

The Red Shoes is Natalie Weir’s new work for Expressions Dance Company.

 

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s story and the 1948 film of the same name, it too is about a woman obsessed with dance to the point of self-destruction.

 

The Red Shoes_EDC_hero

 

Ruth Ridgway chatted with Natalie Weir, Artistic Director of Expressions Dance Company.

 

What was it about the Hans Christian Andersen story and the 1948 movie of The Red Shoes that appealed to you and inspired your work of the same name?

 

I saw the film on television some time ago and thought it was beautiful, and possibly something a dance company could do. I loved the era it was set in, and the story within a story idea.

 

It is also very appealing to find strong, complex and interesting female characters to base work on.

 

In order to grow our audience, we are at times using well-known titles to help make the company more accessible, and to perhaps attract people to see us that might not normally come. And I do love to tell a good story – with darkness and light!

 

It also seemed relevant to create a work about dance – as this is what we do every day – and the pursuit of perfection. This is not only in classical ballet, but also contemporary dance – the dancers do this constantly. But of course perfection means different things to different people.

 

theredshoes_dvdimage

 

How have you developed the work? Did you have a particular focus to start with? Did this change, and if so, how?

 

I started discussions with designer Bruce McKinven, to see if he found the idea inspiring. We talked a lot about the idea of obsession, or addiction, and how that can start very small and focused, but end up overtaking one’s whole life.

 

Bruce followed the story within a story idea by creating onstage a world within a world. We have not really deviated from this – just developed it.

 

The dancers of course play a major part in the creation of the work, the development of the movement and the characters. This work really belongs to them.

 

How do you feel about the cruelty and sadism of the Hans Christian Andersen story, and is that reflected in the work?

 

It’s like many of the fairy tales – those of the Grimm Brothers for example – the heart of the story is often dark and gruesome. In Red Shoes the girl’s feet are chopped off – yet they keep on dancing without her! Not so nice. However the idea of something taking over someone’s life – like a drug, where they are unable to stop it, seemed like strong fodder.

 

In my Red Shoes, the dancer Victoria becomes obsessed with the person in the mirror – but not in a good way. She is performing in a pantomime of The Red Shoes – which I have approached quite stylistically, with a dark angel cursing her to dance to death, and redemption/love/spirituality found through the weeping angel. This pantomime has her personal story around it (the story of the real Victoria) – her memories of auditioning for a dance company, her struggle with the form, her search for perfection, as well as the amazing highs that being on stage and the accolades bring.

 

The film of The Red Shoes shows another way in which a woman is destroyed, not so much by her obsession with dance, but by her temerity in wanting to have a career. Is this battle to develop a career reflected in your work? Or is the struggle different, and in what way?

 

Yes, it’s the struggle I guess to maintain a real life – seen through the relationship with Victoria’s lover/soulmate – balanced precariously with her onstage desires and dreams. We see her begin to slip into a madness of sorts, and the lover is left with a shell of a woman whose spirit has been captured by a world of fantasy.

 

The struggle could be brought into a modern context – the difficulty of finding a life/work balance, and I think this is relevant when working in an artform that is about passion, dedication and drive. Rarely do artists of any genre leave their work at work; it does pervade their private lives and often defines who they are. But when is this too much? And what happens when it ends?

 

red-shoes-moira-shearer-001

 

What do the red shoes symbolise for you?

 

They are the intangible spirit that drives a dancer to be all they can be – the love of an artform.

 

What do the story and the film say to you about dance as a pursuit? How is this different in your work?

 

I think most people would recognise that dance is an artform of incredible highs and fulfilment, especially for those who make it to the top in their field – perfection can almost be found (but not quite). However, there is a downside, and perhaps for those not finding that dream, it can be heartbreaking. But the satisfaction for those who persevere and get there – that might be hard to match in other areas of their lives.

 

Can you tell us a little about the music for The Red Shoes, which will be performed live by the Southern Cross Soloists?

 

The music is by an eclectic mix of composers. Tania Frazer (Creative Director of Southern Cross Soloists) has been sending me music over a period of 12 months. We wanted it to sound as if it belonged in the 1940s, and had beauty and timelessness. We have music by Rachmaninov and Bach, as well as living composers such as Matthew Hindson, Pēteris Vasks and Giovanni Allevi.

 

The Southern Cross Soloists are all incredible musicians, all really at the top of their game, and it is a pleasure to have the luxury of the music being played live.

 

You are also incorporating film by Sue Healey. How is the film being used?

 

Film is not an area I have worked in before, but this work seemed to ask for it. The film is used three times only: the first two times to magnify the state of mind of Victoria, and the third in the onstage pantomime, to provide a really different look onstage and give the sense of the dancer travelling. Victoria dances through night and day, and different landscapes – and the film underpins the emotion and physicality of the dance to the death. Sue Healey is a sensitive and experienced filmmaker, and this work seemed like a great place to collaborate with such a film artist for the first time.

 

Finally, what do you hope the audience will feel in response to your work The Red Shoes?

 

It is always hard to predict how audiences will react to a new work, but I hope they feel engaged by the story, stunned by the gorgeous design, moved by the haunting beauty of the music, and inspired by the beautiful physicality and artistry of the dancers.

 

Every one of the dancers has a moment to shine, and I do believe they shine through.

 

 

The Red Shoes runs from July 18 – 26 2014 at QPAC. Book online.

 

 

03
Jul
14

XS Entertainment at Noosa Long Weekend Festival!

 

Well, by now you will have booked your tix to see our shows at this year’s Noosa Long Weekend Festival! What!? You haven’t!? YOU WILL MISS OUT! 

 

Managing_Carmen-200

I haven’t had time to even tell you about what we’re doing, unless you’re following us on Twitter and Instagram, where you will have seen some sneaky peaks at both productions, which we present in association with Noosa Long Weekend Festival.

 

BOOK NOW!

 

 

Managing Carmen is David Williamson’s comedy about a cross-dressing AFL player, directed by Sam Coward. Even if you’ve seen this play before, you’ve never seen it like THIS! That’s right. It’s been Samified AND David Williamson approved. You’ll love the quirks and fast pace of this, what we think might be Australia’s first real farce; one of David’s wittiest observations on relationships and the whole massive media machine within the world of sport.

 

Diabolique is completely different. Dark and sexy, this challenging drama plays at the edges of burlesque and cabaret to tell the intriguing tale of a woman whose life is ruined by a series of questionable choices and one diabolical decision.

 

Diabolique. Image by Peter Trainer.

 

Diabolique. Image by Peter Trainer.

 

Three women play one (yes, it’s me with Sharon Grimley and Stephanie Brown), and we think you’ll love it! We can tell you that considering and sourcing costumes with Adam Flower, who plays Brent Lyall in Managing Carmen has been fun and FUNNY! (Although you won’t see the Honey Birdette on HIM!). Yes, sadly for students (probably happily for their parents), you won’t get in to see this one; it’s 18+

 

We always set out to challenge our actors and audiences with content, themes and skills to start conversations. Who knew we were exotic dancers in another life? Expect to be pleasantly surprised and suitably challenged!

 

My other hot tips for Festival tix? Well, you’ve already missed out on Michael Griffiths and Rhonda Burchmore. Forbidden Broadway, Night of Comedy, Puccini and Fettucini, our inaugural Festival Wrap Dinner and Mandy Sayer are also SOLD OUT! Get in quicker next year! If you can still get tix today, book for Bruce Beresford’s Bonnie & Clyde, Catherine Alcorn, Melody Beck, Anna Goldsworthy, any of the four fantastic forums on offer this year, and of course, Managing Carmen and Diabolique, all almost SOLD OUT! And it’s no wonder with THESE LEGS ON SHOW!

 

adam_shoes

 

XS Entertainment and Noosa Long Weekend Festival will be live-tweeting and Instagramming so frock up and be ready to say hi, get your Cocktail Capers VIP Pass, visit the restaurants, mingle with old friends and meet some new ones. One of the things I love most about the Noosa Long Weekend Festival is that you meet the most amazing people! I’m especially looking forward to our inaugural opening night Carnivale on Hastings Street. Get ready to get amongst it! Oh, and look out for Bronte and Tara in that crowd! They’ll be helping me cover all things social media related for the ten days of arts, literature, food, forums and FUN! SEE YOU THERE! X

 

Diabolique-poster

01
Jul
14

Les Illuminations

 

Les Illuminations

Maestro Series 5: Katie Noonan and Sydney Dance Company

Queensland Symphony Orchestra

QPAC Concert Hall

Saturday June 14 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

katienoonan_lesilluminations

 

Conductor Johannes Fritzsch
Soprano Katie Noonan
Choreographer Rafael Bonachela for Sydney Dance Company
Costume Designer Toni Maticevski

Stravinsky Song of the Nightingale
Britten Simple Symphony
Britten Les Illuminations
Ravel La Valse

 

“I alone hold the key to the savage parade” Rimbaud

 

A clever collaboration between Sydney Dance Company, Katie Noonan and Queensland Symphony Orchestra (QSO), Les Illuminations is pretty astonishing. This production was originally presented in 2013 for the centenary of Benjamin Britten’s birth, returning recently to QPAC and to the Sydney Opera House for sold-out seasons. Les Illuminations is so much more about the dance than the other elements though; the sublime voice of Katie Noonan and the rich tones of the symphony orchestra seem almost secondary, which is not always ideal. This is not Katie’s first collaboration but it’s attracted a lot more attention than Love-Song-Circus (if you missed the show buy the album; it’s truly stunning work). Being a big fan of Katie I wanted to hear more from her, but the requirement of the vocalist in Britten’s piece, in terms of stage time, is minimal. The degree of difficulty, however, begs appreciation for what we see is a short and tricky, bittersweet performance about love, in all its forms. I appreciate it. But that doesn’t mean I won’t mention it again.

 

Before we even get a glimpse of Katie, dressed in a structural black Toni Maticevski with her crimson hair elegantly coiffed, we enjoy Stravinsky’s Song of the Nightingale and Britten’s Simple Symphony. The dance is light, fun and playful, and the strings of the first piece are absolutely breathtaking, with not one but two harps contributing to a magical sound that I just don’t hear unless I’m in Mum’s car, which is tuned to ABC Classic FM. I wish I’d brought eight year old Poppy to this show. She gets to go to so much though and it’s a school night. She’s attended QSO events before. This time the sensible parenting decision prevailed. Poppy is always the youngest audience member at the classical concerts and we both get mixed looks from (much) older enthusiasts. We certainly prefer hearing, “Oh look, isn’t she gorgeous?” to “Oh look, as if you would bring a child to the orchestra!” THAT’S RIGHT. WE CAN HEAR YOU. Insert bemused emoticon here.

 

Why take kids to the orchestra? Well, for all the same reasons grown-ups enjoy live classical music, kids love it! It’s actually an amazing, exciting experience to see and hear the orchestra live. Also, they get to dress up and go out, learn concert etiquette, and have wonderful conversations with us about the city, their dreams and their friends and all sorts of other things like pre-show sushi v tapas and the different sounds of the grown ups’ shoes on the floor of the Concert Hall. There are so many reasons to share the experience with your child! Sometimes even the fact that it’s a school night is not reason enough to keep a child AWAY from a live show.

 

I came away from this concert wanting to hear more from Katie, but in appreciating the difficulty of the vocal work, and the nature of this unique performance, I enjoyed hearing from her in Les Illuminations, a much darker piece than the previous, allowing us an extended moment to enjoy Katie’s flawless performance. She has such an extraordinary range and ethereal sound. This production seemed to steer our attention time and time again to the dancers on the floor out front while Katie was placed towards the back of the orchestra – in that spectacular frock, which in itself is criminal! Somebody more willing to share the love with their singer would have placed her out front with the dancers, rather than have her hidden behind them at the back of the band! This is the sort of directorial decision that I’d question Sam about – and be growled at for pointing out before being told, “Oh yes, I can see why you said that. Much better.”*

 

*in an imaginary ideal collaborative creative married world

 

Les Illuminations. Image by Steven Siewert.

 

The dancers, also clad in Maticevski, though in far less of it (what I like to call designer remnants), are absolutely superb; there is no question of their technical skill, style or strength. And the passion, in all senses of the word, and intimacy between them is palpable. In fact, Bonachela’s choreography, paired with Britten’s and Ravel’s compositions, creates an entire ocean of feelings, which we can’t help but be caught up in and swept away with, just like the complex relationships represented in the dance. It’s so incredibly intimate that it becomes painful sometimes – at other times delightful, amusing – because we recognise the cycle of love-hate-love (life-death-life) and we’re familiar with the gut-wrenching feelings that come with each part of a relationship, and which drive each movement. And a side note about taking kids to dance: even when the content or the theme is intense, children get what they get from it (think about the origins of every Disney story; the original fairytales, before the Brothers Grimm made them even slightly palatable. Pretty gruesome, really).

 

On one level, this choreography is driven by themes of suspicion and violence but on another, it’s quite simply beautifully executed contemporary dance. Had Poppy seen it, we would have talked about the misery people feel when they fight. Assuming that we know vaguely what we want, how can we communicate more clearly, and earlier, without hurting ourselves and the people we love? How can we begin to recognise and accept the good-bad-good cycle of relationships, and live (work) through the ups and downs instead of giving up on them, as so many do? This heart-thinking can be applied to every relationship (it’s been very useful to take this approach with Poppy recently, when talking about friends at school!), and not just to the lovers in this piece. If we don’t expose kids to art of all sorts, including live performances, we limit the opportunities to have conversations with our kids on this level.

 

“Sometimes the one who is running from the Life/Death/Life nature insists on thinking of love as a boon only. Yet love in its fullest form is a series of deaths and rebirths. We let go of one phase, one aspect of love, and enter another. Passion dies and is brought back. Pain is chased away and surfaces another time. To love means to embrace and at the same time to withstand many endings, and many many beginnings- all in the same relationship.”

Clarissa Pinkola EstésWomen Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

 

The elements are well matched, with the exception, as I’ve noted, of the singer. Perhaps this is bound to happen in a production that must favour one discipline over all others. Perhaps the perceived major stakeholder or presumed most popular aspect gets the spotlight and unlike the musical theatre context the balance is thrown. (And then there are those who would argue a hierarchy also exists in a traditional musical theatre production). If I had the resources to bring back Les Illuminations for a return run, I guess I would consider staging this eclectic production in a larger space. Despite the obvious intimacy (Bonachela’s intent was to have a “contained space in an intimate room”), paired with the acoustic advantages of the Concert Hall, it would be wonderful to see the dancers in a more generous space all of their own, with the orchestra set above them and Katie taking her place centre stage. We’ve seen her do so in the QSO’s studio, bringing greater reverence to Britten’s music and greater respect to the vocalist. If it does return to a venue near you, and I feel sure it will, book early for Les Illuminations. It will give you plenty to talk about.

 

Les Illuminations 30sec TV spot from Peter Greig on Vimeo.

 

01
Jul
14

The Breakfast Club

 

The Breakfast Club

Brisbane Arts Theatre

June 28 – August 2 2014

 

Reviewed by Maree Butterworth

 

BAT2014_BREAKFAST_300x425_zps3a3c3fb1

 

 

WHAT do you do if you’re caught in detention on a Saturday morning? Cause a ruckus of course!

 

Brisbane Arts Theatre’s The Breakfast Club gives a glimpse of what detention should be like…well in an American, eighties-fashioned-way as students serve their long Saturday sentence.

 

Contrary to many of my 1980s born mates, I hadn’t seen the John Hughes cult-classic film released in 1985. When provided the opportunity to see the opening of the show on Saturday, I was faced with the decision – Do I watch the movie prior, or go with a fresh mind? Knowing a great deal of potential ticket holders would contemplate seeing the show because of interest fuelled by the film 29 or fewer years’ ago, I decided I’d go ahead and watch the film first.

 

Brisbane Arts Theatre’s version was adapted for stage by Drew Jarvis and directed by Susan O’Toole Cridland. I was drawn into the five characters representing high school stereotypes – the jock, the princess, the basket case, the criminal and the nerd.

 

The main set is effective, obviously not the massive library in the film, but a smaller imitation to fit the Petrie Terrace stage, with the teacher, Mr Vernon’s office upstage where he (played by Jarvis), thought he could watch each student’s move.

 

While some accent slips in the beginning are distracting, the actors seem to settle into their characters quickly, enabling the audience to relax and be sucked into the 1980s, where all that seemed important was wrestling, the prom, grades, and for some, just getting by. I enjoyed the quirks of all characters. There were, however, two moments that made me sit up, and by looking at fellow audience members, the same moments seemed to get their attention as well.

 

The first is Bender’s monologue, in which he (Jeremiah Wray) describes what home life must be like for the nerd, Brian (Jonty Martin) and compares it to his own. The second moment is Andrew’s monologue, in which he (Christo Barrett-Hall) describes why he has been subject to detention. These were the “shit just got real” moments when I started believing what I was seeing unfold on stage, despite just enjoying often humorous incidents in sequence. I guess it was because at that point we started seeing the actual conflict within each character rather than the conflict between each character. And that’s what the play is ultimately about; the internal struggles and journey of each character and what manifests externally when they’re brought together.

 

Wray and Barrett-Hall are standouts, but are strongly supported by the princess (Rochelle Nolan), the nerd, the basket case (Liv Wilson) and of course, the highly short tempered, veins-in-neck-popping-red-faced, power-tripping teacher, Mr Vernon.

 

Some down points of the show, which may be sorted as the season progresses, included the flow being jeopardised by clumsy scene changes. A main one was in the first act when the set (including tables and chairs) needed to be moved back to accommodate the subsequent school hall / locker scene. Two people were brought on stage to do this and unconvincingly played the roles of the school’s janitors. Perhaps the solution is blackening the stage to do this, or making the janitors more completely characterised with cleaning trolleys. I can imagine them whistling a well known eighties tune while they clear coke cans and rubbish, and could even cameo later in the play. There were also some scenes that worked well in the film, which I don’t believe transferred well to stage. For example, some scenes when the characters danced came across to me as fillers. Each act was relatively short, so perhaps the action could have been snappier, and placed in a juicy one-act play.

 

In saying that, overall I enjoyed The Breakfast Club and the audience members surrounding me seemed to as well. The down points mentioned cannot overshadow the fantastic work by the cast. With most of the cast on stage for the duration of the play, it’s great to see their focus and dedication to their roles. They bring to life a story that resonated with teenagers in the mid-eighties, which is still relevant now.

 

So should I have watched the film first and should you if you haven’t? It doesn’t make a difference. If you haven’t seen it, you will understand the characters and the storyline easily.

 

If you have seen it, you’ll recognise many of the iconic moments from the film and be pleased to revel in nostalgia.

 

The Breakfast Club runs at Brisbane Arts Theatre until August 2.

 

NB:The Breakfast Club contains explicit language, drug use and sexual references.

 

 

28
Jun
14

Vincent

 

Vincent
LissaJanedance
The Lind
June 27 – 28 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

You might have noticed I’m not reviewing community theatre this year. Sorry about that. Sometimes we have a writer available to catch something or other (for example, tonight Maree was able to see The Breakfast Club, an amateur production at Brisbane Arts Theatre), but there is actually too much on to keep up with it all! While we’re being casual and chatty here, you might also have noticed that I’m several reviews behind the eight ball. Sorry, especially to those involved in the productions in draft form on my desktop. I’ve been teaching full time again, as well as rehearsing Diabolique, our original production, which was selected for inclusion at the Noosa Long Weekend Festival, and I’ve got a looong To Do List for the holidays! I promise I’ll catch up!

 

Vincent, a contemporary dance work by local choreographer, Melissa Lanham, not only interested me on a number of different levels but it exemplified the creative process that we see all too often go unsupported. Fortunately for Melissa and co, the project received funding from Ausdance Queensland as well as the support of private investors, which means the work was able to have a showing at the end of its first creative development phase.

 

Well, how did you think new great work is created!?

 

34. 1889 Self-Portrait oil on canvas 65 x 54 cm Saint-Rémy September 1889 © Musée d'Orsay, dist.RMN - Patrice Schmidt

 

We saw the premiere of Vincent this weekend and there’s no doubt that the work, as I’ve experienced it, deserves another lump sum to take it to the next level. I understand the plan is to take it to Perth next and then tour it from there. I’ll look forward to seeing that next stage of development because while I was unmoved, a friend who has only recently rebranded herself as a painter (the painter had been lying dormant for decades, as so often happens, beneath another professional persona) emerged from the dark theatre with tears streaming down her face, at a loss for words. She’s seen something in it that I’ve missed, obviously, but what I see is the potential of this production to have a similar effect on a broader audience…if only they have the opportunity to witness the work.

 

Vincent’s production elements are well balanced (music by Ezio Bosso, Max Richter & Kleefstra-Bakker-Kleefstra), and the performances by three professional dancers (Andrew Haycroft, Michael Smith & Chloe Lanham) are slick, despite some suitably angular and seemingly untidy choreography, including lifts, climbs, and tightly, fiercely manipulated turns. I’m not sure anyone else would refer to the choreography as being “untidy”‘and I mean it in reference to the style only, the execution of it is excellent. In this context, that’s just what it is to me and it’s fine. There are moments when the dancers are practically falling about themselves and all over each other. There are other very neat and precise moments, and there are some longer moments when the dancers are positioned behind set pieces so that the movement itself is partially obscured (I’d like to see those moments/movement sequences brought out front!). There’s even a well-timed body slam thrown in for good measure. (I guess if it were not well timed we’d be calling it an unmitigated disaster!).

 
The space at The Lind is small, stripped bare and like this it presents a certain level of intimacy, which is helped by a movable set – just two panels used effectively to separate time and events – and an intense lighting design that serves in turns to alienate us and bring us close to the work, and seemingly, within the reach of van Gogh’s crazed mind. But I feel so separated from the action throughout and I can’t tell whether or not that’s the intent. How do we ever relate to madness? One’s madness is one’s own, surely. But should I be sympathetic?

 

It’s a terrible, tragic demise of an artist but I feel nothing.

 

Of course Sam will tell you it’s because my heart is frozen that I feel nothing (That’s right. I look for a white streak through my hair every morning). He’s not a contemporary dance fan and he genuinely enjoyed this production. I’m genuinely surprised.

 

The piece begins with an uneasy soundscape to indicate a noisy crowd, to which van Gogh (Andrew Haycroft) eventually reacts in a violent, vocal manner, tearing at his hair and his paint smeared shirt. He’s unable to cope and it sets the scene for his descent into madness.

 

The deterioration of van Gogh’s mental state is fast – it’s a short show – and we are offered insight along the way through van Gogh’s brother’s eyes. Theo writes to him, pleadingly, but to no avail; the artist continues to “waste” paint and create works that remain unappreciated and, more importantly, unsold in his lifetime, much to his own and his brother’s chagrin.

 

The story, as it is in this state, is actually ultimately told from Theo’s POV and I’d love to see the show develop around his narration. Haycroft is well cast as Vincent, vulnerable in the titular role and demonstrating convincing quirks and characteristics throughout, but he doesn’t need to speak. The initial guttural sounds are enough. Conveniently, Haycroft even LOOKS like van Gogh (ears intact, you’ll be relieved to know). He’s a strong dancer and has a good sense of self, space and just the right measure of drama.

 

starrynight_vangoghMichael Smith is vocally the strongest performer of the three – his letters to van Gogh are perfectly pitched and phrased – and I feel like the story needs no other voice but his. A final dance solo above and around and beneath a chair, which he brings forth through the audience, proves his core strength and superb control, as Theo loses control after his brother’s death, “drowning” in his own madness, but it goes on and on, and we’re at risk of missing the point because it’s laboured, after being so obvious in the first place.

 

Chloe Lanham, in the abstract roles of the various women, the muse and all of van Gogh’s demons rolled into one, makes her presence felt from the moment her brightly body painted figure is revealed. She’s a dynamic performer and we enjoy the ferocity of the penultimate number, which also drags on but hones in on the voices inside the tortured artist’s head. There are not many lighter moments in the production and I wondered if there might be a positive relationship, other than with the brother, from which to draw. I’d love to see the joy and exuberance spent on the creation of Starry Night applied to a relationship with one of the few women who were not immediately discarded by van Gogh. Instead, we see a strange romp in which the artist’s self portrait is replaced by the artist himself in a fast-paced six-legged waltz around the stage. This, for want of another, is a lighter moment but even more so, it’s disturbing.

 

Still-Life--Vase-with-Fifteen-SunflowersA highlight at this stage is a dramatically hanging light, weighted perfectly, obviously, allowing it to swing pendulum like from above, the likes of which has never before been seen in this space, and the lighting generally, by Melbourne based (Sunshine Coast bred) designer, Travis MacFarlane. As if it’s not tough enough to light a contemporary dance piece, MacFarlane has created a plot that perfectly frames the action and cleverly leaves enough darkness around the edges to remind us that it’s into the shadows we must go if we truly wish to find (and face) ourselves.

 

There is excellent economy of movement in Lanham’s physical work, which now needs to be applied just as effectively to her storytelling. And this is what government funding and the next stages of creative development are for. Vincent is ambitious and far-reaching. The original investors have noted its potential already. Perhaps a pozible campaign will follow. Perhaps a venue or two will be bright enough to pick it up for a run. Perhaps we’ll see the next version sooner than we think. It’s a fluid, professionally finished production, even in this, its first incarnation. Look out for the second coming.

 

N.B. The English subtitles on the first video I found are an absolute disaster so check this one out!

 

28
Jun
14

The Effect

 

The Effect

QTC & STC

The GreenHouse Bille Brown Studio

June 7 – July 5 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 

 

Depression and anxiety are common conditions.

 

Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.

 

On average, 1 in 6 people – 1 in 5 women and 1 in 8 men – will experience depression at some stage of their lives.

 

Anxiety is the most common mental condition in Australia. On average, 1 in 4 people – 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men – will experience anxiety.

 

Women are more likely to experience depression and anxiety during pregnancy and the year following birth. Almost 1 in 10 women experience antenatal depression, and 1 in 7 in the postnatal period. Anxiety is likely to be as, or more, common.

 

At least six Australians take their own lives every day.

 

Source: beyondblue.org.au

 

theeffect_qtc

 

 

 

Dee and I have joked about our chemical imbalance; as if it’s a collective thing from which women-who-do-too-much suffer (of course it’s not just the women). When I remember the stats and think of everybody I know I have to wonder…which of us are NOT depressed!?

 

 

Act 1 of Lucy Prebble’s The Effect is upbeat, fun and funny. It doesn’t take long to establish the four characters that tell an amusing and then very moving tale about a highly controversial couple of subjects. Despite everybody being a little too sharply drawn to begin with, it takes just ten minutes for the production to settle and for the characters and their relationships to develop into warm and interesting enough stories. And I love getting not-quite-the-full-story. There is much to establish in the first act – the participants of a clinical drug trial, the trial itself, the clinicians, and the premise – can happiness (and depression) be attributed to an altered chemical state in the brain?

 

By the end of the production there are almost two plays at work, which seems to be a sign (or symptom) of new work. I wish I’d written enough to tell you that from personal experience, but it’s only through seeing the work of other new playwrights that I can safely say we’ve seen before, two tales in one.

 

Act 2 takes a (not entirely unexpectedly intense) turn, challenging us to consider more seriously our choices and the ensuing consequences. It balances dangerously between conversational and preachy tone, with an extended scene between the medical professionals almost giving us too much of the debate, and repetitively so. I notice myself beginning to turn off, tune out and think, “So when is the pedophile thing going to come up? (This is not my spoiler. It’s within a quote in Prebbles’s bio. This marks the first time ever I wish I hadn’t read the program notes before seeing the play). The debate itself is an oldie but a goodie: do we medicate for depression or not? If not, why not? Can we heal ourselves of the epidemic sadness sweeping the world? You could get depressed just thinking about it! Or you could come up with, let’s say, a lucrative online project and collaborate with a popular stationary line. Yes, of course I have the books!

 

 

The space is glossy; so glossy it’s highly reflective and we see ourselves in the sterile black walls. White floors are harsh, cold, and blue shiny chairs offer a false sense of security and a superficial level of calm around the edges. Cruel fluro light is emitted from above and a light box dance floor features below. I’d love to put it into my kitchen (we’ve always danced in the kitchen). But more on lighting later.

 

Eugene Gilfedder, in one of his strongest roles to date, gets the balance just right. He’s the once flirtatious, now serious, always ambitious professional medic turned motivational speaker, Toby (a phone call away from a TED Talk!), and he makes a good case for the sensitive, older, Noah style long-term love interest. If you ever picked up the sequel to The Notebook (no, it’s not a film; you’ll have to read the book), it’s to that Noah I refer, the Noah who quietly, persistently and courageously conspires to reignite his wife’s love for him after many years of a “happy” marriage.

 

texts_theeffect

 

Toby’s foil is Dr James (Angie Milliken), who has endured childhood abuse and feels as if her old flame has done her a rather ironic favour by putting her in charge of the clinical trial of a new super anti-depressant. Her story, I think, is the second tale told and could be more sensitively treated under its own title.

 

Anna McGahan (always gorgeous to see her on stage) and Mark Leonard Winter (bringing gorgeous, lively new energy to this stage) are the unlikely punters who enter into an agreement with the imagined pharmaceutical company Raushen to trial for four weeks, a so-called happiness drug. Winter’s character, Tristan, has done this before – the money the drug companies pay him per trial allows him to travel the world – but for McGahan’s character, Connie, this is the first time, perhaps as some sort of escape or respite. But who is actually on the drug and who is given a placebo or some other concoction? How do we know if the emotions are real or merely the side effects of the drug? And if everybody is happy, in love, does it even matter?

 

What price happiness?

 

The relationship between Connie and Tristan comes across as a warm, immediate and very genuine thing, despite its corny start in the waiting room of the facility they share for the duration of the trial. It’s actually every girl’s worst waiting room nightmare, trapped in a small public space with a random trying to crack onto her. But love – or the effect of the drug – brings them together and we enjoy some lovely early dialogue to establish the attraction and later, a choreographed sex scene that depends as much on its lighting states as its posturing.

 

connieandtristan_theeffect

 

These two handle it well and the scene becomes very cinematic, beautifully so, but it’s still so strange to watch even a slightly dressed sex scene, isn’t it!? I know, I know, what do you do? It kinda’ works!

 

Much of the effect of the drama can be attributed to Sarah Goodes’ astute direction and the collaboration with lighting designer, Ben Hughes, who creates with Designer Renee Mulder, a dream-like version of a hospital nightclub. It exists somewhere between a mental asylum and a sci-fi galaxy government headquarters, ideal in this studio space, especially after relaxing pre-show in the gorgeous, cosy new library area of The GreenHouse. Guy Webster’s soundscape keeps us in a perpetual state of nothingness, or as I like to think, openness, and I love it and loathe it, like Camille’s album. It’s fascinating that not everybody hears it – Dee didn’t until I mentioned it – it’s that inner ear vibration that exists behind everything else and if it’s the wrong pitch (for you) it might override everything else and become seriously irritating. There are times when I blame it for the onset of a migraine, but not this time.

 

As much as I love the fun and vibe (and Veuve) of opening nights, I don’t mind seeing a production a week or so into its run, when all the elements have settled and the actors are well and truly back into storytelling mode, rather than, “Aargh! It’s opening night!” mode. You have until July 5 to catch The Effect before it heads to Sydney and you should, not just for the challenging conversation it will spark during the days following but also, for the private thoughts conjured as you catch yourself in the mirror it holds up to each and every one of us.

 




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