A Very Potter Musical

Lost Boys Theatre Company

Metro Arts Studio

2nd – 4th February 2012

 

 

 

 

 

If you’ve seen on YouTube, A Very Potter Musical (Book & Score by Darren Criss & A.J. Holmes), you’re already either a big fan or a hater. Haters gonna’ hate, y’all. But the big fans got themselves and their friends along to Metro Arts on the weekend to see The Lost Boys Theatre Company’s stellar starter production. Yes, it was their debut on the Brisbane theatre scene. Yes, there are some things that will improve in future with a little more attention to detail across the board but this was a great, fun, free show, delivered confidently, by a new, fun-loving company who deserves our support.

The brainchild of Joshua Correa (Director) and Sarah Harvey (Producer), the Lost Boys are a group of very young, very talented performers who claim they are “not trying to be the BEST theatre company, just the COOLEST.” A few of the faces are familiar because, well, performers gonna’ perform, aren’t they?

This is not the production you’ll see online. Starkid Productions, a group of music, theatre and dance students from the University of Michigan’s School of Music, created a cheeky parody (for $150) for their families and friends, of J.K. Rowling’s successful stories about The Boy Who Lived and helped by other comedies such asStarship and Me and My Dick – I didn’t make that up – very quickly discovered a worldwide cult fan base of epic proportions. A Very Potter Musical Act 1 Scene 1 has over 8 million hits on YouTube!

If you’ve been living under a rock or at Pigfarts, on Mars, you might not know the story so here’s a brief synopsis. Reluctant kid wizard, Harry Potter (The Boy Who Lived), returns for a new year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with his friends, Hermione and Ron, basically to study as little as possible and to kill Harry’s nemesis, Voldemort (The Dark Lord), who is living parasitically at the back of Professor Quirrell’s head. What the Lost Boys have done very well is to make this production their own and in doing so, they have improved on the original.

This Harry Potter is written as a self-absorbed, fame-affected prick and Dakota Striplin, last seen (with Tom Oliver and Emma Taviani) in Oscar Theatre Company’s Spring Awakening (2011), plays it to the hilt, as well as playing guitar throughout, which gives him a real rock star quality – including the unlikeable bits brought about by fame and fortune – lifting the game from the outset. Another notable improvement is that Clay English has choreographed where Starkid has not and despite seeing all of English’s best Broadway/YTT moves in the opening number, the energy and parody benefit.

The band was split, with the drummer on stage, and not just onstage but upstage dead centre, a spot that would otherwise have made a convenient entrance and exit. I hated seeing the tabs either side pushed aside to make way for the performers. The band is terrific (only Musical Director, Ben Murray, is credited in the program), however; early on they drown out unamplified voices. Now, in the small Studio space, the voices shouldn’t need amplification but if you’ve got a loud band and inexperienced singers without the vocal strength required to fill even that small space, do amplify them (or box your band)! Tough gig, Joel Redding (Sound Designer). A simple, open set serves the performers well (Set Designer Daniel Harvey) and, ably lit by Michael Rogerson (Lighting Designer), we focus on the characters and their ridiculous, OTT antics.

Emma Taviani is a sweet, book-hugging Hermione, The Bold and The Beautiful of this production, complete with fixed gazes out front prior to her exits. Tom Oliver is a continuously snacking, hilarious Ron Weasley. This role allows Oliver’s comic and vocal ability to come through in a most relaxed manner. As Severus Snape, Cameron Whitton is the ultimate sneering, gliding, glaring, suspicious professor, making the most of his sweeping and dramatic entrances and exits. In boxer shorts, blue cape and rainbow hat, is Robert Pigdon as Dumbledore, more oddball than endearing, with an odd NYC accent that seemed out of place (as it does in the original). I should mention at this point, in case you’re imagining that due to its British origin, this is a British story with British accents, the vast majority of characters speak (and sing) in American accents. Do the American accents make the show funnier? Not really, just more American. And which generation is enjoying the additional American-accented course language? I wonder. On the other hand, scene-stealer, Lauren Neilson, played pretty Draco Malfoy as the British snob that he is. Although Neilson seemed at first inexperienced or insecure, mimicking the original performance, she warmed to the role, rose to its challenges and ended up delivering a better version of it with some fabulous comedy, mostly in the form of completely over the top choreographed…well, everything! Her every line was supported by fluid and controlled athletic-balletic-Matrix moves that had the audience falling about laughing until we are crying. I would like to see even more time taken over these moves, now that the joke has been tried and tested in front of an audience (and executed with far greater competence than that which we see on YouTube). But sadly, the season is done. Neilson could not have executed many of her moves without the able assistance of her comical henchmen, Lachlan Geraghty (Crabbe) and Nic Mohr (Goyle). Some great character work there. Sally Lloyd was lovely as Ginny Weasely and would certainly develop vocal strength and greater confidence before the end of a longer run.

Together, Anthony Craig as Professor Quirrell and George Kennedy as Voldemort, were bosom buddies of the most bizarre kind. The cooperative work of this kooky couple was fantastic and Kennedy’s song and dance number a showstopper. The ensemble was complete with Allison Nipperess (Neville Longbottom), Kristen Barros (Mrs Weasley/Pansy), Kelly Smith (Bellatrix Le’strange), Samantha Lan (Lavender Brown) and Lauren Jimmieson (Cho Chang).

A Very Potter Musical is a wonderfully, funny, quirky show, with catchy, toe-tapping tunes and politically incorrect jibes and in-jokes, which the true fans of Harry Potter must drink up just as easily as their butterbeer, which, strangely, was not available at the theatre, nor downstairs at Verve. An oversight? Too short a season to offer it? Not necessary? I’ve provided a recipe below so you may BYO (Brew Your Own) the next time this show comes to Brisbane. Despite the lack of butterbeer (or chocolate frogs for that matter), the diverse pool of talent involved in this production indicates that The Lost Boys Theatre Company is one to watch and this, their debut effort, performed for free, is one to applaud.

James and the Giant Peach

Harvest Rain

QPAC Cremorne Theatre

5th – 21st January 2012

I can’t stand Pantomime. There. I said it. I think I said it last year too. I’m just not a fan of the genre. There’s a place for it. It employs people. It entertains loads of other people. It’s light, fun, mindless, colourful, musical and quite often cute. But it’s not for me. Let me tell you why children and (other) adults appear to enjoy pantomime.

1. Pantomime is fun and free from heavy morals, ethics and politics
2. Pantomime is colourful, musical, choreographed and cute
3. Pantomime is funny and can be a little bit crazy or naughty
4. Pantomime quite often requires boys to dress as girls (see 3)
5. Pantomime is inter-active (see 3 & 4)

Also, importantly, Pantomime is usually scheduled in school holidays, which makes it an obvious choice for parents. And if the company does a good job, even the slightly more reticent adults in a pantomime audience will eventually clap along and cry “BOO!” and “HISS!” and “HOORAH!” Like me, however; unless they are completely engaged (a hard ask, to engage adults and children simultaneously on two different levels and very few performers can pull it off), some of them will participate for the sake of the children. Others will love being a part of a theatrical production that brings back memories of the fun they had somewhere, sometime as a child, probably at Christmas time, with an audience of strangely unfamiliar cousins and uncles and aunts looking on in the living room. There is something creepy in that but perhaps my imagination gets away on me.

This pantomime, James and the Giant Peach, adapted by David Wood, from the original story by Roald Dahl, works less successfully on stage than one might expect. I’ve never thought there was much story in it but it’s a fantastic tale, which should probably translate to the stage a little better than that which Wood has done with it. Sometimes stage adaptations are like the long-awaited film after we’ve read the book. The film doesn’t live up to our expectations because we have, in our limitless imaginations, already seen what will (“should”) be.

What Harvest Rain does well, to kick off their family friendly 2012 season (The Wizard of Oz is next, from February 10th – 19th), is to give us the giant peach, very simply and cleverly, on a big revolve, in a big reveal, which I won’t give away entirely because it’s one of the highlights of the show. Needless to say, the peach is GIGANTIC. AND ROUND. AND PEACH COLOURED. It’s beautifully lit (Lighting Design Jason Glenwright) and it is home to several delightful creature characters (Sandro Collarelli, Clare Finlayson, Belinda Heit, Judy Hainsworth and Dash Kruck), all of which take up residence in the peach and, along with James (Jack Kelly), in a bid to escape, after his parents are killed in a regrettable encounter with a rampaging rhinoceros, two terrible, horrible, mean and nasty guardian aunts (Heit & Hainsworth), to seek adventure in New York City. I can only assume that the first 10 minutes of the show are scripted, or at least, outlined in the script, because it sets a NYC precedent for us Aussies, who, you know, like, probably wouldn’t know where NYC is or, like, what the Statue of Liberty looks like. I found the opening a little condescending, confusing and wondered if it was necessary. Does the book begin in the same way? The film? I don’t remember. Why not just start the show? It was as frustrating as The Princess Bride being book ended by that annoying kid listening to his grandfather read the story, you know, the original annoying kid, the one before Macauley Culkin, no, not Doogie Howser (thank goodness he grew up to be Neil Patrick-Harris), the one before himFred Savage. That’s it. That’s him. That’s thanks to my IMDB app.

Anyway, far from being annoying (you can’t help but adore him), Dash Kruck plays the odd little role of tour guide (and then an old man and then a centipede) and almost saves the opening segment. In fact, Kruck proves, once again, to be the hardest working actor on stage. But he’s miscast and would be better utilised in the role of James, in terms of storytelling, reading the crowd and working it (incidentally, Kelly could give us a more confident performance if he were focused on playing just James and not James the Narrator). Let’s face it; Kruck has the skill set for children’s entertainment. Create a Narrator and give him the role of Narrator. He’s a little wasted in multiple small roles and I don’t mean in a New Year’s recovery party way.

The ensemble works well together, making the most of some terrible lines, and creating the motion of the peach by their movement. They bring to mind images of The Whos being blown about by the wind in their tiny city on top of a clover inSeussical the Musical. The show really starts with these fabulous looking friends (Josh McIntosh’s 1950’s/Robots inspired costumes are seriously funky), although the aunts get some good belly laughs early on and later, they enjoy from the safety of the wings, raucous appreciation for their timely demise beneath the runaway (rollaway) peach! Maitlohn Drew’s original songs are delightful and have not been given nearly enough attention, as if they have been slotted in after minimal rehearsal. The singers seem uncertain of their cues, resulting in clunky, uncomfortable starts to songs and the choreography, though cute, is somewhat limited by the confines of the peach (Choreography Callum Masfield). It’s unclear when we reach the end of the show that it is, indeed, over!

James and the Giant Peach is a visual feast and lots of fun for the kids but if you’ve seen a Tim O’Connor panto, you’ve seen this one too. Of course, this is no problem for the kids (unless they are a little older and a little more discerning) and it’s a great, hour-long introduction to the theatre as well as a lovely, easy venue to bring the children. In fact, with three major productions suitable for children currently showing at QPAC, there’s no excuse for your family to miss anything as magical as a trip to the theatre. Harvest Rain’sJames and the Giant Peach is your most affordable option.

Mary Poppins

Disney & Cameron Mackintosh

QPAC Lyric Theatre

30th December 2011 – 17th March 2012

Mary Poppins is pure magic. If you can find a way to afford it and you can still get the tickets, take the whole family. It is heartwarming, uplifting, life-lesson-learning stuff. It’s also lots of fun.

With Musical Direction by Michael Tyack, new material by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, musical numbers we know and love by Sherman and Sherman and the original book by Julian Fellowes, based on stories by P.L. Travers, everybody’s favourite nanny takes grown ups and a whole new generation of theatregoers on a magical, joyful journey.

Helpmann and Green Room Award winner, Verity Hunt-Ballard, IS Mary Poppins. She has a slightly sharper quality, both in voice and manner, than we might have anticipated but she also has the air of authority and the supreme self-confidence that comes from someone who is Practically Perfect. And it suits her. Hunt-Ballard is the essence of the “white magic”, which Travers described to her first publisher, George William Russell, editor of The Irish Statesman, before his death in 1935. Her first book of Mary Poppins Stories had been published in 1934. Her imagination was her sanctuary and from it came a whimsical world, unlike her real life, in which her mother was suicidal and her alcoholic father had died when she was seven, leaving her to raise her two younger sisters with little support.

Cameron Mackintosh’s stage version of the best loved and highest grossing Disney film, certainly packs a punch for younger punters. At just over two and a half hours (including interval), it’s not exactly short and sweet. And it’s not without its darker moments, either. The arrival of Mrs Andrew, the nanny/tyrant who made Mr Banks what he is (Natalie Gamsu, wonderfully frightening and funny in her completely OTT Katisha-ish from The Mikado manner) and Playing the Game, a scene in which the toys come to life and – I’m not sure that I condone the sentiment – take “their turn” to mistreat those who have been unkind to them i.e. the children, reminding us that childhood is as much, if not more so, about facing our fears and learning right from wrong as it is about fun and games. Of course, if you have someone like Mary Poppins around at some stage of your childhood, there is a lesson AND a good dose of fun in everything. You know, a spoonful of sugar and all that stuff.

The glorious colour, light (Lighting design by Howard Harrison), semi-chaos and casualness of the children’s outings with Mary Poppins are perfectly juxtaposed against the prim and proper paper doll pop-up home on Cherry Tree Lane, the tiny nursery setting particularly effective in eliciting “oohs” and “awwws” from the audience. Costumes too, ideal in their representation of characters and, on Hunt-Ballard, eliciting further murmurs of admiration from the opening night Brisbane audience (Scenic and Costume Design by Bob Crowley).

Choreography by Matthew Bourne and Stephen Mear is delightful and it is executed with precision, enthusiasm and with energy to burn. Ballet aficionados will certainly appreciate the exuberant dance of the statues. Matt Lee, a gentle, adoring Burt (and the story’s narrator), excels in each dance number, with a spectacular performance up and down and across – upside down – the proscenium! Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (no, I didn’t need to check the spelling, though I won’t attempt to say it backwards) and Step in Time are the showstoppers. And if it were not for a super-talented ensemble, Lee might shine even brighter in this role.

The children (on opening night they were Rose Shannon-Duhigg and Kurtis Papadinis) are precisely the right amount of proper British precociousness and mischief, mixed up with the insecurity of being part of a household built on order, precision and money, rather than on one in which love is communicated through every thought, word and action. This is a big show for the children and they give it their all, each setting themselves up for a career in musical theatre should they want to continue to work so hard.

As the picture-perfect turn of the last century couple, Mr and Mrs Banks, Simon Burke and Pippa Grandison bring an exquisitely damaged relationship to the stage, challenging us all to work hard on just the relationships that matter most. Burke is simply superb (if it were not Stories of Mary Poppins, it would be Stories of Mr Banks), his interrupted journey, his misaligned goals and his assumption that the universe conspires against him; so sad and sadly, instantly recognisable. The change, in outlook, attitude and behavior, is believable though and we celebrate with Banks, the re-discovery of simple joys and unconditional, enduring love. There are a couple of poignant moments, the picking up of a homemade kite placed on the floor and an encounter with the Bird Woman (the beautiful Deliah Hannah), which help to win us – and the family – over. If only every grown man had stashed away his gingerbread stars for the inevitable rainy day!

Similarly, Grandison gives us an underplayed Mrs Banks, the ex-actress-turned-demure-housewife (and a far cry from recent roles in Wicked and Underbelly Razor)! I love Grandison’s conflict and her steadfast belief, as Mrs Banks that she has, indeed, chosen the right role, despite our contemporary persuasions to do and to be everything to everyone. Being Mrs Banks comes across simply and honestly. A microcosm of a master class in serving the lyric and sharing the story, Grandison delivers this new song in the middle of kite-flying and brimstone brewing, to be best remembered by those who have connected personally with it.

What a strange joy it is to remove ourselves from the world, hear the giggles and chuckles of children and adults all around, and notice the tears streaming down my own child’s cheeks as we smile and bravely wave goodbye to Mary Poppins after our amazing journey with her and with those characters she has affected. It’s pure magic. It’s the magic of theatre.

This brand of theatre, Disney and Cam Mack’s special brand, makes Mary Poppins a spectacular production and truly a show for everyone (the merch is the most impressive I’ve seen for a long time too)! Now whether or not you have an opinion about the commercial aspects at play or even fail to openly acknowledge the value of the arts and the wonders of creative thought, imagination and music in your own life, do let your children experience the magic of Mary Poppins. You might find your inner child comes skipping home with you! Anything can happen if you let it!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

USQ Alumni Theatre

Roma St Parklands

18th November – 4th December 2011

Colourful, highly physical and mostly funny, the USQ Theatre Alumni’s inaugural production A Midsummer Night’s Dream is bringing Roma Street Parklands to life for another week.

My little family needed no encouragement to prepare a picnic and set up on the grass steps of the amphitheatre, a venue that begs greater use by Brisbane theatre companies. The last production we enjoyed there wasQueensland Shakespeare Ensemble’s Twelfth Night, when Poppy was still in a pram. That’s not to say the place has stood unused since then, it’s just that when one drives from the Sunshine Coast for an outdoor performance, one must consider the weather forecast. As it happened, I had arranged to see the show Thursday night. The day was windy and rainy and the night sky was looking ominous. We decided to see the show on Friday night, under clearer skies, consequently missing Zen Zen Zo’s show in Montville (much closer to home)!

Scott Alderdice has in parts, cleverly directed this Dream. Terrific, fun physical comedy supports the text between the lovers particularly and the use of scaffold and some of the pop music (some of it was repetitive or just too much) allows for vibrant energy and pure joy, most noticeable in the energetic, well rehearsed dance routines (choreography by Christine Strahan with Fight Choreography by Nigel Poulton).

Fairies and lovers are clad in tattered, layered costumes, boasting rich colour and texture, in contrast to the set, which is a simple matter of three scaffold towers on castors and two enormous white flowers in lieu of a cyc (Designer Carolyn Taylor-Smith). There are two lighting credits in the program, Ben Andrews (Lighting Designer) and Keith Clark (Lighting Realiser) and whilst we enjoy some pretty effects, what is not realised is the need for more light on actors’ faces.

Within this company there are, as in any newly formed group, some standouts and some bad habits displayed very well by other members. The bad habits surprise me. A leading institution known (among other things) for its vocal work, is letting its Alumni mutter and then shout their lines? I think not. I think inexperience is evident in a few delivery issues and I hope these will be remedied when performers remember that volume does not equate to energy levels. In short, I expect to clearly hear The Bard’s words next time!

On that – and I’m ready to duck for cover – are we really still needing every word? Is it time we put Shakespeare under the knife? A good Dramaturg could certainly give it a go (and then there’s Short + Sweet Shakespeare but more of that later)! It might be that, like David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Rabbit Hole, adapted for the screen by the playwright, there is simply an alternative way to get the story across. It’s just an example – it came immediately to mind, having talked about it with someone recently – because structurally, the story probably works better as it unfolds in the film. But rather than major structural change,A Midsummer Night’s Dream might just need a few clever cuts. It’s just a thought remember…purists; you may throw at me whatever is nearest!

Most impressive is Matthew Walsh, as Lysander, full of spritely energy that could just as easily transfer to the role of Puck or to that of a Mechanical. But Lysander he is and as the young lover, he gives us fresh-faced determined and cheeky love that knows no bounds. The running fight that occurs with Demetrius (Ben Rigby/Christopher Hunter) is hilarious – it always reminds me of the fight scenes in Bridget Jones and so I don’t mind telling you that I actually expected, in this semi-contemporary version, to hear, stopping and starting, The Darkness screeching I Believe in a Thing Called Love or Gerri Halliwell belting out It’s Raining Men!

Demetrius and the girls – Helena (Emily Curtain) and Hermia (Kate Murphy) – take a little while to warm up but when they do, Act 2 belongs to The Lovers. Helena, suitably tall and gangly, and Hermia, appropriately puppet-like in her costume and makeup, eventually establish together, a wonderful BFF relationship. Curtain’s comedic talent particularly, is showcased in this role.

Titania (Lauren O’Rourke) is absolutely beautiful in her faery gowns, moving gracefully and singing strongly at first but leaning towards the pitchy end of the spectrum as she grows tired by the end of a particularly big musical number early in the show – too big – and it seems a shame to show us so much, rather than just a taste, like getting to know somebody too well or getting an honest response to the daily query, “How ARE you?” Certainly, when we see a show, we want to see “show fit” performers (and, as performers, we aspire to it; in fact, there is a performing arts school currently auditioning down south that has built itself upon the whole “show fit” triple-threat premise). Perhaps, in this case, the demands were a little too high. Having said that, O’Rourke is an absolute treat to watch (I love her spoken work and her mannerisms, as self-assured in the role of Hippolyta as she is in that of the Faery Queen). She is well matched with her Oberon (Sasha Janowicz). Janowicz has the most commanding presence on stage and as Theseus, his vocal skill and posture give us clear indication of the proud, authoritarian Athenian. But in the forest, I always feel Oberon must be omnipresent and when he is not, I wonder what he is up to! This is no criticism of Janowicz’s work, which is by far the most competent, but an observation of the choices made by the director and an ever-present thought about how much of the original work do we honour in a production? Again, is it a question of staying faithful to the text (and, in this case, what we can only guess might be the intent of the playwright) or do we imagine those moments in between and simply make up a little more of it?!

Puck should be a little monkey-friend/pet/servant, loyal and attentive to the point of annoyance but more often than not, there is no physical or emotional bond between he/she and his/her master. Or not enough. To me, they are the puppeteers and too often are dealt with as separate entities, despite having wonderful dialogue together and, as is the case in this production, some very clever and well punctuated, physical comedy; Oberon gesturing to lasso and draw Puck (Hannah Ellis) to him, Puck choking and spluttering as the imaginary rope tightens around her neck. The relationship on stage could benefit from even more play, as master and chief mischief-maker. A bit like Shrek and Donkey. Seriously!

This is mostly a really lovely production and there is potential for this company to make its mark on Queensland theatre and on our slight obsession with Outdoor Shakespeare. But the next collective need to narrow their focus and decide what it is they want the company (or at least, the next production) to be. What “sort” of Shakespeare is it? I don’t mind if it’s a different mode and style of delivery every time – I love it all – but it needs to be clear, and confident enough in its own skin so that we feel comfortable too, for two or three hours in the world created by these Athenians and magical creatures!

Storm the Stage – National Finals

James Gauci with Rotary Club of Cannington & IGA Supermarkets

Brisbane Powerhouse

Sunday 27th November 2011

Rotary and IGA Supermarkets are keeping the arts alive!

When the major sponsors and supporters of a national young performers’ competition are Rotary and an independent supermarket, you have to wonder at the state of performing arts in this country. It’s the question I most often ask. What IS the current state of theatre in this country? Apparently, if you go back and read our recent Briztix interviews with Australian working musical theatre performers, IT’S ALL GOOD. Phew. That’s a relief. Personally, I have no qualms about where the money comes from, not really, however; where was any level of government on this one? Perhaps they weren’t asked to contribute but with the previous sponsor (an offshore philanthropist) devastated by the natural disasters in his own country, unable to continue with his financial support this year, only Rotary and IGA stepped in to ensure the event continued. I’m glad they did because this event gives young performers (16 – 19 years of age) a platform to present their best impression of themselves…before anybody else tells them who they should be.

Without the grooming along the way by prominent industry personalities, this competition is like a kinder, smaller, live version of The X-Factor. And like The X-Factor, the trick is to find those finalists with that elusive special something that will set them apart. What IS it that sets a performer apart? What makes them a winner in the subjective world of The Arts? What makes “good” art? “Good” theatre? What does good theatre look like anyway? Does anybody know anymore? If you’ve got a blog you’re a critic (hell, if you’ve got a Facebook or a Twitter profile you’re a critic)! BUT “Does anybody know what we are looking for?” Maybe not until we see it and then, once we’ve seen it, experienced it, we want to see it, experience it again. Does it really matter anyway? The show must go on! Most of our high profile performing arts awards are the same popularity contests we see on our screens, decided on by votes from friends and fans of those involved, who login, click to vote and go about their day. One particular Storm the Stage award intrigued me greatly: the Briggs and Gibbs Award for Audience Appeal…decided on by the judges. Because just like the TV audiences who listen to the propaganda created by the publicity departments and executives of the commercial television stations (and recording companies) in this country, we need somebody to tell us what will appeal to us, what’s good… I’m not saying I disagree with the judges’ decision – Queenslander, Mitchell Page was, without appearing on any promotional material, the obvious pin-up boy of this year’s competition…or perhaps, of next year’s competition. Just saying.

Some of the Storm the Stage talent was impressive. Musical Theatre performer, Madeline Crofts, certainly had the voice but lost the story as she focused on switching between the different vocal styles in the challenging number, The Girl in 14G (from the musical of the same name) and Romy Vuksan showed us she is a wonderful dancer in Show Off from The Drowsy Chaperone (that number is up there with Ulla’s in The Producers, in terms of the “deceptively easy to sell” stakes)! Lachlan Graeme and Matty Johnstondemonstrated their comic capabilities in I Really, Really Love You (Sorta Love Songs) and The Ballad of Farquaad (Shrek – The Musical) respectively. Taylah Jarrett – the judges’ choice in the Musical Theatre category – sang beautifully but in neglecting to don a blonde wig, looked nothing like her character, Audrey or Donna Reed, of whom she sings, making Somewhere That’s Greena strange choice for this one-off performance in the finals of a national musical theatre competition. What does good theatre look like? Sound like? Song choice. Attention to detail. Let us into the world of your character and imagine their world is yours.

But art is not a science! Take a bit of the technique and precision out of it. As vocal coach and musical director, Todd Schroeder teaches, “First, serve the lyric.” Tell the story. Special guest performer from NASDA (National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Art) in New Zealand, Ashleigh Stove, delivered a superb monologue from Skintight, demonstrating her natural ability to feel the rhythm of the language, the discipline of her training and the confidence she possesses at this point in her career, to let it all go and simply be Elizabeth, who shares her story with us. This was, in my opinion, the best performance of the evening but as a special guest performer, of course Ashleigh was ineligible for an award. I’m sure we’ll see her on the professional stage or on our screens sometime soon.

There is immense value in a competition that awards competitors with honest, constructive feedback, giving them the opportunity to hone their craft a little, which allow them to rehearse and perform in a commercial venue with a professional technical team, in front of a supportive audience. As our Emcee,Drew Jarvis and National Producer, James Gauci, pointed out, young performers in Storm the Stage are undoubtedly gaining confidence and building a valuable network of like-minded creative people. So, like the eisteddfods and in preparation for the awards systems already in place in our Performing Arts Industry, I maintain that this competition is invaluable. It must continue. I will say though, that alternate drama & musical theatre – mostly comedy – is certainly an interesting mix and doesn’t make the most entertaining evening for an audience. If this competition is to grow – and, as I’ve stated, despite my misgivings about the subjective parameters of performing arts awards – it should be allowed to grow, perhaps the drama and musical theatre components can be kept apart.

In the meantime, young (and old) performers still need to see more theatre! That’s key. I hope most of it’s good but some of it might be bad. And that’s okay. If you’re not seeing and experiencing any of it, how can you expect to work out what “good” is? So see more theatre. Seek new teachers. Take a master class. Engage a vocal coach. Engage an acting coach. Appreciate your training and then be prepared to let it go. Prepare. Compete if that’s your thing (and even if it’s not, remember every audition is a competition) and know that winning doesn’t mean you’ll make it. A lot of hard work, great mentors, good networks, self-belief and a little bit of luck means you might make it.

Congratulations to all the finalists and chookas!

Judges: 

Paul SabeyJohn Peek and Simone de Haas

Winners:

In Drama

Runner up: May Grehan Rae’s Story

1st Place: Camilla Best The Seed

In Musical Theatre

Runner up: Lachlan Graeme I Really, Really Love You

1st Place: Tayla Jarett Somewhere that’s Green

Briggs & Gibbs Award (Audience Appeal): Mitchell Page

FRACTIONS

QTC & Hothouse Theatre

QPAC Cremorne

14th November – 10th December 2011

This. This play. This playwright. This production. It’s QTC’s final for 2011.

In Brisbane this year there has not been better theatre than QTC’s production of Marcel Dorney’s award-winning Fractions. It’s been the talk of the town since its first public reading four years ago, let alone since its inclusion in the finals of the Queensland Premier’s Drama Awards (the only playwriting award in the country to guarantee a full-scale production). And the writing IS incredible. It’s little wonder that this play had creatives vying for roles – on stage and off – even before its win.

This is intriguing, engaging drama from a self-proclaimed “human conflict enthusiast” and for those who don’t think this play’s their thing – it’s mathematics, it’s science, it’s philosophy, it’s religion, it’s humanity – think again and go check it out. You might be surprised.

Fractions is not completely fabricated. There was, in ancient Alexandria, a woman named Hypatia, however, very little is known about her. What we do know is that she was mathematician, philosopher, astronomer and teacher, and the last librarian of the massive library housed within the Museum of Alexandria in Egypt. A major intellectual and cultural centre, Hypatia studied and lectured there. At a time when few women held a position of power or influence, Hypatia became the salaried director of the school in 400, established close ties with political figures and regularly challenged Christian popular opinion, a habit which ultimately led to her demise; an horrific death at the hands of a Christian extremist faction. Now, with Dorney’s characters come to life before us, perhaps we know a whole lot more. Imagine!

It’s not an easy story. On the contrary, it challenges us to consider the way we are living and learning and teaching and communicating today (unforgivingly so). The contemporary street speak and naturalistic delivery, rather than the use of a poised, proper, “ancient” language is an inspired choice, making this work so current, so relevant on so may levels that it becomes quite frightening to think too much on any of it. But we must…although Dorney is reluctant to reveal any obvious lessons, insisting, “we’re in show business – we make entertainment, and Fractions is made for the audience to enjoy, not to study.” Director, Jon Halpin notes, “It’s set 1500 years ago but it speaks with an urgency and relevance to today’s world with more insight and profundity than any other new work I’ve come across.”

Jolene Anderson is the imagined Hypatia and I imagine there could be no one better suited in the creation of this role than she. Anderson is a beauty but not in the classical sense. There is nothing really delicate or particularly “feminine” about her (rather, she is striking), yet she exudes a gentleness that her outward manner defies. It is thought that Hypatia wore the gowns of a scholar, rather than the typical feminine garb of the time and she once rejected the advances of a male student by proffering her menstrual rags, in order to demonstrate to him, the lack of beauty, poetry and romance in the carnal. This moment in the play is fierce and that Hypatia might actually have done this, is made completely believable. Anderson, in short, is a study in relaxed, contemporary performance.

Well-known Brisbane actors join her: Hugh Parker as Orestes, the other pagan (in perhaps his best role to date), Jason Klarwein as Kyril, Eugene Gilfedder as Rika and Lucas Stibbard as Synesius. This casting allows us to see Klarwein at his evil, unlikable best! Kyril is not ever supposed to win our sympathy (the audience visibly squirms each time he enters to upset the apple cart) but for some reason, I expected to understand him better so that I knew why I hated him so. A buff Gilfedder, as the guard, Rika, makes the ultimate sacrifice for Hypatia and though his words are few, they are mostly intense and we believe every one of them. Stibbard, having played 24 characters in one show for the last couple of years, plays just two in this production and it is the first, Synesius that we get to know. Just a little. Simon, Stibbard’s second role, serves to reinforce Hypatia’s strength of character and her determination to continue teaching in the face of adversity rather than establish any great journey of his own. It is Parker who impresses most, giving us every thought and good (or questionable) intent behind his political motivations and personal actions, his good humour and turn of phrase. He is the Pontius Pilot, waiting for a chance to wash his hands of blood but the chance never comes. He is the ideal match for Anderson on this stage.

An Affiliate artist in 2011 and QTC’s Resident Designer in 2012, Simone Romaniuk, has created the entire world and changing moods of the play in a clean, simple, effective design. Complemented by the evocative lighting of Affiliate Artist, Lighting Designer, Ben Hughes and dreamscape style sound by award winning Brett Collery, this is a refreshingly easy set to look at. But the thing that strikes me most about it is the collection of scrolls. The scrolls! Like the truffula trees in the land of The Lorax! Masses and masses of them (scrolls, not truffula trees), stored far above us, in tall, black structures that allow plenty of play space underneath, where the actors dart in and out of shadows and the golden glow tries to bely the evil that is happening outside the walls of the library. All those thousands of books lost. “How do you save a forest?” Imagine.

It’s not hard to put a finger on what it is about this production that is so powerful. It’s simple really. It starts with the writing. It is brought to life by a talented creative team and an attentive, fully engaged audience consumes it. Like fire. That’s it. It’s GOOD. It’s POWERFUL. It’s THOUGHT-PROVOKING. The ideas and the fears within this play will be listened to – we hope by audiences all over the world – because they are our ideas and our fears (and because we are unequivocally proud of this Queenslander, this Marcel Dorney, regardless of where he is currently based). And we don’t change. Not really. We face our ideas, our fears and all our imaginings in the theatre (remember, the raw form is the original news source) and we think on them and we talk about them for years after the event. Unlike so many big-budget, glossy productions, which I love but I remain skeptical of, Fractions is THAT sort of raw theatre – real theatre – the sort of theatre that stops you in your tracks and demands your attention until story’s end. Don’t miss it and wonder what all the talk was about.

This review published originally on briztix.com

Little Birung

Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts & Dr Tulp

Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts

16th – 19th November 2011

ADVICE: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are advised that this review contains names of people who have died.

7 years in the making. 6 generations. 120 years of history.

This show is deadly, too deadly! It is so deadly that an audience member couldn’t wait until the end of the show to tell Megan so. Slightly stage left of centre, out of the candlelight in the cabaret seating came a small, clear, proud voice, “You’re deadly, Megan!” Laughter. Smiles. Love.

Megan Samardin hails from Mount Isa and calls it home still, despite her recent success, which has come from the Helpmann Award winning musical The Sapphires. She is just 27 years old and delivers with immense love, tales told her by “the grannies that went before”. They are the tales of hard lives, injustice and the love and honour that, against all odds, hold a family together.

Little Birung is a beautiful little piece and a rare treat for audiences. Sensitively directed by Sean Mee, it is plain, simple storytelling at its best. The touching stories Megan tells are those of her family, told by the women, passed down through generations and now, for those lucky enough to catchLittle Birung during its brief season at the Judith Wright Centre, they can be heard and treasured by a much larger family.

The stories have been told to Megan by her 96-year old great grandmother (the oldest Ngadjon person living today), Flora Hoolihan (nee Illin), who lives by herself in Townsville and whose character we get an even greater sense of, when seeing her speak with Megan on screen. Flora muses, “Sharing the past isn’t easy sometimes…”

Written by Megan and John Rodgers, the music, ranging from pop to pub rock to blues to country helps (though the spoken word needs a little attention to get it flowing as comfortably as the songs). In its generally gentle shape and form, it is unmistakably John Rodgers stamped. Megan, with Musical Director, Jamie Clark, very naturally, confidently perform the work. These two have a wonderful connection on stage and bathed in glowing light from all directions (Lighting Design by George Meijer) on a simply set stage, they establish a distinct air of secrecy and special privilege. The stories are so personal and to share them with strangers is an enormous act of trust. Performing this show must be a bit like trying out a new acoustic set for the regular punters in a small town pub. But with better sound. Much, MUCH better sound (Sound Design by Brett Cheney).

Megan’s great-great-great grandmother, Emily Russell, experienced first contact in the Atherton Tablelands. In 1955, at the age of 90, she was removed from her home with the cruel promise of a “holiday” and placed on Palm Island, where she died in her cell the same year. Most of us, including Megan as she sang the final lyric (and myself again now, even as I write this), were moved to tears…

And I’ve outlived my daughters, though Kitty had a good man
That didn’t keep her from dying, a long, long way away from her land
What about Lullie and Flora? Do they know I am on Palm?
Are they waiting to save me? Waiting for the storm to calm?

The good man was a Russian, Leandra Illin, and due to his health, the couple moved off Kitty’s land and onto another’s. Struggling with her feelings of displacement, Megan sings for Kitty – in the style of the opening bars of Mama Who Bore Me (Spring Awakening) – Black Cockatoo (her mother’s totem). Kitty died in childbirth, having passed on the story so far, which we hear in the form of a sweet, catchy lullaby, Little Birung. Megan explains, “The title song,Little Birung, is about Granny Kitty singing to Granny Flora while she was in the womb. It’s a lullaby talking about all the struggles they had to go through.” My five year old heard me singing the refrain quietly in the house this morning and wanted it on repeat in the car. She was singing along with Megan by the time we got to school. It’s sad and bitter sweet and beautiful, perfectly encapsulating the mood of the show.

Other highlights were He’s Alright (showcasing Megan’s vocal versatility and comedic ability), La Paloma (sung in Spanish, a tribute to Flora’s father), I Wish I Could Have Listened to Him (Megan’s mother, Dixie Samardin’s regret about never really knowing her Grandad Hoolihan, a political man) and Jenny Brown, in which we hear Margaret Gertz (nee Hoolihan) list the names of those who have passed, showing respect and keeping their stories alive.

So it’s not all sad. In fact, the culmination of these stories is a strangely uplifting summary song, The Mountain, which has so much hope and pride in it that most of us were moved to tears all over again!

Little Birung premiered in Cairns in 2010 as Blackbird as a co-production with JUTE Theatre. Renamed in honour of Flora (the original Birung), it really is a remarkable original work from a collective of artists who care deeply about sharing local stories with local communities. Remember, these are the guys who brought us, for the Queensland Biennial Festival of Music (under Lyndon Terracini), Bob Cat Dancing (Mt Isa 2003), in which Megan got her real start. Perhaps you didn’t know that? A massive community theatre event and a unique tribute to the Mt Isa’s mining industry, Bob Cat Dancingincorporated a trio of 3-tonne bobcat machines that spun, twirled and balanced with balletic precision, while a live band played country, pop, rock and gospel music. Wait a minute! Did Sean MeeJohn Rodgers and Philip Dean create Australian Spectacle Theatre?! Maybe so! Anyway, I’m proud to have been involved in that production so I just wanted to let you know that it happened and that it led to other things happening too…

Sometimes people forget what has gone before. We are all connected to place and to our past – our personal and collective histories – and shame on any one of us who forgets it or ignores it or tries to cover it up and hide it away. Megan’s family’s stories are incredible (and they are incredibly important) and it’s clear that she has a lot more of her own story to tell. Megan is quite a talent and Little Birung, a perfect piece of theatre for all of us, for all sorts of reasons.

Doctor Tulp is:

Artistic Director: John Rodgers Creative Producer: Leah Cotterell Executive Producer: Seamus Mee Artist: Megan Samardin Production Manager: Gavin McDonald

This review published originally on briztix.com

Songs For Nobodies

Duet Entertainment

Brisbane Powerhouse

10th – 20th November 2011

Songs For Nobodies is quite simply the most sophisticated night out at the theatre since Caroline Nin joined us, with Hymn a Piaf, during Twelve Acts of CabaretBernadette Robinson raises the bar with her stunning impersonations of not only Edith Piaf but also Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday and Maria Callas. While this feat alone is impressive in anyone’s books, she also brings to life, the personas and personal stories of five other women, the “nobodies” of the title, who each experience a chance encounter with one of the divas.

I love how this show came about and it’s a model that we are seeing more and more often in Australian theatre and, more particularly, in Australian musical theatre (think of the variations that are Kris Stewart’s New Musicals Australia and recent festival commissioned works, such as The Little Green Road to Fairyland for Brisbane Festival 2011). In this case, Johanna Murray-Smith, commissioned by Melbourne Theatre Company’s Artistic Director (and director of this work), Simon Philips, wrote Songs For Nobodies to showcase Robinson’s extraordinary talent as actress and singer. The combined elements of the writing, the talent, the production values and a small, highly competent and sensitive band do just that. I would credit all those involved if it were not for the fact that, to my immense disappointment, no program was issued for this season of the production, an oversight that I hope will be remedied before any overseas engagements.

Robinson’s portrayal of the divas is quite perfect, uncanny even. For all the recordings I’ve heard and for all the footage I’ve seen of these – five of our best loved female vocalists – I cannot fault Robinson. Her mimicry is spot on and the posturing and gesturing, dressed in a classic LBD and superbly cut jacket to suit all 10 characters, is as if she had engaged each artist’s coach to coach her, so precise is she in her study. Her wide ranging soprano is both exquisitely clear and hard-life-infused raspy where necessary; so much so that to close one’s eyes and listen, one might assume the women themselves are there with us. This applies to each singer; there is no weak character, and we see each at the peak of success, through the eyes of the “nobodies”, the ordinary women in menial jobs who each attract a chance meeting and a brush with fame.

There is Beatrice, a shy, unassuming washroom attendant, who offers to sew the hem of Judy Garland’s gown and divulges to the star, the sad story of the end of her relationship (a moving rendition of Happy Together). There is theatre usher, Pearl, invited by Patsy Cline to sing back-up vocals before Cline boards the plane that will later crash and kill her (Crazy). There is Edie, a librarian who explains one degree of separation between she and The Little Sparrow, Edith Piaf (my favourite – always – Non Je Ne Regrette Rien). A New York Times journalist, Too Junior Jones, makes Billie Holiday laugh and gets an interview, which gets her a promotion (Strange Fruit and Ain’t Nobody’s Business). Finally, there is Orla, a nanny aboard an Onassis cruise that also carries the opera darling, Maria Callas (Vissi d’arte). The connections between the ordinary women and the slightly more extraordinary women are tangible (a funny thing while there is just one artist on stage) and the transitions between each are absolutely seamless. I know I was one who gasped, upon first hearing the switch from shy, squeaky Beatrice to exuberant songbird, Judy Garland.

Songs For Nobodies is exquisite musical theatre and despite moving slowly for some (Murray-Smith’s superb expositional writing and Phillip’s careful direction have allowed for pause, thought and nuance and there was some shuffling and fidgeting at times behind me), the uninitiated as much as the musical theatre lovers and players should see this show. Geoffrey Rush has described this show so eloquently that I shall quote him (thanks, Geoffrey): “Bernadette’s is a beautiful performance – that rare collision between actress and material that provides an astonishing showcase for her exquisite artistry…with charm and fragility, melancholy, sassiness and beguiling warmth – and that divine chameleon voice.” He’s right. It’s little wonder that Robinson receives a standing ovation wherever she goes.

Robinson is too much an incredible performer to miss and whether or not you are a fan of any or all of the divas, you will fast become a fan of Bernadette Robinson. Songs For Nobodies deserves worldwide attention. And it will get it. You should see it before it leaves our shore.

This review published originally on briztix.com

Pygmalion

QTC

QPAC Playhouse

7th – 27th November 2011

What? No songs?! Admittedly, I was both excited AND disappointed to hear that Michael Gow would be directing George Bernard Shaw’s most popular play, based on the Greek myth, Pygmalion, for Queensland Theatre Company, rather than Lerner & Loewe’s beloved musical,My Fair Lady. I know. Shame on me for shying away from a classic! But I love the musical (the 1938 original non-musical film not so much) and I particularly love all that Audrey Hepburn brought to the role of Eliza Doolittle, the flower girl “guttersnipe” who is transformed during a period of “education” in the home of Henry Higgins, played in the 1964 film by Rex Harrison.

This Henry Higgins, the charming Robert Coleby, is less abrupt than Harrison and more mischievous, making his treatment of Eliza all the more disgraceful and thus, a whole lot funnier…because we all recognise his behaviour and the feelings associated with being treated abominably by an older, arrogant, condescending male authoritarian figure but it’s not us in those petite shoes, is it? Coleby brings to the role the abhorrent qualities of Shaw’s Higgins without making us hate him. The balance throughout of complex emotions – and his simple despair at the end – makes an appallingly behaved character rather endearing. At story’s end, we find that we are empathetic.

Our story begins before the house lights dim and the scene is set, literally, by an actor sharing what must be the italics from the script (the setting and stage directions). It’s the 1950’s and despite the design and the famous line, “Not bloody likely!” being updated, it seems that neither good manners nor issues of class disparity have changed much since 1912. We are invited into the world of Eliza Doolittle on Drury Lane, which is a far cry from Higgins’ home in Wimpole St where she soon finds herself. The stage is slightly raked and a full scrim gives us some lovely well lit moments behind it and a complete map view of London out front, the setting for each scene highlighted by a travelling pin spot (Lighting Designer David Walters). On stage, settings are simply and elegantly conveyed and the set pieces glide magically on and off stage via a track system, without the bustle of stagehands (Designer Stephen Curtis).

Leading lady, Melanie Zanetti (QTC Emerging Artist in 2010), embodies the flower seller Eliza and later in the piece, in undeniably “Audrey-esque” fashion, reveals another side to this complex character, in similarly stunning styling and superb gowns. Zanetti comes across just as she should – and I’m sure her finish will get stronger by the end of the run – a walking, talking doll, a temporary plaything and an amusing experiment for Higgins and Colonel Pickering (beautifully underplayed by Bryan Proberts).

The show skips and dances along (the repetition in the final scene barely noticeable), the laugh-out-loud moments too many to count and the audience easily able to commit fully to the story, largely because the actors resist an easy invitation to go OTT. Instead, refreshingly, they remain true to the humanity of the tale.

Chris Betts, as Eliza’s father, Alfred, is rough around the edges and a fish out of water but he cleans up nicely (I was waiting for him to break out into a jovial rendition of Get Me To the Church on Time). Kaye Stevenson is a politely intolerant Mrs Higgins. Carol Burns and Kerith Atkinson as the Eynsford Hill ladies are both adorable and repulsive in their upwardly aspiring manners and as Freddie Eynsford Hill, Christopher Sommers suitably pathetically, pines over Eliza. The hired help are hilarious: Penny Everingham’s Mrs Pearce and Andrea Moor’s Parlourmaid extracting gales of laughter and making some of us feel very grateful that we, er, choose to forego the luxury of being waited upon!

Gow has cast superbly, not only the main roles but also every character, letting them play, I suspect, considerably in the rehearsal room so that we can enjoy the quirks and nuances of each. The creative team and Dialect Coach, Melissa Agnew, are some of the best in their respective fields and this production benefits from their shared vision. If we’re honest, Gow’s 2011 season has been a bit hit and miss but Pygmalion is a triumph. You must see it.

This review published originally on briztix.com

ROCK OF AGES

New Theatricals

QPAC Lyric Theatre

12th November – 4th December

ZOMG! Brisvegas! Go see this show! Rock of Ages is awesome, feel-good entertainment and you’ll love it! Directed by Kristin Hanggi, it’s the best jukebox musical I’ve seen and it’s an exhilarating night out for everyone.

You know the story: small town girl meets boy in big city, waits some tables, meets rock star, loses boy, turns some tricks, finds boy and finds love. That’s how it goes, doesn’t it?

Amy Lehpamer is the perfect blonde ingénue, Sherrie, in LA to be discovered. And she is; first by wannabe rockstar, Drew (Justin Burford) then by fading rockstar, Staycee Jaxx (Michael Falzon). Waiting tables at the infamous Bourbon Room, owned by Dennis (Anthony Harkin), she makes a choice that rocks her world and just as quickly, shatters it. Lured by “Mama” Justice (Rachel Dunham) and her sassy dancing girls to the Venus Club, Sherrie discovers that the Sunset Strip, which is under threat of redevelopment from Hertz (David Whitney) and his son, Franz (an hilarious Lincoln Hall in his professional debut), is not the dream she thought it would be.

Francine Cain, in her professional debut, plays the wily, hippy Regina (be sure to pronounce it correctly, please), who throws a spanner in the development works. Cain is also hilarious (she and Hall make quite a pair) and she has a voice on her. Dunham is well known for her powerful vocal work and she doesn’t disappoint. Falzon is every rock chick’s lust-worthy fantasy-turned-worst-nightmare and Burford, in his stage debut, sings his guts out, to the delight of a capacity crowd on opening night.

But it’s Lonny, “the sound guy” and Narrator, who steals the show. Dynamic Brent Hill, with tongue firmly in cheek, drives the action from the outset and could well be mistaken for funny-man, Jack Black, such are his comedic antics and style of delivery. He appears randomly, outside of his own story, to smash the fourth wall and to inject a brand of humour that is quirky, naughty and absolutely necessary in a show with a book about as thin as your favourite pair of slightly see-through (slightly age inappropriate) pink panties… the whole show, after all, is a wicked piss-take of the musical genre, everything eighties and all that is rock ‘n’ roll goodness and madness. I love it!

The set list is the best of the eighties and it makes for one helluva rockin’ show, with perfect rock concert sound (Peter Hylsenki), the bass vibrating through your chest and your chair, no doubt blowing the dust off the Lyric Theatre’s sound system. The songs would have you singing along; only the voices – all the voices – are so good that you won’t want to miss any of them. It’s your best eighties’ party playlist, with classics such as Just Like Living in ParadiseWe Built this CityI want to Know What Love IsFinal CountdownHit Me With Your Best Shot and Don’t Stop Believin’ (and hey, Gleeks? Do I even need to say that this is the way these songs are supposed to be sung)?! The band, led by Musical Director, Dave Skelton, appear on stage as Arsenal, surviving within the context of the show, lineup changes and changing times. They’re talented guys, raw and ready for anything.

Jason Lyons’ lighting is in turns, suitably flashy and fabulous for the powerhouse numbers and more subtle for the corny, romantic moments. Set design (Beowulf Borit) is cleverly multi-functional, incorporating hidden spaces and terrific use of levels (we love stairs and balconies and scaffold). The AV adds a daggy drive-in movie feel to the action and helps move the very few plot points along (Projection Design Zak Borovay). Costumes, designed by Gregory Gale, are outrageously sexy and undeniably eighties. Yeah, you remember…

Make no mistake about what this show is. It’s not masquerading as something deep and meaningful. It’s (probably) not going to change the world. It’s not going to change your life. But it will have you rockin’ out for its duration and all the way home! It’s entertainment! And it’s the most professional job we’ve seen from a professional company all year. They sing, they act, they sweat, they dance…and boy, do they dance (and boy, does one of them sing! Look out, Lehpamer)! Choreographer, Kelly Devine, has outdone herself, nailing the style and the…sentiment. The ensemble girls are pure sex, just as they should be, and quite frankly, it’s about time we saw this much sex on stage again, oozing from the pores and stiletto heels of women who are cast because they look, sing and move like a large percentage of the population believes they should…or did in the eighties, anyway. Yeah. That’s right. So sue me. And we welcome fair and honest comments in response to each review. Look, it’s simple. I love seeing talent on stage and these girls and boys are talented. In fact, they are so multi-talented that I’ve been thinking. Have the reality TV talent shows had to scrape the bottom of the barrel recently because our most talented performers are already working in our musical theatre industry? Is that it? I think so. These performers are fit, they’re hot and they can really dance (the girls’ kicks and the totes eighties take on the bend & snaps are awe-inspiring)! Their commitment, their energy, their generousity and their joy, every moment as they bust their guts to give us a stellar show, are second to none. Snaps to Lynne Ruthven Casting and the creatives on this one for staying with the integrity of the show and finally, for the Brisbane season, telling the story in the very best way it can be told.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, perhaps you’ve never seen a show with a cast and a creative team of this calibre. Perhaps it’s time you did. Rock of Ages will infect you; inject itself into your soul like the happy cocktail of sex, drugs, love and rock ‘n’ roll that it is. And that’s the key to the success of this show. Rock of Ages is pure adrenalin, all energy, commitment and undeniably infectious fun. Don’t miss it! Take a crowd of friends, take your drinks in with you and wave that faux lighter like it was 1989!

This review published originally on briztix.com

Sweet Charity

Harvest Rain

Powerhouse Visy Theatre

Tim O’Connor has wanted to direct Sweet Charity “since forever”. The show, with Book by Neil Simon, Music by Cy Coleman and Lyrics by Dorothy Fields, is “timeless” and at the same time, slightly dated and kinda kitsch. Without being a fan of the show, you would undoubtedly recognise two or three of the showstoppers, largely because Shirley MacLaine made the role of Charity famous in the 1969 film, directed & choreographed byBob Fosse. In my humble opinion, this show – this story, despite its simple surface-level message of optimism – begs a more mature cast, however; this young, vibrant company concentrates on selling the shiny, happy-kitsch-cuteness and the positive message without so much of the deeper meaning. Well, that’s entertainment! And perhaps it’s just what we all need!

The simple design (O’Connor with Construction by Josh McIntosh) is surprisingly lacklustre – stairs and a NYC starburst of skyscrapers either side of the raised stage and a smattering of stars behind, painted onto a cloth backdrop, hiding the musicians from view (what a shame, when seeing the musicians at a Harvest Rain production is something we look forward to)! Even under Jason Glenwright’s lights, the colours of the set seem faded and the overall feeling is that of a forgotten idea about the world, and just a shadow of something wholesome. Perhaps this was the intent. I can imagine the design brief may have been “I’m gonna have me some faded dreams, some lost ambition and a whole lotta forgotten hope”. If this is the case, it fits the bill but it isn’t visually exciting.

The costumes (O’Connor) are much more colorful than the set and considerably more modest than you might have seen in other productions, or indeed, in the 2005 Broadway revival starring Christina Applegate or West End’s 2010 revival with Tamsin Outhwaite. (Or is it just that everybody on Broadway has legs and everybody in the West End has boobs?!) This cast is so young and so…dressed! This is not a surprise. They are the first and second year interns, who train daily in all aspects of musical theatre and are well and truly focused on the sweet and fun elements of the theatre industry (yes, all you cynics, there are those!) It seems to me to be, for this company, an odd show choice in a way, with its tale of the dance hall hostess who, time after time, gets the wrong guy and is more often than not treated somewhat appallingly by her “friends” at work as well as the men she encounters.

As my five year old commented, these are people who want to be happy and in order for them to be happy they need to “go and get the job that fits them because they can’t ever find a person to fit.” Incidentally, she loved the dancing too.

As the ridiculously geeky Oscar, Cameron Whitten’s elevator scene all but stole the show; his physicality, his energy and his commitment to the role was unmatched. While there were other terrrific performances (Tom Markiewiczas Vittorio Vidal and a couple of the more competent girls in their minor roles), Casey McCollow, as the sassy, cynical Nickie, was the other standout. With strong vocal work and a clear-cut character, she helped drive the Fandango Ballroom scenes and raised the bar in musical numbers such as Big Spender and There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This. Disappointingly, for her voice is lovely and I would like to have heard more of it, Erika Naddei’s (Charity’s) vocals were, at times, lost under the volume of the band (Sound Designer Cameron Heit), which was all class, once again led by Maitlohn Drew. Though some may have missed it, Drew’s odd nod toBarnum – Jenny (The Nightingale) Lind’s song, Love Makes Such Fools of Us All– is nevertheless an apt addition to the score.

In all but the vocal harmonies (Vocal Director Sophie Mangan) and the choreography (Callum Mansfield), this production lacks attention to detail. The real precision is in Mansfield’s groovy choreography, which is suitably sixties-seventies stylised, Bob Fosse infused and each dance number in itself, a complete showpiece. It’s the best I’ve seen from Mansfield but unfortunately, the sometimes-careless execution means that his style and vision is entertaining without being fully realised. Inexperience also showed up a number of times in the mishandling of props.

Sweet Charity is a light, fluffy, fun show that hints at the darker side of life but doesn’t cross the tracks to go there. This Harvest Rain production, like its others, is engine room stuff, offering valuable performance experience and a certain degree of exposure to the next ambitious generation of Brisbane talent. Like Charity, the world of these performing artists is full of colour and possibility. Who are we to say that “out there” is anything BUT that?!

This review published originally on briztix.com 

Often I Find That I Am Naked

Critical Stages and Jo & Co

Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Art

27th – 29th October 2011

Jo Thomas is just gorgeous. If you hadn’t realised already, after seeing her in the show’s original season or after seeing her on the brochure, naked in a bath tub filled with brightly coloured candy, you would have seen it last night at the Judith Wright Centre. Tonight – the second night of a three night return season – marks the 100th performance of South AustralianFiona Sprott’s sexy comedy by this dynamic company; a well deserved milestone in terms of nationally touring, locally produced product. With the support of Critical StagesOften I Find That I Am Naked, has been seen all over the country and it looks set to take on the overseas market next. And well it might but beware the language and cultural barriers! This is Sex and the City in your preferred Aussie city and the leading lady is Miranda, Charlotte, Samantha and Carrie, all rolled into one super sensitive, self-loathing, sexual predator. Or is that self-appointed victim?
Inspired by actual events in the playwright’s life, via Jo Thomas as Jezebel, Sam Clark as the many men in Jezebel’s life and James Dobinson as pianist, vocalist and conscience, Often I Find That I Am Naked tells the tragedy of women (and disastrous dates) everywhere. And let me make it clear: the men are not entirely to blame! Refreshingly, in this re-worked work, there are no taboos, nothing is sacred; it all rates a mention: drinking, shopping, dressing, dating, camping, dancing, fucking, sucking and spitting… WHAT?!

Bringing wry comedy and excellent musicianship to the stage and to the story, is Dobinson. He acts as a buffer and the rather bemused raised eyebrow of contemporary morality. Whatever that is. In Jezebel, Jo gives us every false hope, every rich fantasy and every fabulous, soul destroying mistake we have ever made in the dating market, largely because we just don’t know what it is we’re selling. Jezebel’s indecision and all her insecurities are our own…only we don’t DO that (that scene, those boys, those shoes or quite that much gin) anymore. Though some of us still dance around barefoot in our underwear to great bad eighties tracks with a homemade cocktail in hand. A-hem.

The boys she sees/has sex with are just one cliché after another and we can tell Clarke has fun playing them. He and Thomas have a wonderful, vibrant connection on stage; their energy is absolutely tangible and the sex scenes are hilarious…and a little bit tragic. Poor lovely, sexy, searching, hopeless Jezebel. The beauty sitting next to me was so engaged in the show and feeling so much for the character that I heard her on more than one occasion, in direct response to Jezebel’s actions, mutter her own dating advice… “DO IT, Jezebel!” and “No! DON’T DO IT, Jezebel!” That level of engagement is surely one of the markers of a great show!

I love the lavish, single girl apartment set (Josh McIntosh) with its permanent fixtures, including a recessed wall of alcohol, its closet, chaise lounge and Dobinson and his baby grand. In addition to Dobinson’s musical arrangements, the footlights (the lighting design by Andrew Meadows) and the red velvet curtains allow this thoroughly entertaining play-with-music to sit stubbornly on the shelf alongside cabaret, in unashamed Bridget Jones “All byyy myyyself” style.

In all honesty though, I expected the boundaries to be pushed a little further. It’s clear that audiences have been enjoying the show as it is (it’s evolved since the original run) but with so much smutty SMS stuff about “hooking up” in the disabled dunny, as well as unconscious post-party sex/rape (don’t try that at home, kids) I think I thought there would be more nasty, dirty, kinky sex. Perhaps the drinking became the thing (with Ruben Guthrie down the road, our drinking habits seem to be the flavour of the month). Perhaps there was more of everything and like any wicked girl, this Jezebel isn’t telling us all! Director, Shane Anthony, has done an admirable job of bringing the shape of this piece together and keeping the show slick for the duration of the tour.

If you can’t relate to Jezebel’s experiences (if they never happened or you can’t remember them or like me, you’ve gone to great lengths to block them out), you’ll still enjoy this show. You’ll still get it. You’ll still LOL. It’s fabulously funny, terrifyingly familiar stuff that lets us have a laugh at just how awful our choices can turn out to be and what happens when, one day (or night), we finally become brave enough to choose differently.

This is your last chance to see Jezebel before she struts out of town and off around the world! Don’t miss a fabulous night out at the theatre!

This review published originally on briztix.com

Mind Games

Jo Loth

Metro Arts

15th – 22nd October 2011

A cabaret about depression and bi-polar disorder? How does one DO that? Jo Loth has found a way and it’s a cracker of a cabaret show, performed at a cracking pace, with 60 minutes of poignant song and piss-take (every musical genre gets a guernsey) feeling like a 20 minute awards night opening number…with a very serious message.

Loth is an accomplished performer, comfortable enough in her skin to show a lot of it and revealing throughout the evening, a lot more beneath it. Loth lays herself bare, literally, on the therapist’s couch, admitting to years of self doubt, depression and diagnosis without appropriate support. Her story is the same story as one in four Australians. One in four. Is it yours?

Loth’s story (and the interwoven stories of the women with whom she has spoken about the subject) is multi-faceted and this woman sparkles, though not in a conventional glitzy cabaret way. She has Wade Gregory by her side and being the talented pianist, guitarist and vocalist that he is, Gregory has also done all the musical arrangements for the show. He brings additional warmth and a lovely, steady energy to it.

Loth is a dishevelled, behind-the-scenes version of herself as well as multiple (considerably more flamboyant) characters. These are not to be confused with multiple personalities, which is another cabaret topic altogether! Her alter ego, Jolene Mindtrick, inspired by the cabaret archetype, Marlene Dietrich, is “both the ego and the embodiment of Jo’s dark side, instrumental in propelling the journey forward” (Director’s Note). As she struggles to free herself from the ‘straitjacket’ (a quick, terrifying nod to self-perception and the stigma attached to mental health in this country), strips away the blonde wig and the golden gown, and loses the stilettos and the stockings, Loth is raw and real, to the point that the audience feels completely comfortable chatting with her and chiming in on the chorus of a country & western song. There is no fourth wall. We are invited to join Loth on a roller coaster ride of emotions and so we take a deep breath and go; we are with her every step of the way, as she sings about her confusion, self-loathing and thoughts of self-harm and suicide.

Her patter is well written, well rehearsed and comes across as casual conversation. Even so, the lighter moments almost come as a surprise. They are absolutely necessary – if we couldn’t laugh we’d cry – and they are superbly delivered, making Mind Games one of the funniest, grittiest shows I’ve seen. Not since Lucas Stibbard shared with us his story (it was not a love story, it was a story about love), have we, in turn, shared in the energy, vibrancy and commitment of somebody working this hard on a stage…and relishing every minute of it.

The self-assured hand of director, Sandro Collarelli, can be seen in Jo’s movement and just as much in her stillness, in her style, which is clearly her own and yet has a distinct Collarelli feel to it. This comes as no surprise, as the man himself is a rare cabaret champion and showed us as much, as the Emcee in Zen Zen Zo’s recent production of Cabaret. Just one question: with barely-there lighting (Mitch Chamberlain) and a low floor, at times we were obliged to stretch and lean and look around those heads in front in order to see Loth…could we not, again in this space, have raised the stage?

This is a show that deserves a bigger audience. And by bigger, I mean bigger on a national scale. It’s such a personal, honest show; funny, bittersweet and sad. But ultimately, it’s an uplifting, inspiring, entertaining story that desperately needed to be told and now it and Loth – a brave, bold, extraordinary performer and purveyor of truth – need to be heard.

Jo Loth’s Mind Games is testament to the life-changing power of theatre and the importance of discussion amongst us, about the tough topics. Let the media report on what it will, as long as the people are thinking and talking and reading and watching and subscribing widely. In short, if a story these days can go so far as to affect a life, then this show deserves your attention. Take a risk, see this show and look a little differently at life and at those around you who may struggle each and every single day to live it.

This review published originally on briztix.com

Spring Awakening

Oscar Theatre Company

QPAC Cremorne

13th – 22nd October 2011

Oscar Theatre Company’s Artistic Director, Emily Gilhome, doesn’t care what the reviewers think of her Spring Awakening. She is all about connecting with audiences and giving her company a great experience during the process. On opening night, the quality of which she speaks is in reference to the experience rather than the production itself, which is impossible to achieve at any level without Gilhome’s other favourite ingredients for a successful show, integrity and humility.

Contained and almost careful, pushing boundaries without crossing lines, this is an impressive production that brings a little bit of Broadway to Brisbane. The vocal work is superb and, more than powerful, it’s saccharine sweet. We get the angels and the inner demons, not so much, though there is plenty of rock-god goodness, from the band, err, orchestra (err…why not have a rock band?!) and from Dash Kruck, who almost steals the show with his Greenday-like renditions of the tough Moritz songs. Well known for his comedic roles, Kruck reveals a different, darker side, whilst not missing the opportunities to go after a few giggles.

I say that Kruck almost steals the show because this show actually belongs to Charles Sells. Call me biased, I care not. Charles calls the Sunshine Coast home and we found him in 2008 for a role in our production of Shout! The Legend of the Wild One, putting him on stage alongside seasoned professional performer, Dale Pengelly. We let him steal the penultimate scene even then. Sells has a beautiful voice, jazz baby good looks and a magical presence on stage. For such a young performer, he has a wealth of acting talent that needs nurturing and insightful direction. If Sells is not our next big thing then I don’t know who is! Siobhan Kranz is a lovely Wendla, all innocence and wonder, which along with the fear and misunderstanding of her mother (and the incompetence of a well-meaning, dodgy doctor), tragically brings about her demise.

Gilhome’s direction of the actors is, indeed, nurturing and insightful, allowing them their nuances and bringing out the best in this vibrant company. The boys (Sells, Kruck, Tom OliverDan VenzJustin Tamblyn and Dakota Striplin), by any disciplinarian’s standards, are a force to be reckoned with. There are a couple of incredibly strong performances here, including that ofTom Oliver’s as Georg and Dan Venz, as Hanschen. The girls (Kranz,Rachel BurkeMay GreenEmma Taviani & Jessica Harm) underplay and remain contained until they seem to want to run and scream and explode – probably the perfect representation of their sex in the 19th century. The adults playing adults, Norman Doyle and Louise Brehmer, do well to further build on the horror that must have been that dark, depressing world of 1892. What Steven Sater (Book & Lyrics) and Duncan Sheik (Music) have done with this show is put Frank Wedekind’s shocking story on stage in its most authentic, angst-ridden form for contemporary audiences. You see, I love the original, ghastly play but it was not until seeing it and hearing it happen around the raw action that seems to come straight out of a drug-addled, curfew-breaking rock concert that everything fell into place. It’s a little bit like RENT, in terms of its structure and at times, this slowed the gear changes a little, though, for the general audience, did nothing to take away from the overall effect.

All the elements are there, though they are not often connected – a discreet sound design, a simple timber-slatted set, empty picture frames, wooden chairs, candles and blackboard walls covered in graffiti. And a big, bare tree, sketched in white chalk like a skeleton soul, on the back blackboard wall. The lighting design doesn’t always match up with the action and more often than not, the performers move in and out of the light. It’s different but it makes it difficult to see faces. Sloppy work from the audio tech is always damaging to a production and that it impacted the quality of this show by way of slow microphone cues was frustrating. Accents need greater attention in the future; they are a little disconnected and inconsistent.

Having said that, Emily Gilhome is doing what she’s set out to achieve, again blurring the lines between independent and professional theatre. She is connecting with audiences and she is giving our local talent the experience of their lives.

There is no doubt that Oscar Theatre Company is already one of our country’s best incubators for artists. Oscar provides performers with the same professional process and industry platform for which some of our elite arts institutions are charging a fortune. This is a company who needs our support. If we can keep them here, we will soon begin to see the talent leaving the bigger cities down south and moving north, to humble Brisvegas, for their first foray into the Performing Arts Industry here.

This review published originally on briztix.com

Ruben Guthrie

La Boite

The Roundhouse Theatre

8th October – 13th November 2011

Ruben Guthrie. He had us at “Hello.”Brendan Cowell’s razor-sharp social commentary, marketed (superbly) by La Boite, was always going to be Gyton Grantley’s show. But is it? Despite the images that indicate a solo effort (we’ve seen Grantley – Guthrie – on coasters, on buses and online for months now), this is no one-man-show. This is a well-crafted, well-directed ensemble piece for some of Brisbane’s best actors with Gyton Grantley in the title role. With two newcomers thrown into the mix (Darren Sabadinaand Lauren Orrell), it’s a ruthless, unforgiving exposé on not only one man but on one man’s culture.
An Australian play about alcoholism you say? Look deeper. Listen harder. This play is not so much about alcoholism; it’s about our alcoholic country. Don’t get me wrong, Cowell has written an incredible account (a detailed study) on the behaviour of an alcoholic but there is a bigger picture, which Director, David Berthold, offers in this production.

We’ve normalised drinking and we’ve normalised drunken behaviour. Not only do we condone it, we tolerate it to excess, encourage it and celebrate it. We are a nation of drinkers. And that’s okay…isn’t it? It’s part of our identity! As posed by some of the people in Ruben Guthrie’s life, one drink is okay. And, as announced by Ruben himself, one blackout every now and then is a blessing!

The ensemble’s performances are generally strong and give a true sense of the family unit, an uneasy mix of love, support, judgment, criticism, intervention and more often than not, inconsistent messages! Caroline Kennison’sportrayal of Ruben’s mother (daughter of an alcoholic, wife of an alcoholic and mother of an alcoholic) challenges us on every level. During an incredibly uncomfortable scene, she forces Ruben, in the vain hope that he will learn to drink “rationally”, to take a sip of wine. Ruben spits it out as she turns and walks away (taking the bottle with her), back into the glass she has poured for him. As the father, John McNeill gives Ruben grief and gradually, subtly, starts to reveal complex, mixed emotions, the guilt and shame of an Australian bloke who has to suffer the company of an intolerably sober son.

It might be a brave move to have a go at AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) – the witty take on the constant meetings and the participants, the “feeling” language and the predictably awkward instructional style of communication between Ruben and his sponsor – but the program is not for everyone and it’s important that the text doesn’t cross that line into self-righteousness and preachy promotion. A sponsor with benefits, Virginia is as natural and up-front as I’ve seen Kathryn Marquet and she is well matched with Grantley.

Lauren Orrell is perfectly cast as Ruben’s fiancé, the petite size 6 (or is it size 4?) blonde Czechoslovakian supermodel, with Cate Blanchett cheekbones, easily legitimising any typecasting to come. Stronger in the second act, Orrell is one to keep an eye on.Hayden Spencer has long been one to keep our eyes on and he doesn’t disappoint, giving Grantley plenty to play with, as his boss (a reformed alcoholic), Ray. With incredible energy and comedy Spencer ensures he has the audience in the palm of his hand from the outset.

Renee Mulder’s very simple yet effective set, of blue square floor atop blue square floor, with chairs and coffee tables flanking the sides, signified the boxing ring, the continuous battles with himself and those who care about him (or not) in every area of Ruben’s life every day – work, home, at a family barbeque, AA meetings – and becoming smaller, the void around him more expansive and the empty space itself serving to box him in as he plummets into alcoholic oblivion.

Jason Glenwright’s lighting is spot on, letting us into Ruben’s private “aloneness” and darkness before jolting us into the light of the sober day and back again into a cold, dark, dreamlike state. Guy Webster’s sound design works perfectly, underscoring events and adding a cold wind to set the mood – bizarrely – for a giant penguin to cross the space (Peter Brook, are you there? Homage to the deadly, holy, rough, immediate perhaps?)

Act 1 seemed slightly static, even clunky but then, opening nights often are, and to make up for it, Act 2 set a cracking pace, not letting up until the moralistic conclusion made us wonder if we were the test audience for a feature film’s alternative ending. I felt there could have been an earlier ending, perhaps with the father’s exit (“I don’t know…”) or even earlier, at the blackout after Ruben’s apparent overdose. In short, the work itself is a little too long and a little overdone at the end. I found Gyton’s energy to wax and wane, though his commitment to the complex character was clear and the journey fully explored.

These are minor quibbles and I’m still reeling after sharing such a difficult journey with Ruben Guthrie. Anyone familiar with the mindset and typical behaviour of an alcoholic will recognise the telltale signs and symptoms of this disturbing disease and realise how little we know, as a society, about alcoholism and how to manage it. Integral to the success of the telling of this confronting tale is the strength that is required by one who drinks, in order to beat the demons once the decision has been made to get dry. One day at a time.

Ruben Guthrie is great entertainment with a strong moral message. It challenges us to examine – sans beer goggles – our “beautiful alcoholic country” and what it means to be a sober “boring” Australian.

It seems ironic that, in celebrating the opening of a fierce new Australian play about drinking, we all headed outside, in true Aussie deference to the threat of rain (and judgment), to listen to speeches and thanks with a drink in hand. Well, it would have been bloody un-Australian to refuse one…or two. Right?!

This review published originally on briztix.com

Rhinoceros in Love

National Theatre of China

Brisbane Festival

Brisbane Powerhouse

One of the festival favourites (and possibly the biggest buy in), with a large cast and an amazing set (designed by Zhang Wu), Rhinoceros in Love is like no play I’ve seen before. Brisbane Festival Artistic Director, Noel Stanton, was right to note: “This play will not only move audiences to the core but it will open the eyes of Brisbane audiences to modern Chinese theatre during the Year of Chinese Culture in Australia.”

A poetic, dramatic script, laced with lovely comedy, well-timed songs (sung by vibrant young actors), water, paper, chairs and a conveyor belt bed made this a performance to remember.
The capacity Powerhouse audience came out chatting, impressed with the rain in the production and with the final message, to “pursue beauty.” I left the theatre feeling strangely abandoned and somewhat depressed. The layers and layers of the work spoke to me and as the company stepped (read splashed) forward for their curtain call, the members of the company were visibly moved. If there was ever any doubt about their passion or commitment to the tale, the tears on stage at the end smashed it.

Performed entirely in Mandarin, I was suddenly presented with surtitles again (there were none for Maria de Buenos Aires and none were needed). I found that I was obliged to look up and read them, rather than watch the performers for any length of time. This grieved me! I didn’t want to take my eyes off the actors! I felt sure I was missing their passion, their anguish, their dissatisfaction and high emotion, not to mention their cheeky facial expressions and a wink or two in the lighter moments. I tried so hard to ignore the surtitles but my eyes were drawn, time after time, to the text above the stage. I couldn’t connect with the actors, despite my best efforts.

The story they tell is one of youth and unrequited love. Quite simply, Ming Ming (Qi Xi), the ethereal object of the leading man’s affections, is so uninterested in Ma Lu (Zhang Nianhua) that in her efforts to dissuade him, she becomes cruel, completely destroying him. Strangely, maddeningly, he is undefeated. Playwright, Liao Yimei, notes, “The ending of the love story itself is not important.” The play is more about the power of belief and the pursuit of ideals and dreams.

Look, it took me a little while to work out that Ma Lu and Ming Ming were neighbours. It strikes me that when you’ve got a boy, a girl and a wall between them; a stick of white chalk and the mind of one local Helpmann nominee best serve you. Is that just me?

Ming Ming is petite and so pretty, it seems she doesn’t deserve to suffer…but she does. She chooses to. As does Ma Lu, although it seemed to me that he walked nearer to madness. Perhaps it’s the same thing, his suffering a measure of his madness. An energetic ensemble, each actor creating their unique character, with quirks and comedic tics that are at times absurd, supports them well.

Abstract devices – the songs, the “love tutorials” (classes in love making and breaking up) – added a touch of morality, wisdom and then wicked humour. At times these scenes were a little longer than necessary or ended so abruptly there was nothing leading into the following scene. Like dream sequences, this may well have been the intention.

In China, where the play was first performed in 1999, it has a cult following. It has been performed for the last 12 years – it’s a popular choice in the high schools – and Ma Lu (and his self-inflicted anguish), regardless of which fine, young actor is playing him, has quite a following; the youth particularly, very easily relate to him. As Ma Lu tells his friends:

A rhino forgets the grassland.
A water bird forgets the river.
A man in hell forgets heaven.
A leg amputee forgets a brisk walk.
To forget is what a normal person does.
But I’ve decided…not to forget.

Perhaps we all decide not to forget sometimes.

Radically different from the traditional Chinese theatre, Liao’s raw prose and Meng Jinghui’s bold direction have set a new benchmark for Chinese contemporary theatre. This cast, having now worked together for four years, delivers an intriguing, entertaining take on love, lust, life, our goals, our ideals, our dreams and power, which challenges us to take a look at ourselves and the things we most desire. “Society has changed, but the emotions in our heart are like a fire that never extinguishes…after all, we are all a rhinoceros in love.”

This review published originally on briztix.com

Steampowered

Circus Oz

Brisbane Festival

QPAC Playhouse

Circus Oz is no ordinary circus. Come to think of it, there is no ordinary circus anymore! Circus has pulled up its stripy socks, picked up its act, stepped up to the plate and gotten its game on! When I think of circus I think of Cirque de Soleil (my sister is currently in China callingSaltimbanco), Circadia (at Woodford Folk Festival) and Circus OzLe Grand Cirque is yet another brand of popular circus and you can read Josh Matthews’ review of it here.

Steampowered evolved over the last 12 months, collaboratively in the rehearsal room, “making it less like ‘direction’ and more like ‘curating’, ‘surfing’ or cooking’”, according to the company’s Artistic Director, Mike Finch. The theme (“a colour and a shape”) for the show, came out of the subversion associated with Steampunk, the imagined history of the Victorian era and it suits Circus Oz. A bold, original company, these performers have many skills between them and they deliver an excellent show.

A slow, serious start to Steampowered was saved by a comedy duo that started on stage, sharing the space with a massive white dome, which was later removed to reveal the Steampunk style clad band. The dome glowed prettily, changing colour, while we watched safety checks and general pre-show circus busyness. Then, through the audience came Daphne and Fantaysia Fitness, warming up the punters of all ages, shaking vigorously their wrists, pulling suitably silly-serious faces in hilarious fashion. A new breed of clown/stand up comic, Daphne set the standard for the multi-talented, refreshingly funny characters. A juggling act, using four multi-talented members of the company, each of whom were able to step out from the act and into the band and back again, then on and off various other apparatus. And whilst the presence of spotters spoilt the risk element of the opening teeterboard act, they were clearly necessary. It’s a slick ensemble and they all look out for each other.

I enjoyed the failed tricks of the magician (with Daphne “assisting”), the Boss Lady’s sassy singing and emceeing, the tumbling, frantic chaotic chase (slow motion under strobe lighting for good comic effect), as the Boss Lady attempted to reclaim her hat and Daphne’s running gag/love interest, proffering flowers to a guy in the front row at every opportunity. In fact, I’m determined to serve Christmas dinner a la Daphne, presenting each dish with a little run, a big flourish and a triumphant “Ta-da!”

My five year old was suitably impressed by a fun bicycle cum unicycle act, the bike breaking into several pieces and being reassembled by the rider…whilst riding it! And we were both in awe of three performers – 2 guys and a girl – sharing a pole, in an act of strength, focus and split second ensemble timing that put to shame some of the pole-dancing masquerading as burlesque I’ve seen recently. Seriously. If you want to see a good pole act, see Circus Oz. It’s fun, sexy and seriously impressive!

The moving, mechanical set of steam powered machines (Darryl Cordell) and the red & brown Steampunk costumes (by Laurel Frank, in a nod to Sergeant Pepper), aided by interesting lighting states throughout (Marko Respondeck), added to the original yet sentimental feel of this production. After seeing so many bright primary colours on circus performers for years, there is something strangely comforting about the iconic rusty colours and industrial themes reinvented to fit such brave, visionary artists. Circus is, after all, about imagination and reinvention.

Unfortunately I’m able to tell you about the first act only because, due to a delay during interval (apparently, it was an orchestra pit issue, inconveniencing the first three rows of the audience, who were asked to wait to be directed to their seats), the five year old and I had to leave before Act 2. Ordinarily, I would have been happy, as were most of the punters, to wait until the safety issue had been properly assessed and fixed but I had a trip back to the Sunshine Coast to do, before returning (again) to Brisbane for a second show that night. I know. The traffic! Crazy. I like to live on the edge. I’m sure Poppy would have been happy to continue to dance and perform her original tricks in the aisle, however it was not to be. By the way, theSteampowered soundtrack, available for purchase, is excellent. But enough about us. Life and the show must go on.

If you do get the chance to see a Circus Oz show in another venue, another time, I urge you to go and let off some steam! In the meantime, you’ll find them online. Visit circusoz.com/onlinecommunities

This is a modern, multi-talented troupe with unending energy, humour and a high level of skill, presenting original and thoroughly entertaining circus for all ages.

This review published originally on briztix.com

No Man’s Land

QTC & STC

Bille Brown Studio

19th September – 22nd October

QTC’s final studio show for 2011 is Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land and it is all about, as Michael Billington suggested in his critique of the original 1975 production, “precisely what its title suggests.”

Directed by QTC’s previous Artistic Director, Michael GowNo Man’s Land is unabashed, unashamed, plain and simple delivery of a complicated text, which is certainly Pinter at his best (and by best I mean most challenging, in a truly mind altering way).

Designer, Robert Kemp has set this strange story simply, in a vast room, appropriately well appointed and eccentric, with its imposing wall of books (with its odd assortment of bookend lamps, their leads exposed…but why? What did they signify? I could write an additional 600 words but I won’t bore you with my interpretive analysis), the lighting states (Nick Schlieper) created a suitable glow by lamplight at night and brighter white by the morning (loved the daylight, hated the window, or rather, that wall which lay beyond the window…oops). A barely audible soundscape (Tony Brumpton) and echo effects were suitably eerie.
There is always some debate about just what percentage of directing is in the casting. In this production, I say there’s approximately 93% of the directing in the casting. This is an incredible cast.

We are led to believe that the very wealthy, elderly Hirst (John Gaden) meets the vagabond conman, Spooner (Peter Carroll), in a pub in Hampstead and upon returning to Hirst’s house, the two new companions (for want of a better word) drink copious amounts of top shelf stuff and attempt to converse over the little they appear to have in common. After that, we are not sure what to believe. Two younger men, Foster (Steven Rooke, looking very much like Brad Pitt’s biggest fan) and Briggs (a buff Andrew Buchanan) join the older gentlemen in the room. They seem to have a relationship, they seem to have some authority over Hirst and certainly, more information than we do. So just who is in the room and what is actually being said? Are the ensuing events real or imagined?

To be honest, it took me a while to warm to Gaden. His drunken acting was overplayed, too deliberate yet unfocused and I found the crawling out of the room, or more particularly, the dramatic falling about that preceded it, unnecessary. He gets drunk, collapses and has to crawl from the room, yes? Then give us just that. I warmed to him later, as he settled into his character. Steven Rooke on the other hand, has an incredible, ticking, time bomb presence the second he appears on stage and it’s always exciting to see him, to feel him, in the space. We’re never quite sure what to expect from him. He is the epitome of antici…………pation, not to mention Brisbane’s best new white-suited, white-shoed, waxed, gay pin up boy. Peter Carroll and Steven Rooke together in this production come across as master and apprentice; an absolute treat.

It is Carroll, in my opinion, with his classical training, stagecraft and magical presence, complete with the wonder of twinkling eyes and delightfully roguish good humour, who overshadows the other members of the cast. That is not to say that those actors are not up to the task – they are extremely talented, well cast and they each do an excellent job – but Carroll is simply superb.

The vocal mastery of the performers – all four – is impressive and whether or not you “get it” (the context, the subtext, the WTF whatever text of Pinter), the conversations can be followed with interest and, more often than not, with intrigue, despite the content being largely about where and with whom the characters went to college.

A brief note about STRONG LANGUAGE because I don’t object to it and I like to hear it used convincingly in context. In an age when everyone likes to be shocking (dropping the c-bomb here and there still seems to do the trick), Pinter, waaay back in 1974, managed to get several c-bombs into the conversation with not one out of place. Does it matter? I don’t know but the way it comes out of Rooke’s mouth is…delicious.

But what is it all for? And who cares? Do we really go away questioning the worth of our inconsequential, mundane little lives, our slow march towards inevitable death? Does any of it really matter? And…is it okay to ask?! Is it okay to question a great playwright, a director, a company of actors – in this case, two companies – (The Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm just did it!), to question the deities, darlings and dignitaries of the theatre?

Is it even the sort of theatre that people want to see? And if they don’t see it, how do they know? Is it a refreshing change from the flashy, fussy, blown-out-budget box office smash hits and the basic no-budget indie anarchic, chaotic, rebellious theatre we’ve seen of late? It’s still anarchic, rebellious, boundary pushing, rule breaking theatre. But is it not just Pink Floyd, meaning nothing (I’m okay if you challenge any of this) and producing must-have after must-have album? Yes, I’m a natural blue. And who put the earmuffs on the cookie?

Absurdist theatre is not for everyone. If you want to give it a try or if you’re a die-hard Harold Pinter fan, or if you want to see one of our greatest craftsmen at work on our local studio stage, take a deep breath, take a stiff drink from the bar and venture into No Man’s Land. Cheers and here’s to your health!

This review published originally on briztix.com

Maria de Buenos Aires

Leigh Warren and Dancers & State Opera of South Australia

Brisbane Festival

QPAC Playhouse

Astor Piazolla’s little tango opera (Lyrics & Text by Horatio Ferrer), sensual and surreal, is rarely staged and it is easy to see why. This is a dark, complex story and not an easy one to tell well.

In a seedy, dimly lit bar sit the beautiful, lost souls of Buenos Aires, ambiguous in their repose and their splendid-sordid suits and dresses, grasping drinks and the shreds of their lives (one figure is clearly at work as she reclines behind an opaque plastic curtain and we can only presume the same of the other pretty girls present); this is the world of Maria de Buenos Aires, the woman who gave us the most nostalgic and passionate of dances, the tango.

Maria, born in Buenos Aires “one day when God was drunk”, with a curse in her voice, is seduced by the tango music of the night, becomes a prostitute, dies and is condemned to hell, which is the city itself, leaving her shadow to walk the streets. Having been impregnated by the goblin poet’s words, she gives birth to a Child Maria, who will be a Maria for all women. I know. I’ll give you a minute to re-read that, shall I?

Admittedly, I was a little lost to begin with. I recognised this dark world but – I’m almost ashamed to admit – not the story; my tango references are few and far between, ranging from Carmen to Evita to the fabulously disturbingRoxanne in Moulin Rouge (actually, I just wanted to mention Caroline O’Connor, of whom leading lady, Cherie Boogaart, reminded me), none of these being particularly helpful. Maria’s is an amazing story and thanks to a gorgeous Argentinian guy with whom I spoke during interval, I realised that there is a cultural phenomenon happening here, in Brisbane, bringing out of the woodwork to see this show, our Spanish speakers and tango dancers. The gentleman told me that, being Argentinian born and raised, this is a story not unfamiliar to him. In fact, it’s folklore and Maria de Buenos Aires an enigma. “This is the world of the prostitutes – dark, you know, no beauty – and Maria became a woman at fourteen…you know?”

The dance is incredible, as passionate and dangerous as you could hope to see in this country. Boogaart appears made for this genre, this tango operita, perhaps born for it, for this role, spoiling us with her beauty and exuding sex with every step. Her vocal range is impressive and her tone and mood move superbly between the sweet and racy ends of the spectrum, teasing, cajoling and drawing us, along with those legs – THOSE LEGS! – ever to her. An enigma herself, Boogaart owns the stage, baring the soul of the one who is once, twice dead. In her fabulous first number, Yo Soy Maria, which is later reprised to perfectly demonstrate her rich, lower tessitura, Boogaart effortlessly connects with her audience, seducing and strutting ahead on her journey, seemingly turning and glancing over her shoulder, mercilessly laughing while we struggle to keep up. She says of her love for the role, “Tango gives women power.” Boogaart’s captivating presence and multi-faceted talent bring the real power to this show.

Adding some necessary animation to the telling of this dark tale is the Cantor (Mark Oates) and the show’s narrator, Alirio Zavarce, the tale told almost entirely in Spanish…apparently we don’t do surtitles anymore. Curse the night I broke up with my Spanish boyfriend, bringing my exotic, bi-lingual life to an abrupt end before it had begun! Luckily, Zavarce’s vocal and gestural artistry was such that we were able to follow the story and even relish in its detail.

Santiago Polimeni, the bandeneonist is one of the best…in. the. world. The music is haunting, stirring and, at times, surprisingly upbeat (well, not so surprisingly, as it’s Nuevo Tango and like Gen-Y courtship or sex itself, it has its phases and its stages). Leigh Warren’s choreography and its superb execution by his dancers (Bec JonesLizzie VilmanisChris Aubrey & Kevin Privett) successfully take this tango into a more contemporary realm. From a vocal perspective, the unison work of the State Opera Chorus(Kristen HardyRachel McCallGabi OkoeCarol YoungMark StojaniAndy TurnerNic LockAdam Goodburn) is equally as impressive.

Queensland Symphony Orchestra members (Wayne BrennanMatthew HesseRaquel BastosAndre DuntholtGerard McFaddonPatrick Nolan,Anthony GarciaDavid Montgomery & David Kemp), led from the piano by Musical Director, Timothy Sexton, assemble on stage and remain there, prominently downstage, throughout. The musicians each have their role to play in this seedy, sombre story, in addition to playing their part in the score. Of the genre, Sexton says, “Opera became the stimulus for dance, and dance became a vehicle for singing. It represented a new way of looking at opera — opera as contemporary ballet, for want of a better analogy — and this helped to break down some of the traditional barriers to enjoying contemporary opera.”

Glorious costumes by Katherine Sproul and a dark, moody lighting plot byNigel Levings, which resisted the inclusion of strobe effects or anything too far removed from an intimate red glow, meant that Levings’ set of crates and simple clutter was enough to create the underworld of Buenos Aries. Somehow familiar, somehow cold and unreal, like death itself, the strange story of Maria de Buenos Aries is told beautifully, alluringly by the State Opera of South Australian and Leigh Warren and Dancers.

This review published originally on briztix.com

I Feel Awful

QTC & The Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm

Bille Brown Studio

3rd – 10th September 2011

I Feel Awful…well, let’s say slightly bemused. This is Hamish and Andy, in their gap year, doing The Chasers at The OfficeThe Black Lung’s bold parody, with its theatrical clutter and contrived chaos, will either really amuse you or really test you. My own overwhelming feeling was one of surprise i.e. The previous Artistic Director condoned, allowed, encouraged, sanctioned, supported and promoted THAT?! WTF? What WAS that?

This is alternate theatre become mainstream. Like when we all started wearing Docs, dying our hair black and tuning into Triple J. Anarchic improv is the new black. And there’s certainly a deliberate sense of rebellion and anarchy in this piece, which claims to be a representation of the company’s creative process, but more so than Dario Fo, it’s like looking at the kids in the Brisbane Queen St Mall compared to those in Libya…we suddenly realise that we really don’t have too much to complain about, do we? We can protest all we like about the unfairness of the funding, the bias or favouritism shown towards particular works or artists by the funding bodies, artistic directors, industry associates and audiences, as well as the misreading of the work by reviewers but in the end, we are all still doing what we want, are we not? And it appears that some of us are not doing too badly out of it, thank you very much.

But are we going too far in this style of theatre? This random, improvised, confronting style of theatre, with it’s infinite number of interpretations that challenge the wit and concentration spans of already over-stimulated audiences just as much as it challenges (read bamboozles) the brave and inspired trained or untrained actors who get involved.

The ensemble is a collective of brave, talented students from QUT and Griffith universities. They are brave to take on the challenging task of devising and workshopping scenes and they are wise to take advantage of the opportunity presented them. There is no doubt that the chance to work alongside professional theatre makers (and be seen by industry peeps) is invaluable, for so many reasons.

Black Lung has bravely tackled some topical issues, especially at this time, during the flashy Brisbane Festival and in the lead up to The Australian Theatre Forum (no wonder there are no artists making any money…they’re all bureaucrats)! Thank you, Black Lung, for going where no government funded theatre company has dared go before. Far from biting the hand that feeds them, Black Lung have stabbed it, rubbed it with salt, thrown lemon juice at it, sawn it off, chewed it up and spat it out at their feet.

I wonder. Have we become unshockable? After all, what’s shocking now? What’s new? What’s different? Was it all too safe? And was it what they intended? I Feel Awful is a parody of theatrical form and convention. These are the disgruntled artists, having a laugh at their audience, having a laugh at the expense of their audience. “The audience is the enemy.”

In this office environment, we get a horrifying picture of just what a fully funded, fully operational large-scale theatre company might look like. Or is it what it used to look like? No theatre company works like this! Do they? Arts Administrators as artists? An irresponsible, egotistical Artistic Director? It’s my way or the highway? It’s my party and I’ll touch you (“whatever your name is”) if I want to?

At times engaging, at times surprising…at times I couldn’t help but wonder, “what was that FOR?!” and perhaps that was the point. I laughed and I enjoyed it; I took everything on board and yet, after the first fascinating 15 minutes, felt that it missed the mark.

To be completely honest, I was fully expecting to see Bob Down or Mr G pop out from behind a desk, a flat or a costume rack. If one of them had done, I would have enjoyed the latter half of the show a little more. As it was, onceThe Office setting had been established, the Hamish and Andy duo done andThe Chasers style digs at Michael Gow, QTC, artistic directors and commissioned works in general were over with, I was waiting for more. More what? More antagonism, more artists’ angst, more anarchy and more chaos. And maybe the intention was to leave me wanting more. And maybe that’s all I need to say here.

There is no doubt that the discussions will continue. They need to. Artists and audiences alike need provocation and this sort of cheeky slap-on-the-arse-as-you-pass theatre is good fodder. Black Lung obviously pride themselves on not being taken too seriously and if audiences go to I Feel Awful with the intent to take it just as it is and not think too deeply about it or about any of the issues presented (until it comes time to tweet tricky questions to #ATF2011) they will most likely enjoy a hilarious, though slightly strange night out. By the way, Michael Gow is indeed alive and well.

This review published originally on briztix.com

The Hamlet Apocalypse

La Boite Indie & The Danger Ensemble

The Roundhouse Theatre

24th August – 11th September 2011

Just when you think you can’t mess with Shakespeare any more, The Hamlet Apocalypse happens. And I mean just that. You don’t go to see The Hamlet Apocalypse. You go and it happens to you.

This is bold, brave, exciting, groundbreaking theatre making at its best. Steven Mitchell Wright is a director (and designer) from out of left field and he brings us a production that will inspire and frighten you…especially if you’re a performer. A serious study in ensemble and danger (for actors, in the most death-defying ways imaginable), The Danger Ensemble brings forth an enviable set of improvisational skills and the fearless approach of those at the edge of the world. And they are. The show’s premise goes something like this: “Ok, so you’re actors and you introduce yourselves to the audience and you tell them a little about the role you’ll be playing. You have 75 minutes to put on your production – let’s say it’s Hamlet – before the world ends. Ok? GO!” It’s the perfect vehicle with which to explore the free-for-all emotions and ensuing action of Armageddon Eve. Exceptional performers take us to a place between reality and the imagined world of the play. It’s exhilarating theatre.

But there are two – well, three – plays at work here. Unlike any Hamletyou’ve ever seen, this shortened version is all at once the actors’ own realities as well as all their fears (real and imagined). The world, after all, is about to end. There is something deliberate and foreboding in the way the lines of the play are spoken, in between moments of actual reflection, regret, paranoia and passion. There is an authenticity to this Hamlet that we very rarely find. Ophelia (Noa Rotem) is truly, joyously mad, the actress pushed to the brink by fear of the unknown and, in that state, prepared to meet her fate smiling. Hamlet’s father, the ghost, ever-present, is a shadow and a silent scream, covered in ash strewn from above (Mark Hill at his Butoh best). Hamlet (Dave Sleswick) is damaged, vulnerable, raw and real. We enjoy varying degrees of commitment to character from these and the other actors (Katrina CornwallRobbie O’BrienPolly Sara and Peta Ward), as they drift in and out of Shakespeare’s scenes, from actor to character to actor again. With nothing to lose, the voices and heightened emotions are their own, and the bulk of The Bard’s play is underplayed, without particular attention to vocal delivery or any changes in physicality, I think perhaps for two reasons. The first is to give us a chance (particularly if we are not familiar with the play) to see the actor from the character. Despite what we in the industry might like to believe, Shakespeare’s is not in fact, a second language for all. The second, arguably, is to allow the actors to focus on being the actors. It’s really their story after all, and not that of Hamlet, that we have come to see at The Roundhouse. Or is it? You decide.

As you will imagine, the necessary urgency and panic comes, as time grows short. Ten (completely random, as I discovered after the show) “moments” of otherworldly sound and light serve as the countdown to the end – and the ensemble counts, together, building the dread and gradually losing their cool and their care factor, their behaviour descending into raucous debaucheries, all improvised. Between Katrina Cornwall and Robbie O’Brien, we witness decadence and apathy, cruelty and comfort, spitting wine into each other’s faces and slapping each other to the point of hysterical laughter turning to tears. We are privy to their excessive drinking, dancing, sex and violence…it’s a nod to more hedonistic times and exactly what one imagines being acceptable at the end of the world i.e. anything at all. In fact, I was waiting for worse (or better, depending, I guess, upon your point of view) to happen. The lines blur and conventions are confused, broken down, dissolved by a sudden, desperate reappointment of priorities. Chris Beckey’s work as Dramaturg cannot go unmentioned here. He is humble and should receive due credit for his contribution to the creative process. We all know good Dramaturgs are hard to find.

Hats off also, to the technical team (Lighting Designer/Technical Manager Ben Hughes, Sound Designer Dane Alexander and Stage Manager Jaya Crothers) who are – you guessed it – improvising. There are no technical cues in this show; there are just 75 minutes from the beginning until the end. It is the tech crew who are in control of this production. And it works.

Also working a treat, to terrify us before the countdown even begins, is Wright’s cold and eerie design, putting us much closer to the action than many will like. He lights us, the audience, from the outset and has us wondering when the spray and splatter of blood will come…the long, hanging plastic sheaths are walls that seem to beg for an horrific crime to be committed in the enclosed space. But the only crime in this production, as far as I’m concerned, is that the audience is mostly completely unaware of any improvisational work happening. Once known (and the reason I’m telling you), The Hamlet Apocalypse becomes an even more impressive show.

Georgina Blythe’s costumes, which the actors don in full view as part of their preparations, are quite perfect, giving us a sense of frailty and op-shop frivolity without the summer colour; darkish and brownish and greyish and cornflower blue(ish); things thrown together over leggings, in a state of determination, sadness and confusion, an attempt to make an appearance for the sake of the audience and not wanting to let on that there’s anything wrong. I know there have been times when I’ve dressed in this emotional state and interestingly, people seem to think it’s “arty” and not at all “a cry for help”. Bless. Well, what would you want to wear as the world winds down?

And what would you want to do? And where is the last place you’d like to be? And with whom would you want to spend your last 75 minutes on Earth? Are these questions you can even bear thinking about?

You know I’m going to advise that you read the program. Steven Mitchell Wright’s Director’s Note is perfectly eloquent, expressing his unease with “pre/misconceptions” that “get in my way, they stop me experiencing the work, stop me dreaming and allowing the work a life of its own.” Audiences attending The Hamlet Apocalypse must go with the same open mind. It’s almost as if you enter into a sacred agreement with The Danger Ensemble, to let go of any pre/misconceptions and simply – or complexly – allow The Hamlet Apocalypse to happen to you. Are you ready for it yet?

This review published originally on briztix.com

Cat On a Hot Tin Rook

QTC & Black Swan Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

15th August – 3rd September

Kate Cherry’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a picturesque production, containing all of the necessary elements and re-telling beautifully, a classic tale of love, lust, longing, belonging, avarice and sibling rivalry. Tennessee Williams wrote about family like no one else and this particular patriarchal family, living claustrophobically in the Mississippi Delta is painfully, globally recognisable. Elia Kazan, director of the original (1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning) Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, once said of Williams, “Everything in his life is in his plays and everything in his plays is in his life.” The characters are real, desperate, fully drawn to expose their strengths and ultimately, their weaknesses…their truths. The scenarios are familiar and the crises deeply personal.

The story is set against a magnificent Mississippi plantation property of 28 000 acres, complete with the full, silvery moon and the hanging, haunting, rippling leaves of cypress trees outside, penetrating the interior of Maggie and Brick’s room, in which the action takes place. Designer, Bruce McKinven, has created an authentic wardrobe (including poor Mae’s maternity dress; the type to make you cringe and hope fashion does not in fact, ever repeat itself, at least not for pregnant ladies, please) and an enviably open, breezy space that begs the languid movement of the very wealthy in the midst of a long, hot summer. The shuttered doors and paper-thin walls, through which secrets are easily, unknowingly shared (and shared unkindly again by eavesdroppers) tower over the family, creating an immense, impersonal place, in which the human activity sometimes seems of little consequence. It is, after all, the trivial, seemingly inconsequential things, that fill our day-to-day lives and more often than not, give us – and our loved ones – grief.

Brick (Tom O’Sullivan), a broken man, an alcoholic, suffers from deep, unresolved grief and guilt, having lost his best friend, Skipper, to suicide. But wait, there’s more… (It’s Tennessee Williams; there’s always more). His trophy wife, Maggie (Cheree Cassidy) – “the cat” – has long suspected that the reason he does not love her is because he has always loved Skipper. It is an uncomfortable truth that is brought up again later, in a showdown worthy of any football field (Movement Consultant Scott Witt), when he and his proud, domineering, archaic figure of a father, Big Daddy (John Stantongives a fine, strong performance) come head to head. Meanwhile, we know Big Daddy is dying. Everyone knows except Big Mama (Carol Burns delivers a touching performance as Big Mama, the devoted wife but unloved and uncertain and so vulnerable beneath her thick, jewel-adorned skin and jovial exterior) and we are allowed to watch, like more spies, through an immense window on the very night she is told the truth about Big Daddy’s diagnosis. We never feel present in the room or a part of the action. It is probably just as well. Adding additional tension to proceedings is the presence of the other son, Goober (Hugh Parker), his wife, Mae (Caitlin Beresford-Ord), and their incessantly annoying children (on opening night – there is an alternate children’s cast – they were Isabel KnightsMabel McCormackDylan Vaughn-Jones and Riley Brooker. The fifth must have been a baby, put to bed. And I’m sure these four will be cued earlier and become even more obnoxious by the end of the run). If you do find yourself feeling closer than I did, as if you are actually there, in the room, you will no doubt have to resist harming Mae and her children, probably without regret, which must surely be the mark of a great – though fairly unhealthy – family dynamic on stage, not to mention an awfully familiar scene for some at Christmas time each year. Just saying.

In the humid, sub-tropical climate of the Deep South, to which Kate Cherry compares Queensland’s climate (and our sporting culture), we expect to see excessive languidness and some discomfort in the enduring heat. I saw instead, impatient modern movement, driven by somewhat incongruous, urgent intent (get to the liquor cabinet to pour another glass and move to the sofa, then to the bed, then behind the bed to languish at each point). I wondered why Brick did not pick up the bottle to settle with it on the sofa (it would save getting up and limping over there again) or why Maggie did not languish for longer in any one place. Despite my movement quibbles, I can attest that Cassidy drove the earlier Act 1 action, as she must, she showed to what lengths she was prepared to go in order to secure a chunk of her father-in-law’s estate (despite accusations of an immaculate conception rather than an actual child and heir) and, not to be discounted in such a role, she is absolutely gorgeous in her jade green party dress, reminding me in an instant of a gem not unlike it, on Lorelei Vashti’s dressmemory.com

Admittedly, I found Cassidy’s Maggie to be not so much the languid, dissatisfied, desperate cat but a proud, fussy, over-zealous peacock, forever preening, stepping around the room and carefully around the issues (and then adamantly and furiously right on up to them), forever admiring herself and tossing her tumbling brunette curls; a rather loose and relaxed look but not the striking sex-siren-morning-after one I had anticipated (see program cover and publicity pics), if indeed that was the intended effect. The sultry, Southern drawl (Dialect Coach Melissa Agnew), the silk stocking sequence, the seductions, the overtly sexual and somewhat discomforting pose, on her knees in front of Big Daddy were all there and left me… lukewarm. Brick too, latent homosexual that he is, with his phallic crutch the object of unnecessarily cruel games throughout (I mean unnecessarily cruel in terms of the fearless writing and not anything excessive or unnecessary in terms of direction; of course it is right in the context for the family members to taunt Brick in this manner) but he should have had me, nevertheless, admiring and lusting after him, due to his Adonis-like sporting hero status. Don’t get me wrong, I think O’Sullivan is gorgeous too but in both these characters, I saw less raw, driven, desperate passion and frustration than I had expected.

Things come to a head in Act 2 – there is only Act 1 & Act 2 – with Big Daddy’s birthday celebrations canned (by Big Daddy) and the lies and the secrets starting to affect our happy ending (Well, wait, it’s Tennessee Williams; there’s never a happy ending. Everyone is simply content – or not – to live out the lies). The storm that has been building suddenly breaks and for a moment I think the lines and lighting and sound cues must have been muddled, for we heard Brick mutter “Storm comin’” the moment after the effects of the storm hit. But by this time, Brick was drunk (so the timing could have been quite likely) and I was making a mental note to remember to mention David Murray’s evocative lighting design and Ben Collins’ subtle soundscape. I loved hearing just the words for a change, unlike, as we hear in so many clever productions, the words underscored by ceaseless cinematic music.

I would like to reproduce Kate Cherry’s entire Director’s Note here – she has kept Williams’ work relevant and fairly real by identifying a number of alarming cultural and societal similarities – but I would like even more for you to go see her Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, to read her note before the show and to enjoy it for what it is; a stunning looking production that tells a little of everyone’s stories by way of an enduring contemporary American family tale.

DID YOU KNOW? Mississippi was the last state to repeal the prohibition of alcohol in 1966 and interestingly, only very recently, in 1987, repealed its ban on inter-racial marriage. Even more recently, in 1996, Mississippi Governor, Kirk Fordice, issued an executive order banning same-sex marriage, saying at the time, ”same-sex marriage makes a mockery out of the institution of marriage, which is already embattled.” (NY Times August 1996). Same-sex sexual activity, though not same-sex marriage, was legalised in 2003. Terence Weldon, of queeringthechurch.com is one of many who believe that Mississippi “is likely to be the last state to come around to marriage equality”. Makes you wonder about the cultural and societal similarities, doesn’t it?

This review published originally on briztix.com

Cabaret

Zen Zen Zo

QPAC Cremorne

Most of us go to the theatre with certain expectations. Zen Zen Zo’s latest offering, a new take on Kander & Ebb’s Cabaret, is somewhat surprising to say the least. I was expecting old school Zen Zen Zo: dirt, grit, a degree of nakedness and a whole lot of darkness. But this is not the experimental, groundbreaking physical theatre company of a decade ago. I know. I hear you. Should it be? Perhaps the groundbreaking has been done. Zen Zen Zo is still at the forefront of their field. This is a new generation of company members and they are keeping it real, doing things their way and finding new audiences along the way.

If you, like me, go expecting to see old school Zen Zen Zo, you will notice immediately, one company member, Dale Thorburn, who is as old school as it gets; his body, his form, his gesture and approach, all butoh-boosted for maximum physical effect. The ensemble generally, influenced by the Asian training traditions of Butoh and Suzuki Method and perhaps more so, and appropriately for this production, by the avant-garde style of the European theatre of the era, are at home on this stage.

With Dale Thorburn, are Jamie KendallOliver SkrzpczynskiHarriet DevlinMel BuddEarl Kim (a gentle Herr Schultz), Krystal Hart (a strong voiced and funny Fraulein Kost), Sam Plummer (gradually grew into a brooding, menacing Ernst Ludwig) and Jillian Geurts (Fraulein Schneider); Geurts is a stand out for her characterisation and commitment to the role. She is a beautiful young woman who manages to portray the age and frailty of an old, desperate woman.

I thought I noticed a couple of missed opportunities: Don’t Tell Mama (cute but not as naughty as it demands) and Tomorrow Belongs to Me (it builds, eventually, to a stirring, disturbing end, the glee on Ludwig’s face revealing, more so than the way it is sung, the evil intent of the song and of the times).

As Sally Bowles, Emma Dean’s Mein Herr is so stylised you will either love it or hate it. A Pefectly Marvellous Girl seems to want to be something more and at times, the direction, staging and choreography appear to limit the actors rather than allowing them the freedom to truly express themselves. This applies particularly to Dean, in whom we see glimpses of the character, until (to my relief) we finally see the onion girl layers of Bowles in Cabaret. Vocally strong enough to sell it under the Emma Dean brand, a week into the season, Dean nailed it. But I wanted to see that determination and commitment earlier. Dean’s Sally Bowles is a completely different one, lighter, flightier and I enjoyed her interpretation but at the same time, wondered what else she is capable of doing within the role. To play Cliff Bradshaw must be a different kind of challenge – I’ve never liked the fellow – but Matthew Hadgraft is a supportive, not overly soppy Cliff and manages to retain the momentum of his own story. His relationship with Bowles has its moments and Maybe This Timeas a duet somehow works for these two.

Sandro Colarelli is a superb, charismatic Emcee, delivering fistfuls of androgynous grit and carrying the show. In I Don’t Care Much, which was originally part of the prologue, cut from the score and replaced by Sam Mendes for Alan Cumming in the Tony Award winning Broadway Revival (1998), we got the full depth of the Emcee’s despair and his sordid, self-pitying delight. This number is a highlight.

The orchestra, placed above the stage and as such, establish themselves as the only truly enduring figures of the Kit Kat Klub, slick sounding and sorta sexy in their evening gowns. Collectively, under the Musical Direction of John Rodgers (we can look forward to his upcoming work, Blackbird, developed with singer, Megan Samardin) these musicians, these improvisers, these makers of jazz magic, bring to vivid life, Kander’s eclectic score. They are Mitch GreenDaniel HirschNick LaganinTom Morison and Matt Hunter.

Ben Hughes’ lighting states were ever changing and emotive and Bill Haycock’s set and costume design suited Bradley’s re-imagining for a new conservative audience. Personally, I miss the days of seeing taught, tight, trained, shining, sweating flesh and erect nipples…is it just me?

The impact of Director, Lyn Bradley’s visit to Auschwitz becomes evident in the final moments of the show, when suitcases represent tombstones and the Emcee strips down to his blue striped pajamas, like those worn by the Jews in concentration camps (truly, a heart-stopping Life is Beautiful moment, just for a moment), though I felt his pajama pants were the wrong blue. An inspired choice – whether it is Collarelli’s choice or Bradley’s direction – is to leave the final “auf wiedersehen” unsung. It is a suitably chilling conclusion.

Choreographer, Martyn Fleming is renowned for his strength, attack and ability to interpret and has clearly challenged the young company on a balletic level. The question that comes to mind is this. If you are selling sex (and inCabaret, no matter what form the new vision takes, you must sell the sex), how are you selling it? If it’s gritty and grotesque beauty then give me the grit and ugly-beautiful. For “a theatre of contact, in which the relationship between the actors and audience is at once intimate and shocking, compelling and confrontational, ritualistic and profane” (program notes) I need more of all of that.

I imagine there are those who will, indeed, feel confronted by Zen Zen Zo’s re-imagining of this production but I will certainly look forward to seeing some new ground broken next time around.

This review published originally on briztix.com

Tom Petrie’s Dilemma – A Pioneer’s Tale

DJ Productions & Nambour Festival

Nambour Civic Centre

This story, older than Queensland itself, is a revelation. In ringing music and radiant yarns, it springs from the childhood memories of Tom Petrie, told in his twilight days, to his loving daughter Constance. It unfolds a unique personal record of the whitefella-blackfella encounter right here where you live.

An astonishing new Australian work, Tom Petrie’s Dilemma, was previously seen as an Industry Showcase, at the Queensland Conservatorium. My friend saw it there and told me, should anything more be done with it, “DON’T MISS IT.”

What Don Batchelor (Writer & Producer), Dale Jones (Composer) and a bold, committed creative team have done with it is to package it as a “musical” (think Mike Batt’s take on Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark) to educate, entertain and to inspire a different perspective and a new attitude, through the eyes of Tom Petrie, towards the original inhabitants of our land. “His story is our story.”

Inspired by a reading of Constance Campbell Petrie’s book, Tom Petrie’s Reminiscences of Early Queensland (1904) and supported by projected images from the Queensland State Library, the gentle style and generous narrative format of this show guarantee its broad appeal. The original music is wonderful, in turns, lilting and urgent, canvassing the changing moods and meanderings of Tom Petrie, against a distinctly Australian bushscape.

The New Settler’s Band brings to this production a level of expertise and bush band sass (and by bush band I mean the most sophisticated three piece you could hope to hear in any venue in the country). Jonny Ng (Keyboard & Violin), Steve Francis (Drums) and Dushan Wolkovicz (Bass), under the confident direction of Dale Jones (Composer, Guitar and Vocals), add a great deal to the narrative and form of the piece, providing a soundtrack to events, underscoring and accompanying the spoken story and offering several memorable songs, the gorgeous Bon-yi Feast, Between Two Worlds, Carve Your Name, Write Them Down and the evocative opening number, When Memory Awakes.

The glorious Liz Buchanan, channelling Constance, positively glows, giving us a beautiful interpretation of events, from the perspective of Petrie’s beloved daughter. As Tom Petrie, Wayne Hinton delivers strong, smooth vocals and a stage presence that commands our attention. He and the lovely Ms Buchanan are perfectly matched in this production, bringing in equal amounts, their wonderful fresh energy; a simple sparkle that is so often missing on stage in the over-produced blockbusters. A blockbuster this ain’t and it is well worth your time and engagement if you see it coming to a town near you. Tom Petrie’s Dilemma is an evening of beautiful melody, fun and whimsy, with just a touch of heartache so you don’t forget the finer points of the mission or of the man himself.

This is new, exciting theatre by the people, about the people, for the people. It’s Tom Petrie’s story and it is, indeed, our story.

This review published originally on briztix.com

Water Wars

La Boite Inde & Umber Productions

The Roundhouse Theatre

3rd – 21st August 2011

“When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened.” 
John M Richardson

Set in Brisbane in 2025, against a backdrop of prolonged drought and a climate of suspicion and self-protection amidst serious water restrictions, Water Wars is a suburban nightmare, complete with ghastly neighbours…but is it our future?

Playwright, Elaine Acworth, a cast of environmentally aware actors and a creative team ready to rock the theatrical world with their green innovations, set out to create a different kind of future, one which is instantly recognisable and frighteningly real for those who subscribe to the drought theories…and perhaps not so easily bought by others.

Playwright, Elaine Acworth, a cast of environmentally aware actors and a creative team ready to rock the theatrical world with their green innovations, set out to create a different kind of future, one which is instantly recognisable and frighteningly real for those who subscribe to the drought theories…and perhaps not so easily bought by others.

Although common sense and a basic level of understanding told me that different laws and consequences applied in this future world, I’m not sure that the set of rules was as clear as it could have been and I’m not sure that I understood entirely, or appreciated fully, the dire existence of these people in a world without an abundance of water. It seems that when they had water there was too much of it and they had to stick together in order to survive. Now, when we meet them in 2025, there is only “the dry” and they treat each other as enemies in their Water Wars. There might have been an attempt to explain the change in attitudes but it felt to me like a chasm opened up between the previous caring, neighbourly actions of these three suburban families and their subsequent downright diabolical behaviour. I must have missed something.

Quite simply, the production details (we’ll get to them) are more impressive than the plot, which seems repetitive and unfinished, lacking details that would help us to better understand, for example, references to the death of a young girl, for which the central character, Cal (a little boy, played, inextricably, by a girl, Amber-Jade Salas, in her La Boite debut), is somehow responsible. But I was unsure of what age Salas played. My interpretation was perhaps muddied by the treatment of him by the mother, Gally (Kellie Jones), and the same use of the tree house every time he needed to be consoled. For the central design piece it appeared under utilised, a minor detail but a contributing factor to the feeling of repetition. Gally babied her son and, knowing plenty of intelligent and mature children, I would have been more interested to see an intelligent, mature child’s view of this world in crisis. Cal was, instead, enthusiastic and complicated in ways that didn’t work for me. It’s my opinion that we do not often see children portrayed accurately by adults (I’ve stated the same only recently, in reference to Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers, in which the adults play children). More often than not, children played by adults seem much younger than they are intended to be and in this production, this seems to be the case.

While Gally continually freaks out about water usage warnings and keeps her husband, Tom (Chris Baz), at arm’s length (she blames him for the loss of the young girl), their older neighbour, Mrs P (Kate Wilson, AKA Kate Foy, who is absolutely superb in this production and, consequently, I’m sure we’ll be seeing her again soon) blatantly wastes water, goading Gally and inciting furious hatred and hilarious tug-of-war with the garden hose. The other neighbour, Berenice (the beautifully OTT stereotypical sexy trophy wife, Jess Veurman-Betts), just wants a pool and will do anything to get one. Her husband, also played by Chris Baz – a doubling that works surprisingly well – provides the other half of the light relief in this comedy duo.

Director, Shaun Charles, states in an interview within Umber’s education notes, “everything we do nowadays is somehow contexualised within the concepts of sustainability.” Well, the environmental message of the piece is clear. In fact it’s so obvious it sometimes feels like a downpour – in case we missed the point – and each character offers, several times, their perspective on water, the effect on their life of the devastating floods and the impact of the drought. The back-stories and the relationships between characters however, could be better drawn.

The production has been made to be as eco-friendly as possible, with recycled materials incorporated into the design (Penelope Challen) and the energy used, kept to an absolute minimum. David Walters, Lighting Designer, notes, “Everything about most modern theatrical lighting systems is wasteful in terms of energy use.” For Water Wars, Walters was able to create effective lighting states (lighting realised by Geoff Squires) using LED lights, which draw 6 amps only; an incredible feat in the theatre. Sound, by Guy Webster, serves the purpose (though I will admit, I had expected to see an ingenious set up of running, recycled water coming out of the taps on stage rather than merely hearing it) and AV, designed by Freddy Komp, gives us a very strange visual, almost alien, interpretation of sound and water combined. It occurred to me during a couple of dark, dramatic moments, the nature of which I won’t give away here, that just that afternoon, I had worked with an insightful Year 7 cohort on the premise and illustrations (by Steven Woolman) in Gary Crew’s Beneath the Surface (sequel to The Watertower) and I wondered at the inspiration for a projected image of such similar effect.

Water Wars is an important new work and like Sydney Theatre Company (STC), Umber Productions have taken great pains to ensure that we get what it is they are trying to do for the environment and why, as artists, it is important for them to do so. As Co-Artistic Director of STC, Cate Blanchett states, “As artists, unless you’re engaged in the things that are affecting the society you live in, you’re not doing your job right.” Water Wars is green, sustainable theatre for a broad Australian audience and with the ruthless hand of an additional dramaturg added to the next stage of development, I warrant its message will be even more powerful – and, one hopes, more global – the next time we see it.

This review published originally on briztix.com

BLACKDUST

ACPA

Judith Wright Centre of the Contemporary Arts Shopfront

27th – 28th July 2011

BLACKDUST. WOW. ACPA grads are going to take over the world!

On Thursday night we walked into the smoky, dingy, grungy Shopfront at the Judith Wright Centre, in which the cast of BLACKDUST milled and called out to each other. The bar had been set up inside and as cast members grinned at us and greeted us, as we made our way past them to find our seats, my first thought was that we were in the middle of the party we’d missed in Blackrock! I don’t know where these kids have come from but I know where they’re headed and that is straight to the top.

The collective talent at ACPA takes my breath away. And the joy and commitment in each of these students’ hearts are things so tangible that they are felt by audiences, who are clearly blown away (Thursday night’s crowd standing and loudly demanding an encore) by the combination of talent and passion for ACPA’s style of performing arts.

Associate Artistic Director, and Director of this show, the third and final installment for 2011 of the ACPA Key Industry Performance series, Marcus Hughes is some kind of creative genius, conceiving and creating a cabaret show from the challenging repertoire of Tom Waites (music directed by Laine Loxlee-Danan) (and Hughes doesn’t do a bad job on the ivories either). That’s right. Who would have thought? Tom Waites! The new cabaret!

Well, a shot of cabaret with a rock chaser, boasting competent singers, sublimely confident with the material and the mic, and dancers, with fully extended limbs, pointed toes and pirouettes to rival any professional company’s best effort and every one of them oozing plain, cheeky, gritty sex appeal like it was going out of fashion. Yes. Sex. Appeal. In. Abundance. Girls and boys, we all know that the less on the eyes and the more (and bolder) on the lips cries out, “I’m beautiful but don’t touch me!” It’s a level of confidence we are accustomed to seeing in the most seasoned of performers.

I think it has to be said that student singers rarely sell a song completely, you know, in that no holds barred, If They Could See Me Now, Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, Anthem, This is the Moment kinda way. Students are students, after all, still learning and all that stuff. I think we are led to believe that we need years of training and a whole lot of life experience to give us something more than what we are born with. In most cases, that’s probably close enough to the truth. But seasoned performers & teachers take note: barefoot and baring their souls on stage, uninhibited, this new breed of performers are not your average students.

Tyrone Drahm (Rick in Blackrock) revealed in Step Right Up just how much of a showman he can be, when called upon to really sell a song (he also plays lead guitar). Followed by the slick, sexy Temptation (Scott CampbellDale Woodbridge & William Ward), Garrett Lyon’s tender and moving interpretation of Late Night Evening ProstituteRobert Mann’s Icecream Man(Mann is an ACPA Alumni), Scott Campbell’s Clap Hands (made all the more disturbing by the odd, jaunty moves of the puppet-like dancers) and the company’s Underground, the first set finished with a bang. The highlight of the second set was Earth Died Screaming, which got me thinking about Oscar Theatre Company’s upcoming production of Spring Awakening, so powerful was its raw, earthy Mama Who Bore Me take on vocals and choreography.

We began to get a sense of longing, grief and anguish in some of the more angular and contorted movement. This was juxtaposed by dips (some vicious, others graceful), turns and complete stillness. Choreographer and Head of Dance, Penny Mullen, has a fashion photographer’s eye and a fiery dancer’s heart. She has done some extraordinary work before now, from Brisbane to Brazil and in BLACKDUST, she has captured in her choreography, every emotion and every nuance there is to be found within the music and lyrics…and these dancers are up for it: not only do they deliver the goods but they make it look an effortless, joyous act.

This is a true ensemble, professional, mature and respectful of one another, every aspect of their work existing to complement and to support, not to compete or to overpower, not to challenge or pull focus but to celebrate (or commiserate over) the tiny specks of life, which Waites so eloquently – tragically – translates into song. A nice touch was added towards the end, with the inclusion of “Murri boy” (Garrett Lyon & Scott Campbell) and “Murri girl” (Tulli Narkle & Danielle Reuben) in Jersey Girl. Sometimes, as in Danielle Reuben’s bittersweet rendition of Christmas Card from a Hooker (WHAT a voice), we see the dull and gritty specks of life held up to the light for half a second and watch them glisten before they float away again, just dust and, to borrow from John BucchinoTemporary.

Without exception, soloists had the full attention of their fellow cast members, including backing vocalists, reinforcing that this is a true ensemble. Regardless of their Cert III or IV, Diploma or Advanced Diploma status, they are completely focused and present together in the moment and making certain we feel welcome to join them on the ride.

David Campbell, Kris Stewart, Jeremy Youett et al, get ready for these guys; these performers are your next stars.

This review published originally on briztix.com

The Removalists

QTC

Bille Brown Studio

21st July – 6th August

Sex, sexism, violence, power, abuse, excess and corruption.

Sounds like almost any story on TV these days, though I prefer the fictional versions to any current real life headlines, which have lately been unbearable.

Sergeant Simmonds (Chris Betts) has been in the force for 23 years and has never had to arrest anybody…yet. He’s proud of the fact. He boasts about it to young rookie, Constable Neville Ross (Anthony Standish). He knows “what you can get away with and what you can’t.”

When two sisters (Fiona: Emmaline Carroll & Kate: Natasha Yantsch) turn up at the station to file a domestic violence report against Fiona’s husband, Kenny, Simmonds sees the potential to teach Ross the ropes and get a bit extra on the side. As Bad Cop, Betts is blatantly sexist, superbly dry in his delivery and every bit the old boss who we suspect will be brought undone by the new blood in the end. As Good Cop/new cop, Standish is appropriately hesitant and his nervousness evident in plenty of fidgeting, foot shuffling and shifting of eyes. As Rob, The Removalist, Peter Cook gives us a simple, standout performance based largely on his couple of lines referring to the ten thousand dollars worth of machinery sitting outside and also, his cocky delegation of tasks. For the student audiences who will see this play as part of QTC’s Education Program, Cook’s performance is a great lesson in Milking It 101.

One of the things I love about David Williamson’s work is that it turns out to be funny when it really shouldn’t be, so that at the height of tension, we get reference to a previous statement or a witty observation about society at large that is so inappropriate at the time but, like most occasions in life, has to be said. And, quite often, said again! It’s usually a catastrophically awkward moment, just like in life. Director, Michelle Miall has put this Williamson on stage, plain and simply, as it is, not asking anything more of us other than to see it, remember the time that was, consider that times are not so different now and be horrified by events then as we are now, as we have a laugh and a cringe (and we do cringe) at the same time about how Australian we are. Miall clearly recognises Williamson’s gift for telling a good story and she has tried to let the text speak for itself. I wonder what more she would do with it, given half a chance? And I wonder if school students will take away stronger, more specific messages than I. I‘d like to read their Responding Tasks…

Simone Romanuik has designed a familiar timber set that sits oddly angularly, in the otherwise empty studio space (the area outside of the stage is left in complete darkness). It looks, appropriately, like a touring set and it works perfectly well here. A bare, retro-styled police station becomes the living room of the perpetrator (played as rough as guts with an element of the nice-guy-if-you-let-me-go-but-if-you-believe-me-you’re-a-dumb…err, you-know-what…by Steven Rooke) with its disturbingly recognisable missionary brown walls and orange, tangerine and green flower wallpaper, straight out of a 1975 Australian House & Garden magazine (The Open-Plan Room…Making it Work) and the same reflected in the dingy linoleum; a nice touch, reminiscent of an aunt’s old home in Toowoomba, where I remember eating heavily frosted fruit cake, playing Frogger and marvelling at my older cousin’s vast collection of Smurfs. Lighting Designer, the omnipresent Jason Glenwright, has added the strangely comforting flicker of the television screen, emanating from underneath the built stage, as we hear moments of TV news broadcasts (Sound by Tony Brumpton) to help smooth the scene change that would be interval and keep us informed about the political climate at the time. No interval was no problem, mate, the show running (at a cracking pace) at an hour and forty-four minutes.

Some terrific, tough-guy fight choreography by Scott Witt, to my disappointment, came without any vocalisation (other than the lines shouted during the beatings), leading me to question whether or not this is the result of a conscious decision. It must have been. Do we not gasp and grunt when punched in the stomach multiple times? I don’t know but I’m sure it’s not just a Hollywood created sound effect; it’s a human reaction. Therefore, for me, the violence was less convincing than it could have been. No gasps, no groans (they were not stylised sequences)…was it thought to be too much? Too…real?! We are so de-sensitised to violence that it takes a lot more than a silent fight sequence to shock us. In the theatre, we need – short of playing victims ourselves – the complete sensory attack. Yes! When we know it’s not real, when we know we can escape, we want to be that terrified!

A nice touch was the blood pellet in Rooke’s pocket (I’m guessing that is how it was done. I’m sure students will ask the question). We also saw excellent makeup effects to finish and an entirely believable beaten-to-a-pulp-but-you-haven’t-beaten-me-yet performance, whereas Rooke’s earlier presence seemed less menacing than it could have been. Rather than a disaster that he had returned home and foiled the plan, it seemed to me that his presence there was an inconvenience.

Although the issues involve them directly, the women in Williamson’s play are very much ancillary characters and seem to step aside, literally, while the men take care of business. This is certainly the way Williamson presents the women in the text and not so much a reflection of any sort of oversight in this production. Having said that, I was expecting to see greater contrast between the two sisters and much higher stakes set. The sexual innuendo is always present but barely and seems a shadow of earlier interpretations; I wonder if this too, like the violence, is part and parcel of watering down a show and selling it to schools these days. “Fair enough” some will say but is it? Should it be that way? When the intent of the playwright was to make a pretty accurate, bold and scathing statement about a slice of Australian society in the 1970’s?The Removalists, in its 40th year, still packs a punch but this production, for all its violence, corruption and hard-hitting intention is far from shocking. Our students see more violence, more sex, more whatever on the news each night! Perhaps I’ve missed the point but I would love to see Miall’s version tweaked for adult audiences and then see the Senior School students invited to that one. That one might, more convincingly, hit the mark.

This review published originally on briztix.com

Speaking in Tongues

ANTIX

Metro Arts

19th July – 6th August 2011

Like the Lantana of the 2001 movie title, Andrew Bovell’s intense AWGIE Award-winning drama, Speaking in Tongues, twists and turns mysteriously, its’ characters grappling with the timeless themes of love, lust, loss, truth and betrayal. Shrouded in the mystery of a terrible incident involving a woman and a nosy neighbor, the actions of these characters (Jane/Valerie: Zoe Plevitz, Leon/Neil: Peter Scabissi, Sonja/Sarah: Ngoc Phan & Pete/Nick/John: Dean Patrick) challenge us to consider our own interactions with lovers, friends, colleagues and neighbours.

Griffin Theatre Company first producedSpeaking in Tongues in 1996, by combining two original works by the highly acclaimed Bovell: Like Whiskey on the Breath of a Drunk You Love (1992) and Distant Lights from Dark Places (1996). Sam Strong, for his Griffin debut, directed a critically acclaimed production of Speaking in Tongues in February this year, marking the play’s 15th anniversary. One of our best Australian contemporary plays, it stands the tests of time and audience intrigue, bringing us the classic and complex stories of two couples, inextricably intertwined with each other and reminding us that despite what the loins may tell us, what our hearts seem to tell us at the time and what our heads have to tell us about the degrees of separation in the world, we really are more often than not in a place that is far too small for any sort of tryst to happen successfully. Note: this may not apply to all readers. And good luck to those readers!
Anthea Patrick established her company ANTiX as an actor and dancer and this is the company’s debut production. Speaking in Tongues seemed to me to be an ambitious undertaking for a new, young company in our current climate (and by climate I mean meteorological as well as economical. More on this later). So whilst it might seem unnecessary to say so (i.e. why should they not produce whatever the hell they like?), the company is to be commended for taking on this challenging piece at this time.

At RADA Director, Anthea Patrick, learned that “Design is what makes theatre theatrical – otherwise it’s television” and I look forward to seeing her fully realise the overall design concepts of future productions. Basic design elements on stage, representing the multiple indoor and outdoor settings, benefited from atmospheric lighting (Lighting Design by Geoff Squires & Charlotte Barrett) and the native Australian bush underscore (Sound Design by Toneblack Productions). I found the music in the bar scenes to be distracting rather than complementary to the action, or supportive of it. Maybe they were not my kind of bar. Or my kind of music.

I felt from the outset that the cast was too young to tell convincingly, these dark, complex human stories. They are grown–up stories, like Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, only not so political and much more suited to the bedroom. They are difficult to tell, particularly when they are told concurrently with another character’s similar story. I think Act 1 suffered from Delivery as per the Device Syndrome (I’ll explain that in a minute) and didn’t come across as real enough for me to get as involved as I wanted to be. I also think that there may have been a bit of Second Night Syndrome going on (interestingly, and while I understand it, I don’t accept it as any sort of excuse for lacklustre performances; my husband is of the opinion that the cast never fully recovered from the slump of entering the space and seeing a small audience). Act 2 spirits seemed to lift; the pace and the storytelling improved with the use of multiple characters, though a couple of them were not dissimilar enough.

Bovell’s text presents to actors, wonderful opportunities to explore disparate, disconnected thoughts and deep, unfelt emotions (unfelt not because actors have never experienced those emotions but because their characters refuse to face them or to feel them). Words and phrases overlap and thoughts are left unuttered, allowing actors to play around with timing, phrasing and pauses, although in this case, pauses in Act 1 were a little indulgent and I daresay the pace will pick up during the run, as the actors settle into their roles and the rhythm of the piece.

As much as I love the approach, the pursuit of this text-driven device may have hindered its effect. Having mentioned Sam Strong already and because I did not see his production of Speaking in Tongues, I’ll refer to his earlier work, specifically his use of the same device in Red Sky Morning, by Tom Holloway, for Red Stitch Theatre, which I did see (and loved). Inspired by Holloway’s monologue style script, Strong worked with the playwright and an exceptional ensemble, to re-write and to re-work sections of the play so that some text would be spoken simultaneously by multiple actors, layering lines to achieve a similar effect to that of Bovell’s; conversational, chaotic and real, the characters spilling forth with their thoughts, their words tumbling out over one another’s. In addition to that, sometimes the same pauses, the same moments of hesitation spoke volumes. Unlike the final result of Strong’s Red Sky Morning, which had the luxury of time (around three years of nurturing) in Griffin’s creative development program, Patrick’s Speaking in Tongues seemed to want to get to this point but didn’t. Having said that, I loved the cleverly choreographed opening staging and I think the actors really came very close to achieving what they set out to achieve. I can’t wait to see more from this company.

During interval, standing outside in the cold street, busy with office workers and late-night shoppers at the end of their night, a few of us pondered the nature of theatre audiences in Brisbane. We agreed that currently, there is an abundance of great theatre going on and in the chilly weather, with fewer leisure dollars to spend on tickets and interval drinks, some of the theatres are, surprisingly, seeing some very small audiences. And it’s not just the smaller theatres or the smaller companies…live theatre everywhere needs your support! And newer companies, like ANTiX, deserve it. I’m sure they will have found their feet by now, after the first weekend. Go. See them. Support them.

This review published originally on briztix.com

RABBIT

The Good Room & Metro Arts Allies

Metro Arts

12th – 28th July 2011

I hadn’t seen The Good Room’s previous productions (Single Admissions and Holy Guacamole) and now I wish I had done. This is a little indie company with huge potential and potentially, mass appeal. There are so many great productions on in Brisbane at the moment and this, The Good Room’s Rabbit, is one of the best.

RabbitNina Raine’s first play, has been received with varying degrees of enthusiasm, attracting awards and apathy across a couple of continents. I first came across the text in a workshop with Practical Aesthetics Coach, Andrea Moor. I loved it. It’s a great play. I don’t subscribe to the scorn about its shallow, stereotypical look at Gen-Y or its particularly British bent. It’s my firm belief that we start with the text and build on it: simply add an inspired director and a stellar cast. In this case, Director, Dan Evans, has successfully localised and updated the play. Brisbane needs more theatre like this: real, dynamic, purposeful and edgy and so Australian you would never know (unless you already knew) that it’s not Australian at all!

The action takes place in any trendy, smoky, retro-themed late night bar (Design by Tara Hobbs), with the bass from the dance floor pumping away relentlessly (worth noting is that, thanks to Sound Designer, Anthony Ack Kinmonth, the beat is never a distraction; it serves to underscore and remind us of where we are). In this case, the venue features a very funky, fully working bottle chandelier created by Joe Livsey, hanging above an intimate corner furnished with two chairs, a lounge and a coffee table, where Bella (Amy Ingram), a failed lawyer-turned-successful publicist, waits for her friends to arrive. And they do – all three of them, as well as a random, who turns out to be not so random, to help her celebrate (or not) her 29th birthday. But Bella doesn’t want to get older. She laments the loss of innocent childhood (“I miss being 28. I miss being 8”) and hates the responsibilities of being an adult. Don’t we all?!

The night turns out to be not so much a celebration but a social competition between the friends and ex-lovers, ultimately becoming a bloodthirsty battle of the sexes. Through a tirade of brash and bold soul-destroying statements, personal attacks and a series of denials and mid-life crisis moments, this group of friends stands the test of knowing each other too well and ends up doing the right thing, at least by Bella, in the end.

Amy Ingram, who brings Bella to life, is a one-woman tour de force. She drives this production in one of the most powerful performances I’ve seen to date. She swept me up and along with her, through mighty mood swings, vitriol and wicked, wicked humour, only to have me melt with her too, into sweet, sad, slightly confused memories of precious and somewhat strange half-had conversations with her dad; he’s dying, losing his mind, literally. Ingram then had me plummeting to the depths of my own despair, in recognition of my own failings, regrets and multiple mid-life crises. I’m much older than she, you see, ancient; what hope can there be for me and my friends?!

Bella’s friends, played by Belinda Raisin (Emily, the sensible, steadfast doctor), Penny Harpham (Sandy, the sex-driven predator/writer), Kevin Spink (Tom, who works in the city) and Sam Clark (Richard, a barrister and wannabe writer and a terrible flirt), all do an admirable job, establishing characters and relationships early and confidently, reacting appropriately, dramatically, to every callous allusion, accusation and nasty jibe and proving their mettle as friends and also as actors, who don’t need to play “drunk” to show us “drunk”. Their course language is never out of place and had Ingram been anything less than incredible, we might have appreciated more fully, their individual contributions.

The use of the intimate surrounds of the Sue Benner Theatre, including the amenities and the theatre itself, through which the actors make their entrances and exits, works perfectly. On a stage raised by about a metre (the actors are more often than not seen just below the audience, at floor level in this venue), they allow us to join them at the party. In fact, having walked into the darkened, smoke-filled space, my wrist stamped with a purple rabbit, allowing entry to the opening night party, with nightclub music throbbing and then, after interval, with a drink in hand, I wondered when we, the audience, were going to be invited to partake in the body…I mean, tequila shots!

While the issues raised are not specific to Gen-Y, the focus is unmistakably so and this is why: in the past, our parents may have pursued a career, a car, a house, a family, stability and safety; now we have more than we need and we search for fun and uncommitted connections. Sexual promiscuity is not taboo but a way of life and conquests (as well as epic fails) are openly discussed amongst friends and strangers. Gen-Y is the Facebook-stalking, free-loving Flower Power class of the new millennium, in pursuit of immediate sex, instant gratification; Gen-Y is the McDonald’s drive-through generation. They can have it all and they can have it all now and they don’t necessarily dispose of anything – or of anyone – thoughtfully.

Simple and effective lighting, at times not much at all (Lighting Design byDaniel Anderson), meant that we saw Bella and her father (Norman Doyle, in a superb, subtle study of a broken man who once was Dad) drift in and out of shadows as they stepped through vague recollections of their complicated past. Without giving away completely the conclusion, I have to tell you that Doyle’s final few minutes on stage reduced me to tears, his performance poignant and moving, leaving me completely shattered. And I knew what was coming!

Rabbit is real and cruel and recognisable. It’s a superb production and if you’re lucky enough to get a ticket, it may just be the finest piece of theatre you’ll see in Brisbane this year.

This review published originally on briztix.com

DragQueensland

Queensland Music Festival, Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts & Brisbane City Council

Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts

15th – 23rd July 2011

Try to describe yourself in just ten words. Can you do it? Is what you’ve said true? Are you feeling slightly uncomfortable about the truth?

“What am I?” Indeed.

“We all come into this world naked, everything else is just drag.” RUPAUL

DragQueensLand is a psychological burlesque, a series of mysterious, penetrating and mischievous snapshots about what it’s like to be a drag queen in the Queen’s only state.

This was a commissioned piece and I can only presume that the parameters set by stakeholders, combined with time restraints, have limited its potential. I know many others are raving about this production. Personally, I’m wondering if it has achieved what it set out to achieve, to “connect with and represent diverse Queensland communities with authenticity.” Actually, I don’t doubt the representation or the authentic part (these are Queensland stories and their tragic truths are sadly recognisable)…it’s just the connection part. I’m wondering if anyone else felt that they were in the company of an insecure teenager who had no answer for the Survivor applicant questionnaire, “What are you?” A production that is unsure of what it is supposed to be is an extremely tough sell and I didn’t buy this one.

Our three drag queens (Brian LucasSandro Colarelli and Helpmann-nominated Lucas Stibbard), clad in nude shoes and corsetry with built-in J-Lo bums and Madonna boobs, lay bare the female form on the male body. Instead of glitz and glamour, we got a glimpse of the sad, sexist and homophobic history of our state. This was always the intent. “DragQueensLandis a show about drag, not necessarily a drag show.” But I wonder if the stunning seven-foot tall girls in the audience, in their sparkling gowns and eye lashes to rival Liza’s (at the 10pm show on Friday night), had read the program notes before the show. They looked a little disappointed with the exploration of why be a drag queen, what’s under the make-up and what desires drive these performers? My guess is that they might have preferred the extrovert and rather more interactive possibilities of a full drag show.

Some of us simply wanted more of the (easily perceived) shiny, glossy, sparkly world. We wanted stunning, surface level Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (and not its more serious messages). We wanted more of the frocks, the feathers and the sequins! Admittedly, we got the disco (and the mood) lighting, by Jason Glenwright, and a semblance of fabulous costume, by Leon Krasenstein. Based on the strength of the few interesting pieces we saw – a cape of black gloves, a laundry basket & Lycra frock, a hip-hugging coat hanger frock, spray bottle boobs and fabric softener stilettos – I would love to have seen more from this designer. The boys certainly have the legs for it! Fabulous legs! What a workout though, strutting up and down stairs and around a rotunda in those six-inch platform shoes! In fact, I imagine it might be quite frustrating, as performers, to learn a new skill set, rehearse it to a point and yet never fully realise the potential to use the new skills in the piece. Brian Lucas’s choreography was suitably drag but was delivered with less confidence than I would have expected to see from these top performers.

The highlight for me was Sandro Collarelli’s monologue about living in the valley… “I love living here!” Underscored by the click clack of heels on the pavement as he strutted and gestured, doing ridiculous laps around the circular space; this piece was genuinely funny and terribly sad. It was a totally transparent moment and brilliantly, brutally honest. This is the moment I felt Director, David Fenton, got it. There, right there, was the style, the impact and the more basic, less abstract direction I’d like to see this show take. The hip-hugging coat hanger electro pop number? The blowjob etiquette glove-cutting number? Not so much. While I have no issue with the compositions themselves, which are contemporary, urban and exciting, like the Valley venue, The Beat, used to be to me, these numbers might work in another incarnation after re-writes that better consider the way each story is told. Or exactly what it is that is being told. This “journey of glittering musical short stories” ain’t over yet!

Written by Chrispher Gist and Paul Kooperman, with music by Philip Jackson & Willy Zygier, I’m thinking this show didn’t know exactly what it wanted to say. We heard, verbatim, many shocking truths referenced and yet not fully explored. I don’t think we heard a single story told in its entirety. And I don’t think we were meant to. That was frustrating. And was Brian Lucas’s unlikeable cop character a closet gay? If so, I felt it was a cheap shot. He would have made a much stronger impact had he simply presented “Bad Cop”

Let’s be honest. The piece needs work. The political premise is sound and the concept could come across absolutely superbly – they are important stories and must be told in some form or other – but DragQueensLand needs the creative indulgence of time in development. And it needs sequins. Lots of sequins, darlings! Let’s give Director, David Fenton and his talented, quirky cast and creative team a little more time (and many more sequins) to get this one right so it may enjoy broader appeal one day and reach a larger, more diverse audience.

This review published originally on briztix.com

The Harbinger

La Boite Indie & Dead Puppet Society

The Roundhouse Theatre

13th – 31st July 2011

“Once upon a time, there was a great city…”

There is something so magical about those words – once upon a time – something familiar and warm and comforting and exciting, the promise of a tale well told and a lesson or two for each of us if we listen closely to the telling.

The Harbinger, based on an original concept by Writer & Director, David Morton and Elizabeth Millington, is a tale well told and it contains many lessons.

The production itself is a mini assault on the senses: audio, visual and emotional sensory overload. The soundscape (by Tone Black Productions) is like a current, moving the story along relentlessly and every now and then allowing clanging, jarring flotsam and jetsam to bob about on the surface, perfectly serving its purpose, setting the mood and making us forget the need for dialogue.

But before any sound is absorbed, the presence in the space of a sleeping giant registers and as I study him, fascinated, I see that he is breathing. This giant, sleeping puppet is actually breathing, his chest rising and falling with the breaths he is able to take, thanks to the extraordinary gift of life, granted him by three intuitive and talented puppeteers (Elizabeth MillingtonAnna Straker & Giema Contini).

Close by him, clustered around him like family members tending to one who is elderly and ill and vulnerable, are the young puppeteers. They are dressed, refreshingly, in brown (rather than black); smocks and various other bohemian, child-like layers (Costumes by Noni Harrison) and they don’t move much at first…except to move the sleeping man as he shifts in his chair. It is a wheelchair, allowing for more dynamic movement as the story unfolds and the patience and tolerance of the old man is tested. The girls act as one puppet master, uniformly connected and completely in tune with each other and with their puppet.

Three puppeteers, in plain sight, and very rarely did we notice them. What I did notice was that each became an extension of the old man’s emotions and responded individually to his every thought and feeling. They looked up into his huge eyes with curiousity, frustration, anger, tenderness and understanding. The lighting design reflected the emotional journeys as well as darkening and brightening to simply and effectively show the passing of time (Technical Direction & Lighting Design by Whitney Eglington).

Dead Puppet Society previously, in 2010, introduced us to the world of (The Timely Death ofVictor Blott and, noticing a few loose ends, acquired funding to proceed with three creative development phases in order to tie them up. So became The Harbinger. It’s an original story and at the same time, an age-old fable of good and evil, greed and hope, righteousness and revenge, told from two very different perspectives.

Set in the old man’s dilapidated bookstore, like somewhere right out of Diagon Alley, on the outskirts of a ruined city, an unlikely pair meets and they share their stories. I felt the getting-to-know-you business was established very well very early and the story within the story could have been started sooner. It was indeed a pleasure to have already settled into the melodic tones of Margi Brown-Ash and it is her voice that we continued to enjoy.

The old man first tells his tale (via the voice of Margi). A scrim serves as the storybook, the movie screen of our minds and a window to the devastated world outside. Images and animation are projected upon the scrim (pre-filmed and animated sketched content, which was quite moving to view in this manner) and marionette puppets appear behind it (Mary Neary & Kaitlyn Rogers), retelling for us, the same story again, only the second time it is through the eyes of the girl (Kathleen Iron). She seems older as she takes her turn in the telling.

I love the way these artists have made the story book come alive, literally (Production Design and Illustrations by Elizabeth Millington). The animation, a combination of bright, comic book colour and black & white sketches, reminded me of the texts that are available for, err, our “non-readers” in Year 10 English.

DC Comics have a Harbinger character. That’s right. (I knew I was expecting to see purple boots for some reason). In the couple of narratives Harbinger appears in, she is able to use her knowledge of history to prompt emotional memories. An obscure reference but it makes sense. The little orphan girl prompts emotional memories that are almost too difficult for the old man to bear alone and together they take the journey, for a time, through ancient time and a different world…a world that has disappeared.

The collective creative talent and ingenuity that is Dead Puppet Society is impressive. This is a young company, with bold and magnificent ideas and they need to keep presenting their versions of great tales with the same level of support and encouragement provided by the La Boite Indie program.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that because The Harbinger is a 60-minute show featuring various puppets that is it safe to take the kids – it’s not. Book the babysitter and the last remaining tickets and go yourself, to see a frighteningly familiar story that will stick with you for days and have you pondering the reason for your existence and all of your goals, fears and dreams.

Storybook Actors: Norman Doyle, Niki-J Price, Joseph Taylor, Helen Stephens & Toby Martin

Singer: Linda Maurer

This review published originally on briztix.com

Saltimbanco

Cirque de Soleil

Brisbane Entertainment Centre

8th – 17th July 2011

Like the big old glass lolly jar at the lady’s house next door to my grandma’s, the world ofSaltimbanco is full of delicious goodies, something for everyone. A multitude of characters representing every aspect of society, a clash of colour and chaos (makeup, costumes and lighting are vibrant), flawless mechanicals and expert performers make this a circus like no other. The artists, currently under the creative vision of performer-turned-Artistic Director, Neelanthi Vadivel and in the competent hands of new Head Coach, Gergely Boi, each performing feats of strength, balance, daring and a whole lot of comedy, are some of the best in the world and they look like they’re having the time of their lives.

Saltimbanco means to jump on a bench and that is all this show is about. There’s no need for a deep and meaningful narrative packed to the brim with moral, social or environmental messages; it’s entertainment, pure and simple. It’s vibrant, it’s fun, it’s funny and everybody clowns around, keeping it playful, jumping on benches, so to speak. There is even the opportunity for audience interaction and not just for the Tapis Rouge ticket holders. Not only are the talented musicians audible (in this show they sustain a distinct 80’s sound) but they’re visible too and in on the fun. The vocalist, Nicola Dawn, is superb and purveys a truly joyful, ethereal Katie Noonan quality. This truly is circus – theatre – for everyone.

If you saw Saltimbanco eleven years ago, you can go again and enjoy an almost entirely new cast, evolving acts and a couple of hours of Cirque du Soleil branded guaranteed quality fun and entertainment.

This review published originally on briztix.com

Dr Zhivago

The Gordon Frost Organisation

QPAC Lyric Theatre

Last night, “The greatest love story of all time”, Doctor Zhivago, was brought to the Lyric stage. I’m not convinced that the Brisbane opening night audience was swept away by the story or by the production itself but they were certainly taken by the star of the show, Mr Anthony Warlow. I’m getting ahead of myself…

Based on Boris Pasternak’s Nobel Prize-winning epic novel of love, war, art and survival, this new musical, inspired by and written for Warlow, is true to the text and essentially, it is just as sparse. Set amidst the terror and turmoil of 20th Century Russian political upheaval, fate brings together the doctor and great poet, Yuri Andreyevich Zhivago (Anthony Warlow) and Lara Guishar (Lucy Maunder), a girl whose mother left her the legacy of pleasing an older, richer lover, Komarovsky (Bartholomew John) in order to get by in life. She makes a decision that changes her fate, just as Zhivago’s seems set in stone, and the story begins.

Let me just get it out of the way and say this: Doctor Zhivago is no Russian Les Miserables. I felt that Act 1 lacked the pace and passion delivered in Act 2 and the lyrics throughout ranged from descriptive poetry to simplistic forced rhyme Disney movie musical verse. Having said that, the opening number (Two Worlds) cleverly sets up the complex story within a matter of minutes – the most condensed version you’ll ever see away from YouTube – establishing characters, relationships; putting us in the place of the Dear Reader, only now we have soaring melody and a most impressive set to take in as well. Dear Reader/Viewer, you’d better be concentrating from the moment the house lights dim and Musical Director – without a doubt one of our most gifted, Kellie Dickerson – raises her hand because this establishing phase of the story moves extremely (unforgivably) quickly! Blink and you’ll miss it (and you’ll need to check your program during interval to find out what you missed).

Fate may bring them together, eventually, but it also keeps the two apart and Zhivago marries his childhood sweetheart, Tonia (Taneel Van Zyl), only to become enamored with Lara – the stranger who appears and disappears the same evening – prompting him to wonder if he’ll ever see her again (Who Is She?). He does see her again, when she assists him at the front line during The Great War and then again, when it is all over and civil unrest, forces his family to flee to his in-laws’ estate, situated near Lara’s hometown. Meanwhile, in case you missed it and elected to mingle at interval rather than read your program notes, before that happened, Lara married a revolutionary, Pasha Antipov (Martin Crewes) and, so she believes, lost him in the war. However, we learn that he is not (yet) dead and in fact, continues to keep an eye on her, whilst leading a ruthless “Red” partisan army and going by the name of Strelnikov, a fantastically evil and unforgiving character and a complete contrast to the man we saw her marry, the good and pure Pasha.

This show is all about the voices and Anthony Warlow’s, as always, is simply outstanding. It’s truly a privilege to see Warlow, despite his slightly stiff, operetta-style physical presence on stage, in the role created for him by composer, Lucy Simon. This show is as much about him as it is about Yuri Zhivago. Warlow is easily our best and most loved musical theatre exponent and this was reflected by the standing ovation afforded him at the curtain call.

He should watch his back, however, as performers of the calibre of WAAPA graduate, Martin Crewes, creep up the ranks. As both Pasha, the vibrant revolutionary and later, as his alter-ego, Strelnikov, Crewes delivers both goodness (one of the rare lighter moments is his It’s a Godsend, which I expected to feature more of the fabulous Cossack dancing, of which we are given just a taste. A missed opportunity perhaps, making me wonder if Choreographer, Kelly Devine, has plans to extend upon this number in the future) as well as the epitome of evil, demonstrated superbly in Act 2, in No Mercy At All.

What I was waiting for was that song, that Warlow-stamped anthem that would come at three-quarters of the way through the show and have us on our feet. But it never came. Another missed opportunity? An oversight? Did I miss it?! Simon’s score (and Danny Troob’s orchestrations and Eric Stern’s arrangements) are entirely enchanting and the duets particularly, between Warlow and Maunder (Now and On the Edge of Time) are musically, vocally, absolutely breathtaking. But this is not the chart-topping, genre-crossing blockbuster it seems to want to be. I hope the media hype dies down soon and we get a (condensed) cast recording so I can listen again.

Lucy Maunder, another WAAPA graduate, is an incredible singer with an extensive range, but she is not the actress yet that shows us the depths and intricate mix of emotions that I envisaged for the wild, desperate Lara. I could be wrong; perhaps I have always imagined her to be stronger-willed and more intriguing than Pasternak ever intended her to be! Also – it could be just me – I don’t buy the (entire) relationship with Zhivago. The enduring love, yes; the passion, no. One of the highlights of the show puts the women’s relationship instead under the spotlight, in Maunder’s duet with Van Zyl, the long-suffering wife, Tonia, in It Comes as no Surprise. In this lovely role, Van Zyl reveals why she (yet another WAAPA graduate) is proving to be one of the musical theatre must-haves in this country.

Peter Carroll and Trisha Noble are charming as the elderly in-laws, Alex and Anna, and as the devilish Komarovsky, Bartholomew John provides some much needed light and darkness (the book seems to be crying out for more contrast and I don’t mean in characters such as the puppet-like “Reds” who take over the run of the estate during the civil war. WHY?). It is certainly a feat to adapt Pasternak’s epic novel into a stage show but after 10 years of collaboration between Composer, Lucy Simon, Director, Des McAnuffMichael Weller (Book), Michael Korrie & Amy Powers (Lyrics), I expected more. More passion, more anguish; an unmistakably intimate connection between the lovers and a level of intensity that has me forgetting that I know the story already.

Production elements, as you would expect in a professional production of this magnitude, are second-to-none. Damien Cooper’s lighting, Michael Walter’s sound design, Teresa Negroponte’s costumes and, particularly, Michael Scott Mitchell’s set design combine to create a simply stunning effect. Despite my skepticism at times, about the place of a checkerboard floor in the forest, the imposing pillared set upon a raked stage within a false brick proscenium is simple, elegant and most effective (and requires a whole other level of performance fitness form the cast). Projected black and white images, though often unnecessary and distracting rather than serving any clear purpose, worked on the odd occasion to support the story and the mood, such as for the passing scenery outside the train windows and (some will disagree) during Lara’s confession in Act 1 to her husband, When the Music Played; we see the imposing image of a woman seated, with her back turned, robed and then magically, thanks to the miracles of modern theatrical technology, disrobed. A simple trick, though not a necessary one. The sudden entrance and exit of Komarovsky to further illustrate the sordid tale already told by the lyrics was, on the other hand, condescending (ie in case you don’t get it, we’re going to send in Komarovsky and have him menacingly unbutton his shirt) and a good deal more distracting than any projected image. In fact, you may find that there are a number of occasions throughout, over which may be argued “Essential or Overkill?”

Doctor Zhivago is impressively staged and its company boasts some of the top names in the industry but it falls short of the mark. Rather than being the wild, passionate, stirring and inspiring ride we were led to believe it would be, this show stays safe and just safely, beautifully appealing. I was expecting to be taken on a much bigger journey, for my soul to dip and soar with Lara’s and to fall crazy in love with the poetic and debonair Doctor Zhivago, not to marvel at the set design, wonder at the dynamics of the key relationship and to imagine that I for one, would prefer to take off with the impulsive, revolutionary and potentially evil, Pasha Antipov!

Have the marketing antics, our anticipation and our high expectations of shiny new musicals spoiled us? Do we expect too much? Are we, as a discerning (or is it demanding? And why should we not be?) …Are we, as an Australian musical theatre audience, developing a tolerance of great theatre so that the frequency and “greatness” need to continue to increase, just as a dealer’s supply does, in order to satiate us, in order to win us over? Once again, Mr John Frost, I’m impressed; you’ve surpassed the last. But you haven’t yet won me over.

This review published originally on briztix.com

BLACKROCK

Aboriginal Centre of Performing Arts

Judith Wright Centre Shopfront

Beautifully timed, in the lead-up to NAIDOC Week, Australia’s largest training organisation for Australian Indigenous people, The Aboriginal Centre for Performing Arts (ACPA)’s Advanced Diploma and Certificate IV students delivered, as the second installment in their Key Industry Performance Program series (Season BlackNick Enright’s Blackrock.

Director, Sue Rider, has taken one of Australia’s most powerful and thought-provoking plays, shocking in its Australian – and human – truths, and with the first ever all-Indigenous cast, presented a fresh take on an age-old story of teenage culture and the way in which we respond to violence and deceit in our society. Using minimal props (empty beer cans, handbags, a box, a bottle, a baseball bat) and a set comprised only of black rises against a black curtain, this cast gave generously, one of the most honest versions of Blackrock I’ve seen to date.

The ability to strip back a story and just tell it is a talent. To tell it well, so that those of us, who are already familiar with it, find it new and surprising is a gift. Rider, along with members of the ACPA Acting Faculty, Peter Cook and Barb Lowing, have coaxed beautifully naturalistic performances from their cast and given us something very special to think (and talk) about.

Raw, real, straight-up performances and a text peppered with culturalised phrases, brought to this well-known story, a whole new dimension and a whole new level of daring to the current complex conversation about Indigenous artistry…but more of the latter later.

In the intimate Shopfront space, we were close enough to the actors to see and feel the intent behind everything – everything – being communicated. The space provided a gauntlet in which there was nowhere to hide. In this open space, Tyrone Drahm’s Ricko was a cheeky, unrepentant bad boy (his early stillness and subtleties contrasting superbly with his later violent actions) and Eliah Watego a frustrated, confused idoliser. Tulli Narkle’s performance as Tiffany, the mistreated girlfriend, was truly tearful, and Jayden Dundas warming to her challenging role, finally let us in to see a strong, saddened, angry and unforgiving Cherie.

In the program notes, Chief Executive Officer of ACPA, Milos Miladinovic, reminds us of our participatory role as audience members, in the growth of these young artists, noting “they bring their traditional culture to the shaping of Australia’s contemporary arts.” ACPA’s Associate Director, Marcus Hughes, acknowledges the enormous potential of these artists – “the next generation of Australia’s Indigenous theatre makers” – and director of this unique production of BlackrockSue Rider, reveals, “It has been a joy to work with ACPA Acting students. Bringing with them a mix of skills and experience, they have shown commitment and maturity as a group and a determination to challenge themselves on every level.”

While the race card makes it difficult to comment without being seen as condescending, racist or otherwise, I feel it’s absolutely necessary to state that the Indigenous cast made this play an entirely different one. And it’s okay to be different. And, in my opinion, this is better because it’s different. There is something so special about the characteristic qualities of the Indigenous performer; these actors especially, came across as completely transparent, compassionate, unassuming and honest …and they made me realise that what other actors can work so hard at for years to achieve is actually the starting point at ACPA. That alone makes me so proud and so excited about the future of these talented Australian artists. I can’t wait to see more from them.

This review published originally on briztix.com

ORPHANS

QTC

Bille Brown Studio

23rd June – 9th July 2011

Queensland Theatre Company’s second Studio offering of 2011 is shiver-giving theatre. It’s shocking, confronting stuff. It’s not an easy night of theatre and it’s certainly not for everyone…but everyone should see it.

Director, Kat Henry, has taken by the metaphorical throat, Dennis Kelly’s hard-hitting, contemporary, brilliantly observed British text and thrust it in our faces. We see the ugly side of life that, as Wesley Enoch (Artistic Director) notes, we often don’t see on our stages.

We are flies on the wall, bearing witness to a horrific crime scene, conjured via the agitated, imperfect storytelling of the perpetrator. And by imperfect, I mean impossibly full of holes, unapparent at first, due to the storyteller’s mastery of manipulation (and the playwright’s mastery of exposition) and gradually, revealing the deepest, darkest, most psychologically disturbed core of humanity…make that inhumanity. It’s an unfathomable story, a random hate crime; senseless violence with neat Neo-Nazi overtones that make (most of) us sick to the core. Here’s a clue: how did you respond to A Clockwork OrangeRomper StomperInglorious Bastards? Any number of horrifying headlines?

Guy Webster’s chilling soundscape is like the feeling I still get from that empty, lonely void after The Nothing has swept through Fantasia in The Neverending Story, leaving just a grain of sand (I’m a true eighties’ child, after all). Webster’s work is also incredibly dramatic at times but it mostly leads us, quietly, imperceptibly, to the devastating realisation that all hope is gone…well, almost. A nod in the text to Chekhov’s Cherry Orchardreminds us that after recognising hope, the only thing we can do is carry on.

Sam Paxton’s austere apartment design, with its empty photo frames and perfectly appointed furniture from David Jones (that’s not a plug; it’s a reference in the script) and Ben Hughes’ warm, interior lighting (contrasting starkly with his strobe effects to show the passing of time perhaps one too many times) immediately set the scene for a nice, quiet, middle-class couple’s night in; Helen (Helen Cassidy) and Danny (Christopher Sommers) exist in their inner-city bubble, usually with a child (and with another on the way) but the child is not at home; he is being babysat by Danny’s mother. Their romantic dinner and their lives are suddenly interrupted by the arrival of Helen’s brother, Liam (Leon Cain), who is covered in (somebody’s) blood and needs help. Serious help.

In this challenging role, Cain is simply incredible to watch. His nervous energy and physicality is completely unnerving and keeps this character teetering on the edge and almost outside of the realm of our understanding. His constant agitation is perfectly balanced by the restraint and stillness employed by Sommers and Cassidy.

All three deliver superb vocal work, their naturalistic speech made up of fragmented, unfinished, overlapping sentences, making poignant, the difficulty of self-expression and clarification in any situation, let alone in one that involves such high stakes. It is also worth noting that the brash authentic language of the city streets, which bursts in with Liam, is not as vulgar as one might expect (my mum might disagree). The playwright has measured his use of obscene language and the actors have made it fit.

Most shocking for me, though, was a moment completely devoid of obscenities or violent action; it was the horror of a past truth alluded to – never actually revealed – veiled, in fact; to be noticed or not. Where there had been earlier, some questionable laughter coming from the audience (discomfort or relief, perhaps), after that point there was none. Nothing. The Nothing. Not a sound. We could have heard the proverbial pin drop. Yet another surprise near the end, this one much more obvious, had the audience in a collective gasp, followed immediately by barely breathed phrases of the “oh no” ilk. As a mother but more importantly in this context, as a human being, with my heart in my mouth and almost ready to leap to my feet, race into the room and intervene, it got me. This play, on so many levels, got me. It’s the one this year that will keep eating at me, from the inside, like those Egyptian scarab beetles, and continue to make me squirm just to think about it.

Kat Henry’s Orphans is the most harrowing piece of theatre you’re likely to see this year. You must go and live through it.

This review published originally on briztix.com

Mrs Bang!

Sheridan Harbridge and The Noosa Longweeekend Festival

Berado’s Restaurant and Bar

22nd June

Wow! Mrs Bang! I don’t think Noosa was quite ready for you!

On Wednesday 22nd June, in the intimate surrounds of berardo’s restaurant and bar on Hastings Street, Sheridan Harbridge brought her alter ego and her ukulele to the Noosa Longweekend’s Supper Club.

Despite some questionable sightlines in this venue, Mrs Bang! was a hit. Barely covered, in a beautifully tacky Spanish nightclub cum Sunshine Coast turf club dress (Do You Like My Dress), with hair piled sky high, a-la The Nanny, Mrs Bang! clattered up the central spiral staircase and appeared behind the bar, glass of chardonnay in hand, visibly worried…the band had not yet arrived. An easily considered premise, after days of ash cloud affected flights, meaning for Harbridge herself (well, as she admitted after, for her pianist Nigel Ubrihien) a 14-hour drive to get to us.

So with Nigel, the “ring-in” piano player, Mrs Bang! sang for us her favourite numbers, including a rather dramatic and absolutely hilarious rendition of Bizet’s Habanera, Noel Coward’s Mad About the Boy, Kander & Ebb’s How Lucky Can You Get and Portishead’s All Mine.

The mood ranged from outrageous, crazy, wild fun and schadenfreude to dark, seductive, irresistibly interactive fun and games; Mrs Bang didn’t realise it at the time but she had none other than the President of the Noosa Longweekend Festival Committee shaking his booty along with the tambourine she had thrust into his hand (and his wife sitting next to him at the table as she sat in his lap).

Seasoned performer, Mitchell Butel (who performed his acclaimed new cabaret show, Killing Time, in the same venue the following night) also got involved in the act and got a lot more than he’d bargained for, when catastrophe after cabaret catastrophe culminated with a face-plant into an un-birthday chocolate cake and a make-out session with Mrs Bang! Even Toby Francis, after finishing his own show, Blokelahoma, made a cameo appearance at the conclusion of the show, re-enforcing the simple fact that Mrs Bang! is irresistible.

It’s easy to see what makes this show a sell-out. With her sultry voice, wacky humour and a splendidly tacky, tragic character, Mrs Bang! A Series of Seductions is the ultimate slightly naughty night out.

This review published originally on briztix.com

[title of show] 

Oscar Theatre Company

Visy Theatre

In a climate of big budget blockbuster musicals, and genuine competition for the audience dollar, [title of show] is a back-to-basics, laugh-out-loud treat, a bit like a box of chocolates (thanks, Forest); you never know what you’re going to get. Well, those of us who saw the original and/or the return season in Brisbane knew what we were going to get: 90 minutes of ridiculous, riotous fun and self-effacing gags from 2 gays and 2 girls who want to put on a show. You probably know the premise: 2 guys write a show about 2 guys writing a show about 2 guys writing a show. They want to live the dream – they want their show to go to Broadway – and they practice the Law of Attraction to make it happen. You probably know the (true) story: Jeff and Hunter announce via YouTube that [title of show] – their original musical, penned in just three weeks for submission to The New York Musical Theatre Festival (the festival? The king’s festival?) – will be transferring to Broadway. They just don’t know when…or where…or how.

You can watch the original [title of show] show here and read my write up of the original Oscar Theatre Company production here.

As part of the coveted Noosa Longweekend festival program, the final performance of [title of show] on Saturday night attracted the type of audience that we (“we” being XS Entertainment; the theatre there is a favourite stomping ground) have come to expect, relaxed and ready for a great night of entertainment. And we got it. In fact, in [title of show] we got one of the festival highlights and I have no doubt that, if they can fit us into their busy schedule, we will see Oscar Theatre Company back in Noosa again next year.

Director (and Artistic Director of Oscar), Emily Gilholme, is at the top of my Next Big Thing List. Serious. She will be swept away and celebrated interstate by somebody soon…if QTC doesn’t snaffle her first. Gilholme ensures excellent production values are in place, casts brilliantly and presents confidently at the conclusion of a show, knowing that her product is second to none. This particular production is one that could – and should – tour nationally.
What this company does so well is take us along for the ride. They are able to truly entertain – they are a tight, slick, hilarious cast – and they come across as completely genuine so that even when we are being asked to stay with them through a ridiculous flying dream sequence, we can leave behind skepticism and continue to laugh (and fly) along with them. My favourite sequence, however (again), was Die, Vampire, Die. Such a simple message and so funny and yet suddenly, so moving because, as artists (or perhaps as mothers or friends or teachers of artists) we are all far too familiar with those vampires! For audience members disassociated with The Arts the same messages apply. Although, from the outset, the obscure theatrical references may go unnoticed.

The minimal set was ideal; the transitions between songs and scenes were smooth (even the abrupt ones. Don’t say that, of course you were meant to have children), the vocals exceptional and the choreography fabulously camp and funny. In short, Liz Buchanan, Bernadette Alizart, Kynan Francis, Dash Kruck (and David Law as Larry) have shown, once again, what it is that makes them some of Queensland’s most versatile musical theatre performers.
When multi-million dollar, internationally touring productions, despite their budgets and their stars, fall short and fail to move me (and many others too, as I’ve discovered, though they would prefer not to say so online) I have to wonder what the hell is missing?! What is missing is everything that Oscar’s[title of show] has in droves, including real talent and genuine passion. That’s what it is. That’s all. That’s not rocket science. That’s entertainment. It’s the combined talent and passion of director, creative team and cast: their vision, their delightful humour, and their connections with the material, with each other and with the audience, their energy and their spark. Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred things that they are doing, making me feel confident to recommend anything that Oscar Theatre Company, with Emily Gilholme at the helm, does next (I believe it’s Spring Awakening. It won’t be for everyone but it will be GOOD). Go see it.

This review published originally on briztix.com

Colder

La Boite Indie & Michelle Miall

The Roundhouse Theatre

22nd June – 9th July 2011

A little boy goes missing in Disneyland and re-appears several hours later, seemingly unharmed. Years later, in that other theme park we know as Sydney, he disappears again. He never returns. Has something sinister happened? Are the incidents related? Will his loved ones ever see him again? Colder gives us no answers. Instead, this beautifully crafted play asks us to consider those horrifying questions we would prefer not to ponder. Ever.

Lachlan Philpott has based his play on a true story; a chilling story that is very personal to him, about a friend who went missing in 2005 and has never returned. He has been rather unforgiving (as is the dramatist’s prerogative) in his exploration of any and all possibilities surrounding the case of David, underplayed superbly by Chris Vernon. We are never given explanations (or even the full story) but rather, like a virus, just the earliest signs of infection, which cause enormous unease and as the infection spreads and the virus begins to take over the mind and the heart, we are gradually, gently, surreptitiously led to question everything we have ever believed in: who do we love, who loves us, whose responsibility is it to care for us, teach us and guide us through life’s rollercoaster ride and – the largest looming for this reviewer – how well do we ever really know anybody?

Alison McGirr, as the young mother (at 33 yrs) of David, makes a stunning debut for La Boite’s Roundhouse Theatre. She is quite simply mesmerising, waiting and waiting and waiting for the return of her son by theme park staff, while theme park children smile at her, tauntingly, from posters in the room where she has been left to wait. It’s the waiting between lines that engages me most. McGirr is beautiful to watch and as she resolutely waits, refusing to let emotion completely take over, I am in a state that is somewhere between admiration for this woman’s composure and compliance and total frustration at this woman’s composure and compliance. Also played (at 59 yrs) by the incomparable Helen Howard, this is a character that invites an overwhelming combination of emotions.

Helen Howard is undoubtedly one of our best-loved actors and as a writer, acting coach, dialect coach and co-artistic director as well, she is an established force in Queensland theatre. In Colder, Howard gives us an intriguing picture, in tatters and sepia tones, of a single mother, wandering aimlessly through life, which occurs mostly at home surrounded by Tupperware (If only I were airtight); she is still waiting…for that phone call, that voice, that face, that little boy. Howard and McGirr must have worked closely together to achieve similarities in their vocal, postural and gestural portrayal of the same damaged woman at these two very distinct points in her life.

Kerith Atkinson plays both the inane theme park staff member and David’s best friend. As the friend, she is confused, lost, offended (she wants David to be the godfather of her child); when he is nowhere to be found she seeks comfort in the company of his mother but, like all of the relationships portrayed, the two have difficulty communicating and there is little comfort to be found in that lonely kitchen.

Kevin Spink plays several roles in this production and it is the creepy American serial player who leaves the lasting impression. He represents the predatory gay male and almost the epitome (sans sequins and feathers) of the largely misunderstood, largely misrepresented gay mardi gras community, giving rise to a whole set of new questions, none of which have answers. This is when I really started to consider the sinister possibilities of the story. This strangely seductive character had me squirming. And not in a good, soft gay porn way.

As David’s unassuming, brand new boyfriend, Ed (the latest in a book’s worth of one night stands), Tony Brockman delivers an understated performance that, well before the play’s conclusion, truly begins to tug at the heartstrings. Their relationship is new and heady and enough – for Ed at least – as long as it continues to develop. Issues of trust and mistrust, knowing and not knowing, feeling and not feeling rise to the surface and are not quite addressed (this is not a writing flaw but another device, leading us to assume that David doesn’t care about anybody). And then David disappears. Following a phone call made by Ed, to David’s mother, Robyn, we see them meet for the first time, in a little café (Burnt milk. The waitress wants to close.) They have trouble talking to each other and for anybody who has ever had trouble talking about a loved one to anyone the scene is a gem.

The production elements – Lighting Design by Daniel Anderson, Composition & Sound Design by Phil Slade and Production Design (including an amazing wall of milk crates housing a Tupperware collection more impressive than any I’ve seen, including, as I took the opportunity to point out to my husband, my own) by Amanda Karo – support perfectly, the unsteady, sombre mood of the piece. The real magic, however, the real treasure of this production, is the result of the combination of Philpott’s captivating writing and Michelle Miall’sinspired direction. The dialogue is deeply layered, with suspicion, innuendo, unfinished sentences and unspoken, unimaginable horrors. This is not a pretty script – and it is long – but it is written and delivered in such a way as to have the audience, for the most part, on the edge of their seats, not liking what might have happened and not wanting to miss a single clue. It is indeed, a beautifully crafted piece, the playwright able to disseminate slowly, continuously, relentlessly, tiny, delicate, colourful (some might say red-herring-colourful) information, which falls like autumn leaves, to be kicked around, or carried away by the colder wind or left to decay and rot at our feet. As an audience member you’re not told much at all (this is simultaneously refreshing and frustrating). You’re not even asked to make a choice about what happened or what might have happened or…you’re left to question. And that is all. You’re given as much as you need, to take yourself off on your own little journey of self-examination and discovery, while wondering the entire time, what the hell happened to David?

How exciting it is to see Miall picked up by QTC next, for David Williamson’s The Removalists and how important it is that Brisbane see her work here first, under the wing of La Boite’s Indie program, which supports, nurtures and promotes new, courageous Australian theatre and theatre practitioners. If her treatment ofColder is anything to go by, Miall is set to become one of our pre-eminent directors and I look forward to seeing much more from her.

The common misconception that Independent theatre is somehow “less” than our main stage offerings is smashed here by Michelle Miall and La Boite’s hyper-intelligent, highly polished, slick and deeply thought-provoking production of Lachlan Philpott’s Colder.

This review published originally on briztix.com

Waitressing and Other Things I Do Well – 12 Acts of Cabaret

Gillian Cosgriff 

QPAC Cremorne

Gillian Cosgriff is a superb performer. Her patter is effortless and she sings and plays piano and looks gorgeous, which, let’s face it, in the competitive world of cabaret, can certainly help a girl get her next gig. I’m not suggesting for a second that Gillian need use her vintage-clad, cute looks to get by – she has the talent – but it does seem as if everybody is having a go at cabaret at the moment, doesn’t it?

A WAAPA graduate and award winner, Cosgriff’s cabaret act is like no other (although she has been described as the female Tim Minchin and her style is kindaMissy Higgins meets Kate Miller-Heidkemeets my flamboyant sister); she writes her own songs so each is a perfect fit. Tender tales of love and loss meld perfectly with sexy, slightly naughty numbers about the construction of IKEA flat-packed furniture. The most moving account was a song about a builder…well, it was about an actor but we heard all about a builder who, because of what had been said to him, one day decided to stop building…and it had me in tears.

Cosgriff has the ease and sophistication of cabaret performers many years her senior. I have no doubt we’ll be seeing her back again and (it’s a matter of when, where, who and how much, I’m sure) on the international circuit soon.

This review published originally on briztix.com

Blokelahoma – 12 Acts of Cabaret

Toby Francis

QPAC Cremorne

Toby Francis has been taken under the wing of one of our top producers, the enigmatic David Campbell (he also directed the show) after winning the 2010 Cabaret Showcase.

Francis seemed a little out of his depth on Friday night at QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre. The material was there, although, rather than cabaret, it was mostly rock, which appeared to take by surprise, the rather discerning 12 Acts of Cabaret audience.

He has the confidence, the manner, he almost has the patter down and he has a talented pianist, Nigel Ubrihien. The premise? He’s a straight guy, wearing leather and working in musical theatre. Who would have thought?! He came out to his mum…as an atheist!

It’s a different show and some of the brash jokes don’t appear to go down so well but Francis, undeterred, sings an extensive rock medley and Meatloaf‘s Bat Out of Hell as well as some classic show tunes laced with political messages delivered from atop his Soapbox. They are subtle…like a sledgehammer. He has a voice; he has a presence and a sense of humour that may not be to everyone’s liking. I would like to see Francis again, after a few more gigs and generous audiences.

This review published originally on briztix.com

Jesus Christ Superstar

Harvest Rain

QPAC Playhouse

17th – 26th June

Correction: Following the original season in 2010, the return season (scheduled for February 2011) was postponed due to Brisbane’s floods.

I’m resisting reviewing this production a second time. You can read my original review (get a coffee first) over at xsentertainme.wordpress.com

My good friend, Wiki, has a lot to say about the popular term, “Break a leg.” We say it to actors before they perform. Well, not anymore. I’m proposing that the term be banned (even Wiki is unsure of the etymological origins of the phrase and there are others to be used in place of it, so no great loss). I’m proposing that we cease using the term at least in Brisbane because Paul Watson, a Melbourne boy and the new Judas in Harvest Rain’s return season of Jesus Christ Superstar (the floods brought an abrupt end to the first season), appears to have taken the term literally and has broken his leg. True story (it will be added to Wiki at some stage, just you wait)! During the final scene of the first act of the final preview (the Sunday matinee), the character of Judas is required to fall on stage, a sequence which usually occurs without incident. But during the matinee performance yesterday, Paul Watson fell awkwardly and broke his leg on stage. Consequently, Act 2 was cancelled and the cast was re-shuffled and put through a rigorous 3-hour rehearsal, in order for Opening Night to go ahead as scheduled…the show must go on…mustn’t it?

In an unorthodox appearance on stage before the Sunday evening opening show, Director, Tim O’Connor, announced that emerging musical theatre performer, Shaun Kohlman, would play the role of Judas, which meant that Sunshine Coast performer, Guy Maybury, would play Kohlman’s usual role, Simon Zealotes.

I was so pleased to see Maybury leap into his new role, taking the opportunity to show us what he can do when he is given the chance to step out of the ensemble. I would like to be able to say the same about Kohlman but unfortunately, with only 3 hours to prepare the role and neither the vocal range nor the power to pull off this exciting challenge, I can only say that he was put in an impossible position and clearly, was not up to the task. Now, I know the haters will stop reading right there and furiously add their comments below to say that clearly the reviewer is an ass. Or whatever.

My issue is this: I’ve seen Mr Kohlman OWN that stage. And OWN a much smaller stage, in Harvest Rain’s own Mina Parade Warehouse. I agree that he is an emerging (I kinda hate that word) musical theatre performer and he deserves every opportunity to get his teeth into bigger and better roles…but not this one…yet. In one sense, Kohlman has indeed saved the show and I don’t (ever) mean to be completely unkind. My genuine concern is for the young, aspiring and still very vulnerable performers. Brisbane is a very small pond to flounder in.

I hope Kohlman can wrestle himself out of the initial shock, surprise and nervous energy and for the final performances, the “end of an era” (Tim O’Connor’s words, not mine) for O’Connor and Harvest Rain, just GIVE IT. I hope that Mr Watson heals quickly and well and I wish Kohlman and the company CHOOKAS (only) for the remainder of the run!

This review published originally on briztix.com

FAUSTUS

QTC & Bell Shakespeare Company

Brisbane Powerhouse

30th May – 25th June 2011

“Speak Mephistophilis, what means this show?”

Faustus, you may well ask. What should I tell you about Queensland Theatre Company and Bell Shakespeare Company’s co-production of Faustus? I could tell you that it boasts two untouchables of Australian theatre. I could tell you that it gives us a new take on a classic tale. I could tell you that money doth make a good show. But only the first statement would be true.

This re-telling of Faustus, adapted and directed by Michael Gow, is a self-indulgent series of clever tricks. I guess the same could be said of the original story. A dissatisfied scholar dabbles in a bit of black magic, conjures Satan’s right hand man, Mephistophilis (John Bell), and strikes a deal, approved by Lucifer (Jason Klarwein), which requires Faustus (Ben Winspear) to give his soul in exchange for four and twenty years of Mephistophilis’ servitude. On the eve of his (true) death, Faustus begs for mercy and even turns to God in his desperation but to no avail…his soul is taken to hell by a host of demons.

So why tell a problematic, anti-climactic story without exploring a different angle or presenting an alternative point of view? And if you pick and choose your text, why not pick and choose that which tells an intriguing, challenging, complete story? Like a grab bag of quips and quotes, the text used in this production has been taken from various sources, including Goethe, Donne, Dryden and Marlowe. Clearly, there was potential for a rich tapestry of Faustus’ debaucheries to be put on show but instead, all we get of each is a sudden, shallow glimpse.

As Gow acknowledges in his notes, the play as it is beginning is almost at an end. The introduction of “innocent” Gretchen (Kathryn Marquet) and the semi-fascinating neighbor (Vanessa Downing), as per Marlowe’s text, create opportunities to explore the pros and cons of real human connection and the full gamut of emotions experienced during life on Earth. The multiple role-play by the ensemble, aided by frightening masks, mannequins and an array of props, all displayed onstage in the exposed “backstage”, worked well for them as performers but I felt that these secondary stories – and the actors involved in the telling of them – were under-utilised. I’m not convinced that the rhyme and rhythm of the additional text worked and at times I felt like scenes that were perhaps intended, in fine farcical tradition, to be comical in fact fell short.

Dark lighting by Jason Glenwright and open, exposed, stage-within-the-stage design by Jonothan Oxlade mean that the meta-theatrics of this production allow the tale to be told as a story within a story and within that, there lies a biblical story, which comes across dynamically, thanks to the extraordinary performance of Catherine Terracini, similar in its delivery to Maureen’s performance art piece, Over the Moon, in Jonathan Larson’s Rent. Yes, had she asked, I would have mooed with her. This was the only connection I felt to a character, in spite of that particular character being placed well outside of the story. Going by the clever staging and the many devices employed throughout, including the use of microphones to distort and amplify voices and multi-media to keep us in check as merely the audience members, we were never supposed to get too close to the action…or emotion. I felt as if we had been invited to an early preview, part of the creative/experimentation part of the process and expected to give feedback on what worked. What worked was the joint production status and the names John Bell and Michael Gow as draw cards.

But where were love, lust, horror, and despair? Some will say they saw it in abundance.

The deal struck did not come out of suffering or torment (that I could see); instead, it seemed like a moment of weakness, boredom and frustration. It was underplayed and undervalued. The disappointing conclusion made me feel the same way. In what was either a gross underestimate in dramatic effect or else just an odd decision (Director’s prerogative?), Faustus walks out of the theatre and into hell. I can only assume it is hell he walks outside to find and not the bar, which might in fact be heaven, since that is what the plot points up to that point indicate. Anti-climax? Absolutely.

The more interesting story must surely be in the events leading up to the deal with the devil. A deal with the devil is an act of absolute desperation. What led Faustus to this point? I’d like to see the prequel.

This production is like the popular guy at school: it’s too cool and doesn’t give a toss about what anyone thinks of it as long as we remain, from a distance, suitably impressed with its latest display of combined talents. For the duration of the show, we were kept at arm’s length, looking in and never given the human elements – begging to be brought to the fore – that would have prompted a human response. I almost feel guilty about not having felt anything for anyone. But I don’t think I was alone in my confounded state. As the curtain call was rushed through (untidier than any I’ve seen) the audience applauded appreciatively…because we had been in the company of greatness for the last hour and forty-five minutes.

As a cautionary tale, this Faustus is a good recollection of a drunk’s worst deeds. And the deeds don’t seem to be all that bad. Oh yes, on paper, they are. I was expecting horrific, ghastly scenes, particularly of each deadly sin but all seven were wrapped up neatly in Terracini’s black lycra dress (very Pierucci) and over in under three minutes. I admit I was shocked to see Gretchen raped by her dying brother but mostly surprised. To what end were we asked to bear witness to such an act? Was it her hell on earth? Was it his return to baser human instinct? Was it her descent into madness? Was it really necessary? Too many inconsistencies and unfinished stories throughout left me dissatisfied. I found myself questioning the scale and perceived value of a (co-) production such as this.

Faustus will continue to attract audiences on the strength of its co-producers, its company of actors and its classic story re-told. Personally, I think it’s ready to be workshopped.

This review published originally on briztix.com

Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Lonliness

La Boite & STC

The Roundhouse

14th May – 12th June 2011

Review by Sam Coward

“Boring the audience is the one true sin in theatre. We’ve been boring audiences for decades now…” Anthony Neilson (The Guardian 21st March 2007)

The most talked about show of the year opened last night at The Roundhouse…and was anything but boring. A colourful and enthusiastic full house enjoyed this most unique and unusual theatrical experience.

Brought to life by the collaborative geniuses ofLa Boite Theatre Company and Sydney Theatre Company, EDWARD GANT’S AMAZING FEATS OF LONELINESS lived up to the hype surrounding its Brisbane premiere. In this production, we find another example of a simple story told superbly, entertaining the ever-increasing appetite of the Brisbane theatre community.

First time main stage director, Sarah Goodes, has allowed her imagination to run wild and in her words, “everyone has been able to dive deep into their theatrical tool kit” to deliver this magical piece; the first-born for this joint venture between these two companies. Goodes has assembled an impressive team of creatives and has demanded a lot from the show’s production elements, which, without exception, surpass expectation.

EDWARD GANT explores the wondrous, grotesque, the beautiful and the bizarre; the scene is set as the vaudevillian freak show fills the room. Design and production elements, as you would expect from a production of this calibre, are brilliant.Renee Mulder (set design) has delivered a functional and gritty workplace, raw and open, yet magical and full of promise; the clever central rotunda serving as its main feature, with multiple traps and other hidden trickery adding to the carnival mystery. With exposed costume racks and gantry, we are informed that this is a travelling troupe; here only briefly to tell their tales, then tramp on with their small hands and cabbage cologne.

Lighting, by Damien Cooper, was a production element highlight, truly transforming locations and enhancing mood with precision and sensitive clarity. I loved the use of lead lights as footers and then as hand-helds for effect. On the same set and with light alone, we were taken to Nepal. Now, I am usually critical of these elements and often feel I am being asked a lot of, to go where the story leads, but in this instance I was swept up and away, utterly convinced.

Romance Was Born, responsible for the costuming and clearly settling into a relationship with STC that works like a charm, created a wardrobe that was, in a word, superb. Each character was clearly identifiable and the detail and degree of difficulty in some of the pieces was pure artwork. The pimple mask in particular. Special mention must also go to the stage manager (Sue Benfer) and hands involved in this production, as the many and complex effects and mechanics were seamless and most impressive.

From the outset, we meet the troupe and are invited by Gant (Paul Bishop) to come along for the ride as they prepare to entertain us; we, the audience, are under no illusion that this is a troupe performing sequential stories in true vaudevillian style. As leader of the troupe, Bishop is outstanding. I was eager to see how he tackled this large contemporary character; I am happy to report it was with commitment and skill. Every subtlety and nuance clearly controlled but never contrived, his posturing and physicality embodying the snake oil merchant or travelling evangelist and portraying warmth towards his creation and his troupe. This was most noticeable when he was merely observing. There was a genuine quality about his performance that belied the show’s form, and yet like most things with this show, as head bending as that sounds, it worked.

Lindsay Farris, playing Nicholas Ludd, brought a roguish masculinity to the stage. No sooner had this been nicely established, he proceeded to embody a more than believable gorgeous sister in the first of the two stories to be told as per the whim of the playwright, Neilson or by the director, Goodes; at this point, who can tell? Everything is spinning, up is down, left is right and pimples are full of cheese……wait, I’ll finish this later for reasons you will later learn. Farris provides the rebel factor and spars well with the experienced Bishop, we get to see the full gamut of performance in Farris; comedy, tragedy, real, absurd and even a black face Indian healer (yes, they use black face, yes it works, yes it fits the style and era that they are depicting and yes I and everyone else laughed and loved it. I thought I should make that clear before moving on). For me, some of the shows highest highs involved this exciting young actor and I will follow his career with great anticipation.

Bryan Probets, playing Jack Dearlove, provides the show’s funny bone, with a character instantly identifiable and akin to the dad in Strictly Ballroom. Probets’ physical humor, timing and pathos give a sense of the most comfortable stage professional I have seen. His loyalty to Gant and his own broken existence are displayed with pathetic perfection.

Emily Tomlins, as Madame Poulet, beguiled us as loyal player and aloof devotee of Gant. I saw Emily in last year’s Sydney Fringe Festival, in A Tiny Chorus and saw many of the traits from that character carry into her Madame Poulet. The consummate storyteller, Tomlins has the rare ability of being able to convey several emotions simultaneously; perhaps it’s the kind of multi tasking that is magnified by being the only female in this ensemble. Her characters: the ugly sister, the jam roll junkie love interest of Sgt Jack and (believe it or not) a teddy bear, Tomlins brings a truth to her work and an endearing quality that allows you to feel everything she does.

The characters traverse their inbuilt production landscape of the Carnival with the workman like commitment you would expect of a troupe in this era and form, the show rolls on from the first story to the next and is halted abruptly by Gant, who wishes not to pursue its telling and leaves the performance within and without at a stand still. Some poetic impro from Ludd attempts to stabilise the show but he is suddenly lost for words and Gant reappears as the Phantom of the Dry: another device of Gant’s trickery. As Ludd trudges on, we meet the teddy bear, now…stop…wait a minute…where this came from I have no idea and I am not a hundred percent sure that it worked as intended. Yes, the micro story of the life of a young boy’s bear was beautiful but what it was doing here in the play I can’t explain. Either it didn’t quite come off or it could simply be another example of Neilson’s mind intercourse at work. In any event it did lead us to the ultimate falling out between Gant and Ludd. Ludd decides he can no longer be party to such whimsical nonsense and chooses to go off in search of a greater truth, upon which all is revealed and the stories told are closer to home than you would have believed…or else missed altogether if it were not for one last, clever line.

The opening night audience was very vocal in their appreciation. In fact, the laughter came thick and fast and from my seat, often seemed unwarranted. For me this show was more beautiful than it was funny. Like any good Vaudeville, it had its share of innuendo, vomit, bum and gross jokes but the simmering undertones resonated louder for me than the giggle material. Perhaps that’s the genius of the writer: to concoct a script that can speak to several layers of each audience. The twist of form from Vaudeville to realism to clowning and beyond gives this show a sense of radical freedom and a true sense of creation.

All told, it is a very slick, sensational piece of theatre: bold, challenging, cheese-filled pimples and all. Perhaps Gant himself best sums up what was witnessed in The Roundhouse last night: “In a world where death is at our shoulder every hour, even the smallest act of creativity is a marvellous, courageous thing.”

Be sure to catch this marvellous, courageous thing before the caravan heads south to Sydney.

P.S. Pimples aren’t filled with cheese; they’re filled with pearls. Everyone knows that.

This review published originally on briztix.com

Cherry Orchard

heartbeast vicious theatre

Trinity Hall

heartBeast vicious theatre ensemble offers the complete theatrical experience. As my friend and I entered the venue – an old, vaguely familiar church hall in the Valley (I remember rehearsing something there. Into the Woods. It was chilly back then too) – the Artistic Director of the company, Michael Beh, greeted us. He was, in true ensemble style, taking his turn at the door and he made us feel most welcome.

Warm, subdued lighting, comfortable lounges, a baby grand piano, live music from members of the cast (clad in exquisite vintage designs; a hint of what was to come) as well as the special attention we received from the Front of House staff, who brought champagne and canapés to us on the lounge, all combined to set the old world, sophisticated house party scene and indeed, the Chekhovian mood…whatever that may be. Whatever it has been before, HeartBeast have created something quite special, so that from the very moment you set foot in the venue, the theatrical event begins.

Warm, subdued lighting, comfortable lounges, a baby grand piano, live music from members of the cast (clad in exquisite vintage designs; a hint of what was to come) as well as the special attention we received from the Front of House staff, who brought champagne and canapés to us on the lounge, all combined to set the old world, sophisticated house party scene and indeed, the Chekhovian mood…whatever that may be. Whatever it has been before, HeartBeast have created something quite special, so that from the very moment you set foot in the venue, the theatrical event begins.

CHERRY ORCHARD was the last of Chekhov’s plays. It is a well-known fact that he wrote it as a comedy, however; Stanislavski, much to Chekhov’s chagrin, for its premiere at Moscow Arts Theatre, directed it as a tragedy. It seems to me that since then, this play has suffered from something akin to Youngest Child Syndrome, struggling, in the great scheme of things, to work out who (or what) it really is (my brother, the youngest child, will wonder at that). Part comedy, part tragedy then, CHERRY ORCHARD centres around an aristocratic family who makes no move to save their beloved estate and famed cherry orchard as it goes to auction to pay the mortgage (and is subsequently bought by the son of a former servant, whose intent it is to demolish the orchard). It deals with the surface level issues of money and class structure, sure, but Chekhov, as he was wont to do, used the basic, everyday conversations, routines and struggles of a cross-section of Russian people to explore much more deeply, the human condition and the apparent futility of desire, ambition and hard work.

This production of CHERRY ORCHARD is a visual feast. Absolutely superb vintage costumes, sourced from London and Paris (Jan Mandrusiak & Michael Beh), give this timeless story a distinct 1950’s feel, which might sound ridiculous but it is a bold call that works superbly. I was pleased to note, as I know some of you will be, that the gorgeous costumes used in this production, along with the vintage jewellery and various set pieces are all up for sale at the conclusion of the season. Check out heartbeast.com/firesale

An interesting, slightly decaying, open timber set (Genevieve Ganner & Peter Crees) provides us with just the bare bones of the estate, exposing its past, present and future, with the simple addition of a few select furniture pieces made cleverly from cherry boxes. The cast carried out the few scene changes efficiently. The rich, cherry red design concept was almost overwhelming (my friend commented that he would have preferred to see just a few touches of red, here and there). But I loved it. I loved that it was excessive and, to me, a reflection of the lavishness of life in the Russian upper echelons. Sumptuous red vintage dresses, hats, throws, shoes, bags…clearly, no expense has been spared on wardrobe and no detail, down to the seamed stockings, has been left unattended. Adding to the effect is the deeply set red backdrop, of immense velvet curtains and the string of red party lights in their obvious symbolic state. The lighting design (Jason Harding & Rory Fitzpatrick) serves the purpose but as operators, in full view of the audience, they could do with a little more self-discipline during the course of the show!

There is excellent focus on stage and the cast is able to sustain a solid fourth wall. There are a few dynamic connections established and I would like to see time devoted to the further development of interesting relationships and also, closer attention given to diction.

Overall, it is a very young ensemble and they have done a lovely job of delivering a challenging classical text. I hope that by the end of the run, they can trust themselves and each other enough to let go of their training and technique (but not their diction) just a little, just to see what it feels like. Then they’ll be hooked on that feeling and know that it is there to be found again and again. What this beautiful looking production needs is its cast to come truly alive within its mass of glorious colour.

We seem to have so much reverence for Chekhov and yet we need to approach the work as we do any text, without trepidation and with a sense of responsibility, beyond all else, to tell the story. Chekhov’s story, of a passively self-destructive family, is so rich that if history, emotion and motive fail to inform every moment, all we get is a collection of picturesque vignettes without impulse, desire or passion. There were many moments that hit the mark and there is potential for many more to do the same.

heartBeast vicious theatre ensemble is an exciting young company that has at its disposal, all the elements, including an inspired, courageous and caring Artistic Director to guide them through countless more opportunities to develop their work and their audiences. It is, once again, wonderful to see that another vibrant, passionate new company can emerge in Brisbane and immediately be taken seriously.

The Cast:

Lubov Andreyevna Ranevskaya: Selina Kadell
Leonid Andreyevitch Gaev: Ben van Trier
Anya: Jordan Kadell
Varya: Emily Pollard
Ermolai Alexeyevitch Lopakhin: Peter Crees
Simeon Panteleyevitch Epikhodov & Boris Borisovitch Simeonov Pishin: David Bentley
Charlotta Ivanova: Adrienne Costello
Peter Sergeyevitch Trofimov: Thomas Hutchins
Dunyasha: Samantha Cable
Fiers: Ian Bielenberg
Yasha: Kristin Santic

This review originally published on briztix.com

Empire Burning

Metro Arts & Eugene Gilfedder

Metro Arts

13th – 28th May 2011

If, as an artist, you were to ask yourself, “What’s the most ridiculously relevant and immensely difficult piece of contemporary theatre I could possibly create and deliver to unsuspecting audiences in Brisbane?”Eugene Gilfedder’s EMPIRE BURNING would be it.

The Fall of Rome, under the rule of Nero, a licentious, self-absorbed emperor, who, according to the history books, sought notoriety for his artistic endeavors in an age when an emperor’s involvement in the arts was unacceptable, is a massive narrative undertaking. To attempt to draw the parallels between that chaotic era (circa AD 50 – AD 68) and our current global political climate is truly ambitious. To interweave a wry commentary on the theatre industry and the job of acting itself is the delicious cherry on top.

Poetic, complex language, complex characters, plot twists and layers to rival the catacombs of Paris plus the incredibly challenging, disturbingly current, familiar, fear-inducing themes of terrorism, the abuse of power and the inevitable implosion of any powerful group, all rear their intriguingly ugly heads, forcing us to confront everything we might do our best to avoid hearing about by turning off the TV and logging out of Twitter.

The almost imposing set, of grey Roman columns and white screens between, onto which are projected images of stone, flames and figures clad in gold armour or togas, in their various poses and reposes, almost worked for me. I was unconvinced by the multi-media in this production, as I was by the soundscape. There was something not quite strong enough in the essence of these elements and so they did not, as I had expected, have a powerful impact. At least, not on this reviewer.

Geoff Squires’ lighting design, with its varying degrees of light and shade and the red of the Great Fire (and of passion, discontent and dissent) perfectly encapsulates the heavy mood of the piece.

So with its columns, smoke, screens and its players clad in suits…the political stage is set. Of course, there is no better setting than the dramatic realm of political upheaval for both comedy and tragedy. On this small, grey, smoky stage, in the intimate surrounds of the Sue Benner Theatre at Metro Arts, Gilfedder presents us, as if it were John the Baptist’s head on a silver platter, a world of sinister strategy and status quo trappings that drip blood and reek of betrayal.

The myriad seeds planted throughout the show take their time to germinate. This is a show that will – and must – be discussed long after its conclusion.

Some of the themes – the political, the games that are played for power, the crumbling of an empire – are obvious. Others – the Oedipal complex and abandonment issues, the ineptitude of the bureaucracy, the pursuit of answers, no matter how unsatisfactory – are slightly more shrouded, though no less vital to the turning of this monstrous wheel. Let’s not forget the narcissistic attitudes of the power brokers, their personal agendas and the impact on the people, globalisation and the notion of empires built by power hungry men, the woman with her own ambition left unfulfilled and her power brutally ripped from her grasp, the war on terror, which inadvertently creates a war on ordinary life, mildly asking of us all, “What do we live by? What do we live for?”

All this, from the mind of one man: Gilfedder. He has brought an incredible vision to fruition. Gilfedder is writer, actor, designer, director and producer. One has to admire the genius and commitment and, let’s face it, the pure gall of pursuing the challenge of crafting something so complex, so intriguing, so demanding, that in the hands of lessor actors it would be a dismal failure.

This company of actors is very nearly what we might call the collective cream of the crop. Gilfedder, Michael FutcherSteven TandySasha Janowitz,Niki-J PriceDan CrestiniDamien Cassidy…the cast list reads like a Who’s Who of Queensland theatre.

In a perfect example of art imitating life, his son, Finn Gilfedder-Cooney, joins Gilfedder; master and apprentice both on stage and off. The resemblance is uncanny; those typical Gilfedder traits – the eyes behind the steely gaze, the stance and sure gesture to support minimal blocking, the strong, set jaw in clear commitment to the character and aiding the vocal choices – unmistakable. The connection between the two did not go unnoticed and nor did the wry humour behind the bitter jabs within dialogue that must have seemed ironic in rehearsals.

Gilfedder-Cooney does a fine job as Nero, the obsessive, self-important, self-destructive, conflicted emperor, torn between the ego-stroking of the senators, invariably leading to the corruption of the power that has been thrust by his mother upon him (absolute power corrupts absolutely) and the wisdom of Seneca’s teachings. And this in addition to his misguided ambition to become a performing artist! It is said that Nero sang (some historical sources say that he sang, others say that he played a fiddle) whilst watching Rome burn to the ground and, before he committed suicide in AD 68 (rather than be flogged to death by order of the senate), Nero’s last words were, “Qualis artifex pereo.” (“What an artist the world loses in me.”)

As his tutor, Seneca, Gilfedder is the most comfortable on this stage, delivering a solid performance, particularly in the intense work with the silent Prisoner (Dan Crestini) and in his support of what was, in my opinion, Niki-J Price’s best work in this production, during the demise of her character, Nero’s mother, Agrippina. I was unconvinced by Price’s performance until her break down, at which point, she has survived yet another of her son’s diabolical plots to kill her (according to the sources, there were several; Gilfedder’s text reveals one). This part of Price’s performance, dripping wet, bedraggled and betrayed by her golden boy finally gone mad, was completely convincing and I would have liked to see the same fearlessness and commitment to the role from the outset.

As the mute Prisoner, Dan Crestini is incredible to watch and I wish it had been easier to see him. As it was, in the third row, I found myself peering around the heads in front of me so as not to miss a moment of his superbly controlled contempt, fear and fierce determination to stay silent (and to a large extent, still). The extreme physicality of this role as created by Crestini, with his gnarled, damaged hands and his severe burns, was intense and tension inducing for the audience and, for the actor, incredibly physically demanding.

Steven Tandy (Burrus) and Sasha Janowicz (Piso) settled into their roles and both gave good performances and Michael Futcher (Rufus), perhaps better known to Brisbane audiences as a director, was all actor on this stage, his presence and easy confidence making his Rufus’s involvement in the schemes to rid the empire of its deficient ruler, unassuming and unexpectedly, almost pleasant.

In this production there is obvious trust and respect for its mastermind who, in his own words, “acknowledges that the difficulty was part of the experiment of this work” (Director’s Notes).

In EMPIRE BURNING, Gilfedder has given a wonderful gift to both actors and audiences. We see, through the eyes of those who have gone before us, our own uncertainty, turmoil and disbelief played out on a stage that could be any top strata government office. Regardless of how many times we see it, and regardless of the different guises in which we see it, it’s always confronting and frightening to recognise the fact that over thousands and thousands of years, the parameters may have changed but the politics of the empire have stayed exactly the same.

There is something so incredible about the feat itself, about the successful staging of this production and the fact that Gilfedder is able to attract and assemble some of the most talented actors in this city at this time and, considering the degree of difficulty of his text, or perhaps because of it, they have stretched themselves to the extent that they are able to achieve together, a masterful production that is an absolute treat for those involved on stage and off. That is something worthy of the theatrical history books.

This review published originally on briztix.com

GREASE

Harvest Rain Theatre Company

6th-22nd May 2011

QPAC Playhouse

 

“Harvest Rain is about trust & teamwork. It’s not about one person…” 

Tim O’Connor, Artistic Director, Harvest Rain Theatre Company.
Naomi Price, in her debut as Director, has embodied this statement and has seen Harvest Rain’s production of Greasedeliver on all of its promises.

We all know Grease, we all love Grease; we’ve seen it, sung it, thrown parties in homage to its 1950’s vibe and lived every moment ourselves, as the geek or the cool guy, the jock, the trouble maker, the teacher’s pet or the teacher. There are issues to be found within it, sure; whether or not they are relevant to a contemporary audience is entirely dependent on the director’s treatment of the story. This is a very safe version of a show that, in my experience, can be just as challenging and confronting as any other, in terms of addressing the issues of casual sex, unwanted pregnancies, peer pressure, identity and all that comes with a schooling system that throws boys and girls together without educating them about how to actually relate to one another.

These multiple layers are not essential to the success of Grease. The story itself is basic – boy meets girl, boy shuns girl, girl gets extreme makeover and wins boy back – the classic film is iconic and this production brings to larger-than-life, the caricatures we so often ordinarily hate to see in the theatre. This production provided a tongue-in-cheek vehicle for those characters to flourish and there were those on stage who lived up to the task and those who did not.

If we look hard enough at this particular production, we get a couple of the messages, about peer pressure and the value of retaining one’s identity…but only just. Personally, I didn’t feel the need to look past the choreography, the colour and the humour of the characters. I didn’t feel that this cast was asking anything more of me.

Having said that, the sound elements and a design flaw, after an impressive and promising opening effect, prevented this show from achieving a more professional finish, which I felt it deserved. The design flaw? Crinkles in the silver stair tape. I know. I’m being really picky but when presented with such a minimalistic set, in a show that I know back to front and inside out, I was bound to notice even the slightest inadequacy. I was disappointed in the lack of attention to detail. Josh McIntosh has obviously had a clear concept and it needed to be presented exactly as envisaged. And the sound? From the outset, there were sound issues, with some headsets dropping in and out (and some being brought up late) and the band quite often overpowering the vocalists, who were mostly excellent. As anticipated, Jason Glenwright’s lighting design was superb. If he had a twin who was sound-inclined, we could expect a more consistently professional standard of show in Brisbane!

As is to be expected from a company who has established a solid reputation in the training of young artists, the ensemble work is strong. With terrific, funky, 50’s inspired choreography by Callum Mansfield and well-coordinated, though slightly conservative costumes, this Grease is somewhat sanitised but it is, as I said, fun, fun, fun!

The cast on opening night used their exuberance to overcome the usual jitters and get on with the job. Under the musical direction of Daniel Gibney, the band did a great job. Maitlohn Drew’s additional vocal arrangements, including an a capella arrangement of We Go Together to open and close the show was an interesting choice that could have gone horribly wrong had it not sounded so good.

In a role that is written as a vehicle for a local celebrity to appear out of the light, so that we may be briefly graced by his presence, Luke Kennedy stole the show. His Teen Angel is by far the best I’ve seen…and heard.

As Doody, Shaun Kohlman’srendition of Magic Changes had a similar feel: an easy-going manner and good vocals, which made it another highlight for me.Blake Testro’s Danny was spot on and being a good-looking boy with a great voice, he is perfectly cast. Overall, in this production on opening night, the boys outshone the girls.
The Pink Ladies did not seem to connect, in fact, there wasn’t a lot of chemistry on stage at all and the five-week rehearsal process may well have focused on vocals, staging and choreography. Jan was probably the most consistent in terms of characterisation. Marty also had her moments, giving Freddy My Love a new, slightly naughtier spin and thus, a different dimension to her character. But with a few pitch issues amongst the female leads, Vocal Director, Sophie Mangan, has a bit of work to do during the run.

It’s great to see so many young performers having the time of their lives on a main stage. On any stage. The industry is such a tough one that any ambition to be a part of it must start with, and be fuelled by, passion and self-confidence and Harvest Rain supplies these in abundance.

If you’re looking for intellectually stimulating or ethically or emotionally challenging theatre, you won’t find it here. What you will find is a light, bright, vibrant, fun family-friendly show. What else would you expect from Harvest Rain’s Grease?!

Company of Grease. Image by Rebecca Green.

This is a high octane, colourful, fun-filled show and a terrific first for Naomi Price. As Director, she has a bright future ahead of her and I look forward to her next directorial endeavor.
 

 

RENT

Ignations Musical Society

29th April-20th May

Schonell Theatre 


NO DAY BUT TODAY

How do you measure…measure a show?

In voices, in acting, in lighting, in storytelling. In staging, direction, emotion and design. Musicians, in wardrobe, in sound and feeling like I’ve been there. This is how I measure…measure a show.

Productions like this make it a joy to be the reviewer. It’s so easy to write about a show that sells its story so well that I find myself immersed in it and on my feet at its conclusion. Ignatians’ RENT is as good as any of the main stage productions I’ve seen. And for this reason, for the hard-working community theatre companies like this one, I review community theatre as I do professional.

Make no mistake, whether the show appeals to you or not, Jonathan Larson’s RENT is powerful stuff. It’s an incredibly powerful story, with its life-affirming message – no day but today – and tragic real life undertones.

Larson spent several years developing RENT, collaborating, workshopping and re-writing (including, taking on board, advice from Stephen Sondheim and a Dramaturge, who suggested he re-write the entire show from each of the character’s perspectives, so that he might better understand them). But at the age of 35, ten days before his 36th birthday, on the night of the final dress rehearsal, Larson suffered an aneurysm – he had Marfan Syndrome – and he died on the kitchen floor, without ever seeing his show open on Broadway.

Dealing with such dark issues as homelessness, drug addiction, death and AIDS, RENT begs an optimistic approach and an authenticity in its delivery that must come from raw, real, open, honest emotion or it is likely to come across as condescending or preachy. While Act 1 is a real celebration of life and all its possibilities, Act 2 is much more abut life’s ramifications and in this production, we get both ends of the spectrum, from joy to despair and back again, leaving us with a sense of hope and an unmistakably happy message, rather than one of dismal fate, that there is indeed, no day but today.

This production boasts a tight, talented cast and under the confident, inspired direction of John Peek, the company delivers an absolutely superb piece of theatre.

I’m a firm believer in the power of perfect casting. Kyle Hunter (Mark),James Gauci (Roger), Emma Taviani (Mimi), Jaqueline Ozorio (Joanne),Lauren Ware (Maureen), Wade Colbran-Thomas (Collins) and George Kennedy (Angel) are all perfectly cast. The strength of the ensemble is impressive, both vocally and visually (costumes are by Sean Hoban) and the ensemble’s importance to the story is not lost, as we see them as tango dancers, adding an extra dynamic dimension to Tango: Maureen (Ingrid Cameron’s choreography), as the support group of HIV sufferers, as the café patrons and as the pitiful homeless of the East Village, NYC. The opening of Act 2, Seasons of Love, is particularly moving.

The threadbare New York loft-inspired, industrial-sized scaffold set, cleverly designed by Shane Rodwell (complete with stairs and poles and fencing) and intriguingly lit by Andrew Haden, has performers leaping and ducking and weaving in and out of its shadows. Serving as both interior and exterior settings, this set demands a level of performance fitness from every member of the cast to rival that of any actress currently playing Brooke Wyndham!

Special mention goes to Emma Taviani, for her six-inch-stiletto-strut across the upper level of scaffolding and down the stairs, in her dead sexy number,Out Tonight (not to mention a little pole dancing to boot)! In this role, Tavianitotally floored me. I was underwhelmed by her recent performance in I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change but the role of Mimi seems to be much more her style. She has completely embraced the complexities of this wounded, desperate soul and delivers outstanding vocals and sassy moves, making her easy to adore and thus making her dependency on Benjamin Coffin III (Matthew Dennett) and her demise in Act 2, all the more disconcerting.
Taviani and Gauci are perfectly paired as Mimi and Roger. It’s a relationship that is often softened and left unexplored but I felt that these two left little untouched and brought to their performances that cruel confusion of the reality of timely (or untimely) love. I have always had a problem with Larson’s decision to bring Mimi back to life. Part of the power of the story that inspired him (Puccini’s La Boheme, which in turn, was based on vignettes byHenri Murger, about the bohemians living in the Latin quarter of 1840’s Paris) is that Rodolfo loses Mimi. Having said that, Taviani and Gauci made her survival a highlight; Mimi’s impulse to live and her love for Roger, encapsulated in a single gasp that was neither overplayed nor undervalued in this precious moment. A bit of lovely, gentle, insightful direction there, methinks.

As Mark, filmmaker and narrator of the year in the lives of these bohemians,Kyle Hunter is necessarily nerdy and earnest. Some say this character is semi-autobiographical and to this I can only say that Larson himself would not be disappointed with Hunter’s interpretation of the role. In short, his Mark is a delightful foil to the angst-ridden Roger, played superbly by James Gauci.Gauci is the absolute epitome of Roger: gritty, raw, charismatic and instantly, achingly recognisable in One Song Glory as the struggling, self-loathing artist, with rock-god integrity and intense frustration that drives himself and his nearest and dearest almost to distraction. Magic happens when Gauci andTaviani first meet and sing Light My Candle and this magic is sustained throughout, whenever they appear together on stage.

Wade Colbran-Thomas, as Collins, gives us an easy confident manner and rich, gospel vocal tone. In his numbers, Santa Fe and I’ll Cover You (Reprise),Colbran-Thomas delivers in turns, pure joy and utter despair. The full gamut of Collins’ emotions is, of course, inspired not only by the fleeting joys and the harsh realities of life but also by his relationship with Angel. The role of Angel is arguably the most challenging of all and George Kennedy gives us the gift of playing her (yes, that’s right; her) in such a way as to win us over with effortless charm. Today 4 U is my least favourite number, probably because I rarely see it done well, but Kennedy is vocally suitable and visually dynamic, making it another exciting and genuinely celebratory, joyous moment.

The other number I’ve never been quite convinced about is Maureen’s performance art piece, Over the Moon; in fact, it’s fair to say that I usually hold my breath and wait for it to fail. Not so in this case. Lauren Ware, in her first lead role, blew me away. Her gutsy, cheeky, incredibly sexy rendition of this bizarre number, reminded me of the massive political issues in the piece and also, of just how deceptively easy it can be to seduce an entire audience into mooing with you. Believe it! You too, will moo! As a performer, Ware has proven that she can competently tackle one of the most coveted roles in contemporary musical theatre with confidence and sassy style.

Jaqueline Ozorio, plays Maureen’s partner (Mark’s ex…it’s complicated). I first noticed Ozorio in that same production of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change and in this role, she has the same appeal. Ozorio comes across as genuine and playful, the kind of rock solid, shining diamond every girl should have as her best friend. I adored her as Joanne and I only wish that her powerhouse duet with Ware, Take Me or Leave Me, had been more physical, more dynamic, and more deliciously vicious. It’s a tough number to pull off, having been done by every Broadway belting pair and wannabe in the world and I felt that these two could do a lot more with it. I wanted them to OWN it. Perhaps they will by the end of the run. Perhaps bringing them off the scaffold, which seemed inspired at first, might have brought us closer to the action and raised the stakes. Having said that, their vocals are incredible, as are every performer’s, right down to the last ensemble member, due largely, I suspect, to Peek’s high expectations and his talents as Voice Teacher.

Musical Director, Matthew Nutley, with a five-piece band (Nutley, Luke Volker, Lawrie Esmond, Steve Norris and Leon Coate), gives RENT its real rock feel and Sound Designer, Matthew Erskine has made sure that levels are well and truly balanced, allowing the audience to enjoy both the band and the singers, in what some might say is a highly irregular live theatre experience!

The real strength of this production is its passion, its energy and the commitment and collaborative efforts of everyone involved. This is a company that has gone from strength to strength since the early 1970’s and with a new committee at the helm, I’m excited to see what they will dare to bring next, to our big table of Brisbane live theatre.

Whether or not you’re a fan of RENT, you must see this latest reincarnation byIgnatians Musical Society. It will wake you up, shake you up and rock your world! La vie boheme!

 


Jekyll & Hyde

Blue Fish Theatrical Productions

7th-16th April

Schonell Theatre 

Well. Blue Fish Theatrical Productionshave brought us the Brisbane premiere of JEKYLL AND HYDE. It’s a tough show to do well. Is it any wonder that it has taken so long to reach a Brisbane stage? Originally conceived for the stage by Frank Wildhorn and Steve Cuden, this is noPinafore. This is a dark, heady, richly orchestrated re-invention of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1887 novella, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I love this show – its story, its characters, its music (despite what JRB had to say, in a recent master class, about Wildhorn’s work with regard to singers having to sing it)!

My quandary is this: why must relatively new companies insist on doing the biggest, glossiest, most coveted and most complex shows in the catalogue? I’m not saying they should do Pinafore or Pirates (or any Gilbert and Sullivan for that matter but, then again, it is perfectly valid teeth-cutting material) and I didn’t see Spamalot last year, so I can’t comment on this company’s inaugural production. Their current one, however, I’m genuinely disappointed to say, is perhaps, a bridge too far.

There is merit in starting small. Blue Fish have not started small. They have started this year in a big – a very big – way, in the big old Schonell Theatre, with a big show (though this particular show, in my opinion, certainly lends itself to the intimacies of boutique staging in a smaller space). Don’t get me wrong, I want artists and independent companies to dream big and I admire ambition…if all the elements come together to give us a clear vision and a strong story that is entertaining or challenging or intriguing. A committed and talented cast is not enough. A production of this magnitude needs no deficiencies. And to this end, the deficiencies of this production need to rest squarely at the feet of the director. With so much talent on stage and plenty of resources, this show should have been excellent.

Instead, it was surprisingly lacking. There were strange, at times incomprehensible, directorial decisions, which complicated things well beyond what Wildhorn’s music or Bricusse’s book has done.

A very small, kind audience of family and friends attended on Sunday night. There was time before the show for me to pour over the impressive program and wonder, “Who is this man, Michael Mudd, who calls himself ‘internationally acclaimed actor and director’”? Far be it from me to question anybody’s resume but I need to see some sort of evidence in the work before I give credit. And his is not the only impressive bio! This company has some collective runs on the board! All the more reason, one would think, to expect a great show.

The chilling opening strains of the score were filled with promise and under the musical direction of Julie Whiting, the orchestra did a fine job, but – and it comes back to the director – the music (along with the massive set) and not the story, appeared after that to drive the show.

The first of many bizarre moments (and there were many) was the sudden appearance – for no apparent reason – of ballroom dancers upstage of Dr Jekyll (Lionel Thieussen) and Emma Carew (Ruth Bridgstock) during the tender duet, Take Me As I Am. I was so taken aback by this that I almost stood up and shouted, “Guys! Get off the stage! This is not your scene!” Instead I stopped myself and muttered something like, “Wow. Way to ruin a touching moment.” NOTE: Sitting next to the reviewer can, at times, be a little disconcerting. Personally, I don’t recommend it. Also, while I think of it, a note to the company: I don’t recommend singing directly to a reviewer. It’s kind of like eyeballing your auditioner. I mean, sure; ten points for confidence but really, if you do a good job, I’ll like you. I promise. If you’ve been directed to sing out front, tell the whole audience, not just one of us. Just saying.

Anyway, what a total insult, to have dancers dancing distractingly badly behind you, as you sing your heart out to somebody on stage! If it were me – and I am no diva, despite what you may have heard from my husband – I would have politely pointed out, at least three weeks prior to opening night, that the song was really pretty vital to establishing the relationship between two of the leading characters and for establishing the relationships of the guests at the engagement party, not so much. OF COURSE IT IS USUALLY THE DIRECTOR’S JOB TO REALISE THIS. How dare a director treat his performers with such mistrust and blatant disregard for their obvious talent, energy and commitment?! Credit to this sizable cast, who took on board, the mistrust and the bad direction and ran with it!

But wait. There’s more. We had contemporary interpretive dance throughout, at one stage, inexplicitly, three body-painted “Demon Dancers” appeared, swirling and twirling around Hyde and each other, in some sort of “BE THE DEMON” dance. Quite simply, each time random dancers appeared, they pulled focus to the point that it was laughable. And better suited to Wakakirri. Now, I love Wakakirri so I’m not having a go at it or at choreographer, Beth Lennon, or at her dancers. I am merely questioning the director’s decision to turn this gothic thriller into yet more material for the likes of Chris Lilley…like he needs any more Australian Arts Industry fodder!

Blue Fish have clearly had a budget and each department has done their job according to instruction, I’m sure (though some, like set and wardrobe, just barely). There could not have been any communication between anybody; otherwise we would have seen a more seamless production. I saw no overall vision and I was floored by the poorly designed, monumental set (Andrew Kennedy) that did little to serve the story or to support the performers in the telling of it. In fact, a couple of scene changes brought the show to a grinding halt (but oh, what fun it must have been to have a fly tower and a revolve with which to play)! Various lighting states (Tom Dodds) failed to light the required areas and characters on stage and a badly timed pyrotechnic effect killed the effect of the first murder. It makes one wonder what on earth happened during Tech Week?!

At first glance, costumes by Michelle Peloe appeared to have been put together beautifully but upon closer inspection, once one looked behind the façade, many pieces were shoddy and mismatched. Also, although I’m not supposed to say it, the red and black sexy Red Rat costumes were appropriate in the context, but they were unflattering and did more to distract than to seduce us. The nod to Burlesque during this scene did not go unnoticed. Indeed, how could it, with its big red burlesque fans (used appallingly, despite the fact that Brisbane is home to some of the country’s better burlesque performers)? As for those big red umbrellas for the caught-in-the-storm-acting…actually, let’s not speak of them.

Natalie Ridoutt, as Lucy, failed to belt confidently, her big number, Bring on the Men (same applies to her subsequent numbers) and succeeded in dissipating for me, her already vague interpretation of the role. The odd staging of Sympathy, Tenderness didn’t help her. I would love to see Ridoutt (and the rest of the cast) work with a more competent director. I do hope she doesn’t lose her voice before the end of the run. Similarly, Ruth Bridgstockas Emma, and Luke Venables as John, were both a delight to hear and see on stage and they appeared to work hard but they too failed to establish any sort of connection with Lionel Theunissen (Henry Jekyll/Edward Hyde). Don’t even start me on whether or not we should be able to see that anybody on stage is working hard.

Now. Hyde is the devil and the devil is sex, decadence and everything in evil excess, in stark contrast to the good, hard-working doctor, Henry Jekyll. In my opinion, Hyde should be as charismatic as he is evil, making him disastrously irresistible to Lucy and unrecognisable to all who know Jekyll. Unfortunately, both aspects of the man were too similar to make the struggle between good and evil really believable. The success of this story hangs on the convincing duality of this tormented man and I was unconvinced. Transformation. Confrontation. Fail. Theunissen has the voice for this role but what a demanding role to perform on stage (isn’t that why, at a professional level, Warlow himself turned down the opportunity)? Perhaps, two men should play the role. Not a new idea. Elsewhere, it has been done this way, in varying degrees of success. I wonder what others think about that?

I don’t undervalue what Blue Fish is trying to do. I want to see them do more of it. We need more of it. In its publicity material, its program and particularly in the social media “hype” (the word “hype” appears in much of the hype), this company promises a “professional” production. Are they paying people? I don’t know. To claim a “professional quality” production is one thing. To deliver it, regardless of whether or not people are receiving payment, is a different sort of hard work altogether.

The company seeks to produce professional quality theatre…and to act as a stepping-stone for performers as they move from non-professional productions to the professional productions produced on a national and international scale.

What Blue Fish Theatrical Productions deliver in JEKYLL AND HYDE is an extremely talented company, along with a lot of under-developed character and relationship work, bits and pieces of exciting conceptualisation and very little in terms of realisation or successful storytelling. This is not the stepping-stone that they have set out to provide. The elements are all there but they have not been brought together under a single vision and there has been blatant disregard for the talent. I have no doubt that everybody involved worked hard to bring this show to the stage. My disappointment is that, under the misguided reigns of this director, despite their hard work, they have not managed to bring it to life.


 

 

Boy Girl Wall

The Escapists

30th March-17th April 2011

The Roundhouse Theatre 

Conceptual, comical, physical theatre at its best.

It’s really difficult to describe this show but to stop at that would make a very poor review, wouldn’t it? It’s not a love story, as we were told from the outset; it’s a story about love. And inanimate objects. Sure, we meet a boy, a girl, a boss, a publisher, parents, and an Alan Cummings inspired (don’t try to tell me it wasn’t) “ironically gothic” librarian’s assistant and then a wall, a ceiling, a floor, a statue, a computer, two doors and a power box (is that everybody?)…All in a one-man show!

I could mention a whole host of hilarious little anecdotes, involving a bicycle named Penelope and the malicious Magpie of Montague Road, or tell you all about the co-operative matchmaking antics of the wall, the ceiling, the floor and the doors of a couple of West End apartments but that would be glossing over the real magic of this production, which is the storyteller himself.

Lucas Stibbard is the creative genius behind The Escapists, a creative team of “Realisers” (Matthew Ryan, Neridah Waters and Sarah Winter join Stibbard in the production process), working collaboratively to conceptualise and bring to life, truly unique new works. Stibbard’s performance – all seventy-five minutes of it – was dynamic (and the invitation he extended to me, to play a small role at a crucial moment in the play, a very clever and unexpected interactive device)!

In keeping with the slick nature of this production, deceptively simple design (Jonothan Oxlade), carefully measured lighting (Keith Clark) and sound effects and music (Neridah Waters) supported Stibbard’s efforts.

Props to La Boite Theatre Company’s Artistic Director, David Berthold, who saw the potential of boy girl wall in its previous incarnation at !Metro Arts in 2010. Going by the buzz of the capacity opening night crowd before and after the show, it appears Berthold made a wise choice.
This show is like taking an illicit substance before class and giggling ’til you think you’ve heard the bell…well, of course I can only imagine that’s what it’s like (it’s a show that is, after all, largely dependent on your imagination). I laughed ’til I had tears streaming down my cheeks and never more so than during an entire minute of sock puppet fellatio that has to be seen to be believed.

This is a truly original, hyper-creative piece that has clearly come from a place that is inaccessible to most of us. The characters and stories within the story are all at once enchanting, horrifying, mortifying and even, at times, endearing. Not without its tender moments, boy girl wall is unique, defying typical form and laughing out loud at traditional theatrical styles. Rather than pushing boundaries, it draws new ones, literally, in white chalk, on a blackboard painted floor and walls constructed from free-standing, old fashioned chalk boards; I remember them from Year 1, when the photocopying came back hot and purple-inked from the office.

This is the simplest of stories, told in the most complex, physically and mentally demanding multi-modal delivery imaginable. This is an Edinburgh Fringe show. This is a small global sensation. This is the little show that could and it is a little gem that mustn’t be missed.

Lucas Stibbard. Image by Al Caeiro.

 

 

Dani Girl 

Harvest Rain Theatre Company

17th March-2nd April 2011

Mina Parade Warehouse 

Maybe believing and make believing aren’t so different after all…”


When I heard last year, about a new, offbeat, heartwarming musical, premiering for the first time outside of the United States at Harvest Rain Theatre Company you can understand that I was both excited and scared. Perhaps I was more dubious than scared. But then I heard good things about DANI GIRL so there was no reason to miss the return season this year (I am of the opinion that there is rarely a good reason to miss anything but I’m a busy, busy woman)!

WARNING: There is no “happily ever after” Instead, we are offered a “satisfactorily (or not) ever after” Life, after all, is no fairy tale.

The bedtime stories we tell our children would have us believe otherwise. With a clever book by Christopher Dimond and score by Michael Kooman, based on the experiences of Dimond’s nephew, this is not an easy story to tell. But like the other “cancer shows” (Unbeatable andBreast Wishes come to mind), it’s not just about cancer. It’s about life. We are given a strong dose of reality in each of these shows and bitter reality, as we all know, goes down a whole lot easier with a spoonful of sugar. And, it seems, a cup overflowing with faith and good humour. I struggled with the faith and the unanswered prayers and the notion of heaven as closure but, like all good stories told well, I bought it in the end.

Despite its darkness and the inevitable tragic conclusion, DANI GIRL certainly has its lighter moments, full of colour and smiles and laughter, however; the lighter moments (and many of the darkest points) occur mostly in the mind of nine year old Dani (Heidi Enchelmaier), who is stuck in a stark, white hospital room equipped with giant lego bricks, which she shares with ten year old Marty (Shaun Kohlman), as they undergo various treatments for childhood cancer and take an imaginary journey together that serves to seal their friendship and prepare them for death. The premise? They must set out on a quest to get Dani’s hair back (lost during treatment) and along the way, find the answer to the question, “Why is cancer?”

I hope we will see more from Heidi and Shaun (I wish we’d seen them last week, in Mr Jason Robert Brown’s master class). These two talented performers established a terrific, fun friendship from the outset, which neither Dani’s mum (Juanita Ellis-Gloster) or her guardian angel, Raph (Dash Kruck) or indeed, death itself could render asunder. As Raph, and what appeared to be about a hundred other diverse characters, ranging from tender to sinister, it was Dash Kruck in the style of the genie in Aladdin, who owned the show. His energy and comedy drove the action and his Jekyll and Hyde type transformation from noble father/king to smoking, lurking, lascivious Cancer, drove home the symbolism of a family torn apart by the diagnosis of a child.

Whilst Dash was larger than life, becoming everything one’s child-like imagination could create, the three human roles were beautifully underplayed. Something in the writing allowed the real people to be real, though I’m not sure I believe that Dani was nine – maybe twelve – but then these kids fighting (or facing) death are different, aren’t they? We saw Dani’s fear and her courage and we felt her pain and joy in a real, heart-wrenching way that will be horribly familiar to people who have (or have known) a sick child.

I loved the pure, clear, confident young voices in this production (props to whoever has been coaching Dash)! There is something so special now, about basic storytelling in the theatre and seeing, from time to time, really good, honest performers simply serving the nature of the work and delivering decent material without all of the bells and whistles we’ve become accustomed to seeing and hearing in the television talent show phenomena genre. Heidi and Shaun needed none of it. They have been well directed byCarmen Glanville to tell the story simply and effectively and they achieve this by telling it from that child-like place we remember, of discovery and delight and wonder. It was nice to see production elements that supported this approach to the storytelling, rather than try to compete with it.

I felt that Dani’s mother needed to have a stronger presence. I wanted to feel more for her earlier on but Juanita Ellis-Gloster gives us very little in her straight acting. The book doesn’t help her, full of faith and prayer rhetoric. This is a tough role, though, right up there with that of the mother in Bare the Musical and Ellis-Gloster does her some justice. It was when she sang that we got the full gamut of emotion. Now, THAT is how to sell a song!

All this production needs now is a full orchestration to complement the wonderful voices and an independent schools’ national tour deal. I’m sure the support will continue, as it was Harvest Rain’s intern program and their support of Carmen Glanville’s desire to direct the piece, that got it up and running in the first place. It is funny, tender, touching, terrible, frightening, confronting, challenging and somehow, strangely comforting, regardless of whatever it is you believe…or make believe.

No, it’s not a happy ending. And you can accept what happens or not, just as you can in life but you will, at the very least, after having seen DANI GIRL, question the way in which you are living your own life, question what journey it is that you are on and you will, I guarantee – just try not to – donate on your way out the door, to the Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation, which this production proudly supports.

DANI GIRL is ultimately, an uplifting production, joyous and magical; it is truly a celebration of life and our wonder at it.
 

 

COSI

Brisbane Arts Theatre

12th March-16th April

Brisbane Arts Theatre 

Breathe. Hot. Breathe. Words. Tears. Silence. Strange. Stranger. Georgia. Gone. Lost. Missed. Stunning girl. So talented. So loved. So sad.

So. Two things I must tell you about the strangest, most moving opening night I have ever attended. Firstly, the gods of the Brisbane Arts Theatrewere up to mischief last night, killing the air-conditioning. This meant that we were hot, very hot; it seemed, somehow, very Australian.

Secondly, tonight’s performance was dedicated to the memory of Georgia McBride-Levi, who performed on the Brisbane Arts stage in 2010, as Mae in a production of Louis Nowra’s Radiance, had achieved high distinctions in Drama at QUT and had big dreams to do so much more. Tragically, her dreams came to an end earlier this year and after hearing about Georgia from her mother and her fiancé, we paid tribute to her by observing a minute’s silence. It was incredibly moving and I forgot that we’d come to see a comedy. Apparently, so did the cast, as it took them – understandably – the first 10 minutes of the opening scene to step up. Once the girls entered though, I felt a shift in energy (hearts must have lifted: the show must go on) and the story really started to take off.

And you know that Louis Nowra’s story is terrific! A recent arts graduate, Lewis, is invited to conduct an “experiment” with a group of mental patients; they are to put on a show that will be performed for the patients and staff of a Melbourne asylum. The show is Mozart’s opera about love and fidelity, COSI FAN TUTTE. But the cast can’t sing to save themselves and when anybody misses their meds, all hell breaks loose! In the general chaos brought about by mental patients being involved in any outside activity at all, and the big picture chaos of the Vietnam War and the end of a relationship, the show must go on.

This is a strong ensemble. Each character is so clearly defined and nicely underplayed, unique; each with their little quirks and nuances. Not once did I question anybody’s behaviour or motive. There were no caricatures and nothing, I am pleased to report, that I recognised from the film, which is, let’s face it, a trap that is all too easy for (some) directors to fall into. You know who you are.

Izabela Wasilewska gets top props for her completely honest, hilarious portrayal of Cherry. With a complete catalogue of facial expressions, a killer attitude and a couple of very committed kisses, she had the audience in stitches from start to finish.

Julie (Melissa Gardner) was suitably sensual, mysterious and resisted playing just “The Junkie”. I bought it but I could have been better convinced. Ruth (Kathy Kunde), on the other hand, was utterly convincing. She and Henry (Alex Lanham) were wonderful to watch. When I see anything at all, I can’t help but watch whoever is listening and Ruth and Henry both had some great moments without uttering a single word.

Everybody in this production takes advantage of the opportunities to shine. And there are plenty: COSI boasts such well-drawn characters, within a beautifully constructed text. The couple of scenes demanding a little violence were choreographed simply and effectively, drawing on Vanja Matula’s propensity for comical physical theatre. His vocal work – rich, bold and “theatrical”, worked better for the role of Nick than it did for Justin.

Glen Male (Roy), once he got going, contributed great energy to each scene and brought to the role, the appropriate arrogance and disregard for Lewis’s directorial decisions. Damien Campagnolo, the firebug (Doug), had me from the outset…and then lost me during his monologue, which really has to delivered superbly. There is an arc during this, one of the most popular male monologues on the audition circuit, and yet we didn’t see in it tonight, the full extent of Doug’s journey. Katie Dowling (Lucy) also has more to discover in her minor role. John Russell (Lewis) deserves something more to play off.

Russell has the final monologue of the play. Often, this is the undoing of COSI, in its final moments, failing to provide the closure we need, and sounding shallow and disconnected or totes OTT and thus, completely unconvincing. Happily, Russell’s delivery, supported by multi-media as if he were hosting a Where Are They Now type program, was superb; natural, heart-felt delivery that was so close to the tone of the tribute to Georgia, at the beginning of the evening that I found myself holding my breath, expecting to have to hold back tears again.

Generous, patient and insightful direction, by Susan O’Toole has obviously allowed this vibrant cast the time and freedom to play a little, in order for the actors to discover their characters from the inside-out and those vital connections between one another.

I’m hard pressed to find fault with this production. If I were to nit-pick, I would suggest that the scene changes need to be slicker. And, despite the lighting design (Russ Bedoes) and the sound (Matthew Davis) proving adequate, both were uninspiring and I will look forward to seeing more from this company, in upcoming productions, with regard to the technical elements.

The overall design concept is evident, from the pared-back set, designed and constructed by Richard Hunt (it’s hard to go wrong with an empty warehouse but I always appreciate attention to detail and in this respect, I was not disappointed), to the authentic 70’s garments and the gorgeous, colour-themed Cosi Fan Tutte gowns (Robyn Edwards). And what a wonderful time the cast and audience alike, had during the show-within-a-show scene; that of the opera, which involved some fabulous, absolutely hilarious choreography and the actors’ total commitment. This was the highlight for me.

COSI is such a wonderful play and it is so often done badly. The Brisbane Arts Theatre’s production is one of the good ones. It is colourful, fun and extremely funny. See it. You’ll be so glad you did.

 

 

Jason Robert Brown: Live & Intimate 

With Special Guest Rachael Beck

Your Management International & Harvest Rain Theatre Company

Friday 11th March 2011

Conservatorium Theatre

If you’re one of the musical theatre cognoscenti or a singer or musician or songwriter, and you were at the Queensland Conservatorium in Brisbane last night to see Tony Award winning composer/lyricist/showman extraordinaire, Jason Robert Brown, do his thing, you can probably die happy today. If you missed it, well, all I can say is, WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?!

JRB has a jazz soul and the most incredibly intelligent, insightful and quirky musical theatre mind. He must also have a whole lot of gospel and classical blood coursing through his veins; such is the breadth and depth of his work. His charismatic style and awesome ability on the keys have drawn comparisons with the likes of Billy Joel and his prowess as composer and lyricist means he is recognised as one of “Broadway’s smartest and most sophisticated songwriters since Stephen Sondheim”. To put it simply, JRB is one of the best.

I’m still reeling this morning – no, not the champagne – trying to think of how best to describe, the wonderful magic of this man’s show. I asked a friend after, “How the hell will I write THAT up?” He suggested I start by using the expletive to which I referred in my last review, of an absurdist piece. That’s right. I’ll save that one for the blog then, shall I?

There are other reviewers who have written about the specific musical aspects of JRB’s work in enormous detail. If that’s the sort of review you’re after, this is not it; I’m not that guy…er, girl. But I will tell you the impact this man has on an audience and the inspiration he provides for anybody involved in the industry.

The near-capacity Brisbane audience gave JRB the same rapturous rock star reception, about which we had heard from the friends in bigger cities; teen screams, extended periods of applause, whistles and cheers. During each song though, and for those magical moments at the conclusion of each, there was not a sound to be heard amongst the audience. Spellbound. It was clear that the audience was made up largely of JRB fans, often recognising the first bars (and in some cases, the first notes) of each song. Speaking of songs, the Tony Award winning Parade did not get much of a look in but we enjoyed hearing favourite pieces from Songs For a New WorldThirteen and – my personal favourite – The Last Five YearsWe were also treated to a sneak peak at JRB’s adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County . Beautiful.

Special guest, the gorgeous Rachael Beck brought to this concert, everything on which JRB had extrapolated, during a master class the night before, which was perfect solidification of an overwhelming amount of information, for those who attended both the class and the concert (why would you not?) Beck gave us gentle, beguiling truths and raw emotion that didn’t need a big, high belt to pull off (a particular bugbear of JRB’s). “It is about authenticity, about trust in the material.” Beck’s ability to translate the gamut of emotions in the vignettes that are JRB’s songs, for example, in Stars and the MoonOne More Thing I Can HandleAnother Life and I’m Not Afraid, re-iterated this point. I hope some of the high belters are beginning to get it now. It’s about telling the story.

JRB tells his own stories like nobody else can. Moving Too Fast was fierce – there are not enough superlatives – and seeing him do Being a Geek the way he does, with that extra layer of no longer being a geek (I can imagine he might contest that) that now I don’t feel the need to see/hear anybody else sing it! Of course I will. And probably sooner than I think. It seems everybody is putting on a JRB production (or at the very least singing his superb songs in their master classes and at infrequent auditions). Clearly, Queensland can’t get enough of Jason Robert Brown in performance mode.

In the world of contemporary musical theatre, you would be hard pressed to find a more generous and passionate showman. We sort of stumbled away from this show, after 5 standing ovations (“Let a man go home!”), still spellbound; each recalling our own little connections to particular lyrics or melodies that, for just over 2 hours, allowed Brisbane to share in a bit more of that Broadway magic. 

I hope we can expect to see JRB back again soon.
 

 

Dead Cargo

Co-Presented by !Metro Arts Independents and Tim Dashwood & Nigel Poulton

9th-26th March 2011

!Metro Arts Theatre
 

“To speak of a thing, one has to speak of a thing that exists.”

 Nigel Poulton and Tim Dashwood’s original work, DEAD CARGO, is totes Theatre of the Absurd. Martin Esslin coined the term in 1960, writing a book of the same name and noting within its pages that the plays of this genre grappled with the themes of existentialism: we are all absurd beings let loose in a universe empty of real meaning. THE CENTRE. In yet another post war scenario, our reactions were to a world without meaning. Is it any wonder then, that new theatrical work such as this, is created during a time of political unrest and general instability, environmental chaos, internet overkill and more and more bloggers questioning their worth (and that of others) for all the world to read (or not)?! YOU’D BETTER BE IN THE CENTRE!
I have to give you this then, from the program notes:

Four strangers are locked in off-kilter limbo. They search for forgiveness, for the end, for liberation from the depths of the past and from their claustrophobic confines. A contemporary absurdist work that is at turns twisted, hilarious and profound, DEAD CARGO takes a comic look at a bleak world where slippery time and questionable morals make for muddy waters. If you dare to confront your own demons and desires, immerse yourself in DEAD CARGO.

There. ARE YOU IN THE CENTRE? Now you know what to expect.

But not really. In fact, not at all.

It is useless to look at DEAD CARGO in any sort of logical or rational manner. Theatre of the Absurd was never supposed to make perfect sense, nor is it supposed to end happily. It is supposed to present life and all of its little absurdities so that we begin to question what it is we value, what it is we want and what it is we do. To see this show is to take a very personal journey and you will make of it what you will.

These are some of the things DEAD CARGO might have been about:

Possession, opinion, perspective, free will, tax, travel, lost & found, bureaucracy, manipulation, waiting, despairing, depression, descent into madness, giving, receiving, towing the line, hanging out the washing, frogs and fish.

Okay, so it might not have been about hanging out the washing or frogs or fish but it could have been.Absurdist theatre is largely recognised by theatre-makers, students and audiences in this country at least, as an open license to present anything at all on stage without offering too much by way of justification. This type of theatre is challenging and it is “odd.”
Odd? “Do you mean something specifically or just everything?” This line got a genuine laugh from the opening night audience because, frankly, it was what most of us must have been thinking. The audience tried hard to connect, laughing often in fact, though, clearly; I didn’t see much of the show in the same comic light. Personally, I felt that we would never connect and it would be pointless to try to do so. What a perfect mood I was in to see this work! It all means nothing, after all! And it all comes to nothing, just like life. This piece begins and ends with regret.

Writer, director, performer, Nigel Poulton, established from the outset, a foreboding presence in the space and it worked…right up until he spoke. He had the magical monologue of this original text and it left me cold. Maybe it was meant to. Props to Poulton for speaking through a Meyerhold-cum-yogi posture; this is, at times, rigorous physical theatre. Meyerhold’s biomechanics – a series of exercises to release emotional potential through movement – demands strength and discipline. Also, we’re becoming accustomed to Poulton’s stylized violence, though I still feel the need to see more, like in a Jake Reedyfilm, convincing violence with or without a purpose, from which we cannot avert our eyes, so horrifying is it to witness. And there’s nothing more real and raw and absurd than that. YOU’D BETTER BE IN THE CENTRE.

Jason Glenwright’s lighting was perfectly confronting, revealing nothing and everything and turning particularly dramatic during a sequence of light and sound that will test your nerves (the first time). The sound design by Phil Slade helped to set the scene and the mood (and later, to shake us up and face the frightening reality of not knowing what is happening or what will happen next) and to remind us that we are all trapped in a useless, damp, lonely place (or state) of limbo.

The constructivist scaffold set demanded the actors interact with it, as was Meyerhold’s intent but from where I was sitting, directly in front of a dark-skinned, hanging mannequin man, long since dead, perhaps bludgeoned; Tim Dashwood was often obscured (not so much by the scaffold but by everything hanging from it). This annoyed me because Dashwood is fantastic to watch and it was his performance that I enjoyed most. His vocal work and his commitment to the physical work were terrific. He ably climbed, scrambled across and leapt from said scaffold to the floor…later, the wet floor proved a problem. Slippery time and muddy waters indeed. This is live theatre, people! CENTRE!

Dashwood is writer, producer and performer (truly multi-talented, in the good, old-fashioned sense of the word), having recently returned from a stint as Schlomo in the national tour of Fame: The Musical. In DEAD CARGO, Dashwood symbolises the liberal: freedom, rebellion, and antidisestablishmentarianism. The state of chaos, the sense of trying to make order out of chaos, we saw in the clutter of suitcases, cable reels, red umbrellas, bags, hats, trophies and other bits and pieces of offerings for “He” whom, in the tradition of the absurdist and existentialist theatre, we knew would never come.

Deb Sampson, the very essence of bureaucracy, manipulation and A Powerful Man (thank you, John Bucchino), in the semblance of a disheveled suit, started and stayed in and amongst the clutter and a couple of black plastic lined pools of water. In order to move out of her comfort zone (her post, of order and control), whilst keeping one foot in one of the pools, she placed a bucket of water as close as possible to the subject of interest (to reveal more would ruin the final picture for you) and, with one foot in the bucket, slid and eventually reached…let’s just say that pressure, persistence and ultimately violence won out. The water as her post was a device that allowed her to commit a heinous crime…and to justify it, a silly rule, giving her corruptive power and the confidence to exercise it over another, ultimately for no gain. YOU’D BETTER BE IN THE CENTRE!

Belinda Raisin entered the space appropriately – in a coffin – in her corporate gear, and played out as another man, a great struggle (why did we have women playing men? Oh, yes, because we can; it’s theatre of the absurd) up against (whatever they were) tax, bureaucracy, society, to maintain possession of her suitcase. “We don’t know how to receive until we give.” At one point Raisin’s character gave up the coveted case to Poulton’s and achieved what appeared to be free will. But because the gift was not fully or rightfully received the free will was an illusion and could not be exercised. More importantly, what I really wanted to know at this point was can you kill tax? Apparently not. He slunk away into the darkness from whence he came. Shame.

Oh. And not because I disapprove of its use but because the manner in which it is used intrigues me, it seems there is a new naughty word being uttered in our theatres. Sure, we’ve heard it before (some of you, no doubt, are still in shock since the first time you heard it, nor are you up to saying it and why, in pleasant company should you want to, with all the extraneous meanings and crude complexities placed upon it by our society)? All of a sudden, though, the impact on audiences seems to have replaced that of the f-word. I wonder how long then, it will take for the c-word to become overused and under-appreciated? Does it even bear thinking about? Probably not. It will all come to nothing, after all.

This production rolls up and smokes boldly, cursing and exhaling in our faces, every mental condition, laced with a sprinkling of the human condition, in an increasingly unacceptable combustible form. That’s right. DEAD CARGO is just like smoking. Smokers can’t tell you why they enjoy smoking. And I can’t tell you exactly why I enjoyed this production. But should you choose to smoke it, you will get something out of it. It may be a lungful of toxins that prompt you to consider what the hell you’re doing with your life (good!) or it may be a deep, sweet, guiltless intake of somebody else’s cigarette, which reminds you why you stick to your preferred brand. ARE YOU IN THE CENTRE?!

DEAD CARGO is bold, contemporary, original theatre. Go have a drag. No, you won’t become addicted. Yes, you might suffer a slight head spin. But sometimes that’s theatre. That’s the theatre of the absurd. And it’s the sort of theatre that fronts up to the commercial line, challenges the status quo and the touring mega-shows and settles for unsettling us…just a little bit. YOU’D BETTER BE IN THE CENTRE!

The creative team behind DEAD CARGO set out to tell a story of many stories, to synthesise the elements of the creative space and challenge the actors to explore the human body as an art form and they have done just that. I look forward to seeing the next incarnation, with the support of !Metro Arts Independents, of this intriguing production-in-progress.


Georgia Stitt, John Bucchino & Friends

Your Management International

Wednesday 2nd March 2011

Conservatorium Theatre

It’s shaping up to be a big year for Brisbane’s musical theatre scene, especially for those ambitious (some might say crazy) souls whose only desire is to join the industry as a “triple-threat” performer. Finally, I can see that there are real opportunities beginning to be presented, for aspiring artists to train and acquire work (in their preferred industry) in Queensland. Finally – dare I say it – we seem to be approaching a phase of development and commitment from some of the major stakeholders, which means our talent can choose to stay here, make their base here, find work here and then choose to play here, there and everywhere! Now, I didn’t say it’s happened yet. But now I see that it will.

For example, by the end of their third busy day, Griffith’s Queensland Conservatorium’s first ever intake of Musical Theatre students, thanks to the enigmatic Paul Sabey, had worked with Lucy Durack, John Bucchino and Georgia Stitt. Next week, they have Jason Robert Brown and Rachael Beck in their midst. Before the end of their second week of tertiary study, these students will have rubbed shoulders with some of the very best in the industry, within the re-vamped Con. The once dowdy foyer space has been completely transformed and now looks the part, providing a world-class venue, befitting of acclaimed artists such as Stitt, Bucchino and Brown. Incredible! How lucky these students are!

And how lucky we are, to have been given a taste of the best in the business already, with Harvest Rain’s Broadway to Brisvegas series last year bringing to The Powerhouse, Scott Alan, James Sampliner and Shoshana Bean. This year, in association with the dynamic Jeremy Youett, of Your Management International, we are truly blessed to have, again, a little bit of Broadway magic come to Brisbane.

Having attended the master class on Tuesday night, I was looking forward to hearing some of the songs performed again, this time by seasoned performers, accompanied by the composers themselves, in a recital setting. Most were familiar faces and voices: Luke Kennedy, Angela Harding, Tod Strike, Madeline Cain, Andy Conaghan and Marika Aubrey.

The format of the evening was very simply a stand and deliver concert, with John Bucchino’s work showcased in the first half and Georgia Stitt’s in the second.

John Bucchino casts an imposing presence and reveals a gentle soul. He plays (and composes) by ear. Knowing this makes his talent all the more extraordinary. His music is complex, multi-layered; it is beautiful and joyous and delicious…and fierce and cheeky and fun! It is real and it reminds us that life is supposed to be fun. And challenging. And confusing. And in life, we will have happiness and hurt and forgiveness and love and laughter and therapy and tears and hope. It is sophisticated stuff. Bucchino’s songs are about such simple things but they demand the deep emotional reservoirs and excellent technique of singers who are comfortable enough in their own skins to make sense of the context, make the personal connections and then tell the stories simply, confidently and above all, truthfully.

Georgia Stitt is gorgeous, vibrant, exuding infectious energy and offering the warmth of her generous heart in every smile. There’s also something cheeky and lovely and relaxed about her performance style, opting to sing a couple of her own songs – these are obviously closest to her heart at the moment – and it was endearing to hear from her, “Susan (Egan) sings it better than me but I enjoy it!” Stitt is an amazing talent, comfortable and confident, exactly as she sings in The Me of the Moment. Is it any wonder that she found her bashert in the witty, crazy-talented Jason Robert Brown?! Talk about a Power Couple!

Stitt’s music, like Bucchino’s, offers many unexpected gifts to singers, leading them through the whole gamut of emotions (and quite often back again), allowing plenty of opportunity to play. How lucky these singers are, to have been given the opportunity to play with two amazing artists of this caliber!

Testament to this was Marika Aubrey’s gorgeous rendition of I Get to Show You the Ocean, which Stitt wrote for her eldest daughter and which, by the end of the first chorus, had me in tears because, clearly, really, she wrote this song for my daughter and I! And so says every mother after every show, I’m sure. In Stitt’s Big Wings, Aubrey let loose her big ol’ country belt voice that further demonstrated her ability to sell a strong character.

Madeline Cain treated us to two contrasting numbers from Stitt’s Alphabet City song cycle and The Song with the Violins (Bucchino) but my favourite was This Moment (Bucchino). Cain nailed it.

Brisbane has a true songbird in Angela Harding. Her interpretations seem genuine, she is present in every moment and her voice soars. Her comical ability comes through in the lighter numbers. I enjoyed a more mature interpretation of My Lifelong Love (Stitt) but for me, It Feels Like Home (Bucchino) was perfect.

Tod Strike took on the unenviable task of singing These Two, the song Stitt wrote as a wedding gift for her husband, giving it due respect and letting us in for half a moment, to catch the tiniest glimpse of the real, raw artist that likes to take refuge under that star quality exterior of his. I’m certain Strike has more to give.

Luke Kennedy is a bit of a darling on our Brisbane stages and I’m happy to say he did nothing to dent his reputation. Kennedy has an impressive vocal range and Bucchino’s Unexpressed was the perfect opening number. Stitt’s One Day More, no doubt won Kennedy a few new fans; these songs make it easy to fall in love with the singer and Kennedy plays the audience beautifully. Even as the married man of somewhat questionable behaviour (or perhaps because of it) in Platonic Affair (Stitt), he is irresistible.

Andy Conaghan is the consummate performer and in my opinion, brought to the stage a level of professionalism and self-confidence that put the final polish on the evening. His voice is superb and his easy manner completely charming. Bucchino’s Taking the Wheel and Grateful showed us two sides to Conaghan, while Stitt’s Air, if we were not already convinced, proved his technical ability and roguish, earnest appeal. I don’t mind making a big call and predicting that Andy Conaghan is going to be The Next Big Thing.

Until recently, it would have been unimaginable for Brisbane to be up to delivering anything like the Australian Concert and Master Class Series. The fact that it’s happening here, now, is testament to Brisbane’s determination to become a leading arts city in this country and indeed, its capacity to do so. What an exciting time to be a part of the performing arts industry here, when we are graced by the presence of the likes of Georgia Stitt and John Bucchino.

I can’t wait until next week. Bring on Jason Robert Brown and Rachael Beck!

Julius Caesar

La Boite

12th February-20th March 2011

Roundhouse Theatre

If you loved La Boite’s HAMLET last year, you will want to see JULIUS CAESAR at least once. This production has the same creative team, the same look and feel and the same sexy, contemporary, fierce, rockin’ result! This is, once again, Shakespeare reignited.

Firstly, let me say that it’s nice to see The Roundhouse round again. Secondly, it’s nice to see Paul Bishop back on a Brisbane stage.

This is a classic and current tale of political treachery, ambition, friends and dreams. You know it. As Baz McAllister reminds us in the program notes, we’ve seen it only recently, in our own backyard.

Director, David Berthold, states in his Director’s Note, that the company has “taken up Shakespeare’s invitation and fashioned a production that gives dreams life…Rome is an empire of the mind as much as anything else.” Indeed. This life comes from the successful combination of elements that worked so well for the 2010 hit, HAMLET. It also comes from a heap of talent on stage.

As we’ve seen in the past, Berthold likes to cast smokin’ hot next-big-things. And we like to see them. In fact, I couldn’t help but notice, in the opening night audience, three women quickly flicking through their programs as soon as the shirtless skinny guys with abs started appearing, clearly with a mind to Facebook-stalk them the following day. Well, I can’t back that up but look, it was suspiciously stalker-ly action when there was, at the same time, so much action happening on stage.

The opening moments – a suddenly dark theatre, the foreboding sound of (I’m guessing) a Tibetan dang- dkar – were full of dark intensity and antici…..pation. And then the doof doof music and the crazy wild party action got me a little worried. Was this going to be JULIUS CAESAR SUPERSTAR?! No, thank Caesar; just a (School of Rock workshopped) opening scene, such as you must have seen, back in the day, at the iconic UQ Toga Parties. Do they still happen? I know not. I am old and out of it.

Now. The story of Julius Caesar’s life and death, to me, screams BOARDROOM. I suspect that because it is the obvious choice and it has been done before (and it is being done again, by Bell Shakespeare; a production directed by new Associate Artistic Director, Peter Evans and touring nationally this year), somebody decided to – almost – move away from it. With some characters in suits and some in togas (and Mark Antony in jeans), I felt like there must have been some dissent at one of the pre-production meetings. Why have togas at all? Why not just commit to the contemporary interpretation and get on with it? Where were the conspirators on that one?

The fast-paced first act appears to belong to Hugh Parker. And to Ross Balbuziente. And to Anna McGahn, in her impressive La Boite debut. Parker’s Caesar is strong (too strong for Calpurnia, played by Emily Tomlins) and he is undeniably human. Caesar is killed by the conspirators and his best friend, Brutus, before interval but Parker comes back as Caesar’s Ghost, Pindarus and Strato. I was at first; dubious about the whole multiple roles deal but this diverse company of actors managed to pull it off. As Casca, Balbuziente gives us the bulk of the laughs – Caesar knows we need a few – and with his relaxed, confident delivery and an interesting presence on stage, he proves that he is one to keep watching. McGahn’s Portia is strong and sexy; a desperate, tortured soul and the epitome of a politician’s “good” wife.

Paul Bishop (Cassius), Steven Rooke (Brutus) and Thomas Larkin (Antony) had each won me over by the end of Act 1. Bishop chilled out and dropped his slightly affected “Shakespearean Voice” and finally fit in with the rest of the gang. Rooke, another familiar face on stage and screen, let us see the complexities of being Brutus; he was Brutus in 3D! The purists argue that it is in fact, Brutus’s tragedy, not Caesar’s and to this end, having seen Rooke give over to the nuances of this challenging role, I concur. Larkin grew stronger as he seemed to relax into the role of Mark Antony and by the end of Act 1, caught up in his fierce delivery, I was hooked. The famous orations at the funeral of Caesar, “Friends, Romans, countrymen…” and prior to that, “Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more…” were so incredibly powerful, it seemed the words were being spoken for the first time; Act 2 is that exquisite. This is the brilliance of Shakespeare too, that such words still resonate with us today.

Steve Toulmin’s soul-capturing soundscape is perfect. His rock God delivery style this time (perhaps the director’s call and not his own), as opposed to that which I adored in HAMLET, not so much. Last year I wanted to be one of his groupies. This year I wanted clearer words and spot-on pitch. I also wanted to hear more of the soulful acoustic, which we were treated to later; the gentle, dreamy song, was quite simply, one of those moments of theatrical magic, captivating the house and bringing a sense of calm and quiet before the final tumultuous events.

Nigel Poulton’s fight choreography, I’m disappointed to say, is barely apparent…or else it was not quite convincing enough on opening night…or it was lost in the lighting effects in the first instance and over in just under a minute in the second. The deaths were bloody and the violence was tangible enough but I felt Poulton’s talent was under-utilised and I was left feeling underwhelmed by the fight sequences when I had been prepared to feel absolutely (American History X) horrified.

Jason Glenwright’s lighting design is brilliant and at times, a little too much. I think he’s a creative genius but I also wonder at the use of the same sorts of tricks and tactics again to get our attention. Others will peg the commonalities as Glenwright’s “style”. That’s all very well but I wonder if it is possible to have too much of a good thing…

Probably not, as far as Brisbane audiences are concerned; I have no doubt this will be another sell-out for La Boite. And I know that I am probably alone in my desire to keep Shakespeare’s living room fairly clutter-free. When all is said and done, Berthold’s JULIUS CAESAR is a masterful piece, delivered superbly by an impressive, vibrant company. It is the new, amped-up Shakespeare; for friends, Queenslanders, countrymen…and we need it. And more just like it. But just not exactly like it every time.

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change

Brisbane Arts Theatre

13th-29th January 2011

Arts Theatre

Having operated since 1936, you would think that by now, Brisbane Arts Theatre would have acquired a rather large following. I wonder where they all are then, these followers? Their first major production for 2011, their 75th anniversary year; I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change is not a terrible show and it deserved a bigger opening night audience.

And that small audience deserved an opening night show. Maybe it was the weather (like we need more torrential rain), combined with dwindling bookings due to the cancellation of shows during and after the recent floods, combined with that awful feeling you get as a performer, when you look out and realise that IS your opening night audience…maybe this interesting cast will find the necessary energy, hilarity, joy and sense of play another night.

It is, indeed, an interesting cast. Director, Miranda Selwood, notes in the program, “ This company has had a very short rehearsal period and relied so completely on the actors’ self-discipline in creating and learning numerous distinct characters, that I almost feel like a Director’s credit is unwarranted!” I feel the same way, Miranda. A director might have noticed the inconsistent accents, poor enunciation in the dialogue, ordinary opening and closing numbers, odd lighting choices and the lack of emotional connection between actors and audience. A director might also notice things now, after opening, and feel confident enough in her role as Director, to tweak the performance…

The design concept is so simple and generic as to be almost non-existent, the costumes are random and do little to help establish the many and varied characters, the staging is strangely static and much of the dating or married action is almost entirely lost upstage. I don’t mind a “simple” or “minimalist” design but what little there is must serve a purpose. And it should not make me wonder if it is simply the result of a series of lazy choices.

The three musicians were partially obscured behind a scrim in the corner and I know, because I was sitting next to her, that Mrs Volker, the MD’s mum, was almost (she’s terribly kind) as disappointed by that as I! The lighting was barely adequate and, I’m not sure if it was by the weather or by human error, but the lights went to black at the end of On the Highway of Love, leaving a cast member in obvious shock and dismay as well as total darkness before he had finished the last, terrific line of the song! In short, the production elements did nothing to support the cast.

And what a tough job they had! This is a difficult show to do well. It demands four sensitive, mature, multi-talented and uber-confident performers with a flair for comedy…very hard to find! I think Brisbane Arts Theatre found three. And those three, at the very least, needed to let loose and have more fun with it. Even Jacqueline Ozorio (Woman 2), who pretty effortlessly stole the show, took the opening numbers (Cantata For a First Date and Not Tonight) to warm up. I would love to see her work sometime as part of a more accomplished team. Kieran Davey (Man 2) gave us a stellar performance in the first act and lost his steam in the second. His interpretation and delivery of the prison inmate, Trentell, was untidy and OTT, lacking the depth of character he needed, to avoid the incomprehensible caricature we ended up with. Also, Davey scored the most beautiful song in the show, Shouldn’t I Be Less in Love With You, and because of poor choices in staging and direction, was unable to make a connection with Ozorio or with the audience. I felt that this normally very moving scene should have been cut rather than monumentally wasted this way!

Emma Taviani (Woman 1) had a couple of strong moments vocally – I Will Be Loved Tonight was very sweet and vocally superb – but she too, often missed opportunities to connect voice and emotion. Again, very few of her characters had any depth or backstory (the Very First Dating Video of Rose Ritz being the prime example, though I noticed other audience members enjoying this interpretation more than I). Had Kirk Fitzpatrick (Man 1) been a stronger, more confidant performer the other three (or indeed, all four) might have found the gig a little easier to pull off. Fitzpatrick sang well but came across as entirely too young and as if he didn’t quite get it.

Unfortunately, Fitzpatrick just didn’t fit and he and Taviani particularly, come across as very new, very young performers. I will look forward to seeing them continue to work on Brisbane stages with some great, insightful directors. I’m sure they have the talent, as do Davey and Ozorio, to do more than this version of this show allows them to demonstrate.

And I have no doubt that this production of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, though it is far from perfect, will be enjoyed by many, once the supportive arts community word gets out. The cast IS talented. And the musos do a fine job. Go see them and support a little, long-playing community theatre that desperately wants to grow up and become something more.

Kieran Davey, Jacqueline Ozorio and Kirk Fitzpatrick. Image by David Kapernick.

Tuesdays With Morrie

Ensemble Theatre

11th-12th March 2011

QUT Gardens Point Theatre

On Friday night I had the privilege of seeing the type of theatre that those of us in the business aspire to create each and every time we stage a show. If you know Albom’s runaway bestseller, you will know that the original material (a memoir) is excellent. And by bestseller, I mean on The New York Times bestseller list for four years, with over 11 million copies sold worldwide and 300 000 copies in print in Australia alone. Oprah endorsed and co-produced the 1999 TV movie adaptation, which was seen the same year by 25 million people. The stage adaptation, by Mitch Albom and Jeffrey Hatcher, is less like the movie and instead stays true to the form and style of the book, bringing into tender reality, an unlikely friendship after 16 years apart and the life lessons of Morrie Schwartz, who is (as his epitaph reads) “A teacher to the end.”

This story is superbly told by two of the most incredible actors I’ve seen on a stage in a long time (well, at least since last year’s Red Stitch production of Red Sky Morning) – Glenn Hazeldine, who plays the smiling, wheeling and dealing, Yes Man Mitch Albom (that’s right, it’s Mitch’s memoir) and Daniel Mitchell, the quintessential caring, dying professor, Morrie Schwartz. Mitch visits Morrie, after he learns from Nightline that the professor is dying and then can’t stay away, returning each Tuesday, just like he did in the old days during college, to learn life’s most important lessons from his “Coach”.

Learn how to die, and you’ll learn how to live.
As Morrie’s muscles quickly succumb to the devastating effects of Motor Neurone Disease (MND), Mitch sees so much of what he has been missing in his own life. He takes on more and more caring duties, while the old man remains in high spirits and Mitch has to ask himself if he really is the person he wants to be. Morrie’s rapid decline, paired with the miniscule changes in the way in which Mitch conducts his visits, ensures we notice just how insidious this disease is. And just how little most of us know about it.

• Every day at least one person dies from MND and another is diagnosed
• Average life expectancy is 2-3 years from diagnosis
• 1300 people are living with MND in Australia at any given time
• MND has a significant impact on the physical and emotional well being of the carer
• There is no cure

Director and Co-Artistic Director of Ensemble Theatre, Mark Kilmurry, has clearly worked very closely with his actors to build an incredible sense of trust, truth, reality and real time, despite the scenes spanning across the last few months of Morrie’s life. Designer, Brian Nickless, has created a pared back set in which we feel just as comfortable as Morrie does, to see out his final days in this, his study; warm and cosy and comforting. A soundscape by Daryl Wallis supported the business and busy-ness of life outside Morrie’s house and a lighting design by Peter Neufeld helped us to know where we were and whose world we were looking into at any given moment.

The work of Voice and Dialect Coach extraordinaire, Jennifer White, was obvious not only in the accents and the occasional Yiddish uttered but also in Mitchell’s loss of articulation and vocal control, though not in his projection, as Morrie neared his death.
This company took no easy options. Hazeldine and Mitchell underplayed to perfection, their complex characters, not once opting for the obvious choice or appealing to our sympathy. I know others were in tears by the end of this performance and I will admit I shed a few. Ultimately, though, this production was inspiring and life-affirming, prompting me too, to question, “Is this the last?” and walking out of QUT’s Gardens Theatre determined to make every day count. It seems that Morrie’s life lessons continue to resonate with each of us, particularly when they are delivered so honestly and tenderly.

Tuesdays With Morrie is masterfully delivered by two talented actors who are comfortable in their own skins and bold in the complexities of their characterisations and connection with each other. If you can catch this show in another town, do; it will change your outlook on life.

Aladdin and the Mysterious, Magical Lamp

Harvest Rain Theatre Company

6th – 22nd January 2011

Cremorne Theatre QPAC

“Nobody does family friendly holiday theatre like Harvest Rain!” Tim O’Connor, Artistic Director of Harvest Rain Theatre Company.

He may be biased but he’s right. Aladdin and the Mysterious Magical Lamp is all class, for all ages.

Pantomime has to be one of the most difficult theatrical genres to pull off. Sure, everybody THINKS they’re putting on a great, entertaining panto, with their larger-than-life characters grossly over-played by inexperienced, insecure actors who have been told early on in rehearsals that their performance is awesome when really, it’s 2-dimensional and tedious…I don’t like pantomime. My husband likes it even less. Like, not at all. Like, he would prefer to see every Gilbert and Sullivan back to back without coffee or cigarette breaks than sit through a single panto. In short, it’s hard to impress us with a panto. Also, we have the most discerning four year old in the world. She has seen a LOT of bad panto in her time.

This show – an hilarious take on Aladdin’s story – is one of the good ones. It had us from the opening snores of consummate performer, Steven Tandy, whom, if it were not for the collective talent and confidence of the company, would have stolen the show. In fact, I had kinda hoped that, being The Storyteller, he’d narrate the whole thing. But he also played The Sultan (superbly) so we’ll come back to that later.

Writer/Director, Sarah McIntosh (I know an early draft was penned by Tim O’Connor but he says it’s Sarah’s show) has kept the storytelling traditional enough and also added enough modern, urban references to get genuine laughs from the adults in the audience. For example, without coming across as corny, the mysterious, magical lamp came from the latest Ikea catalogue!

The impressive set, conceptualised by Josh McIntosh (who noted in the glossy souvenir program the secret to any good design: “Keep your wife happy”) and lighting design by Jason Glenwright, combine to create an intimate playspace, perfect for the many and varied exits and entrances by goodies (YAY!) and baddies (BOO!)

Speaking of staging, I would like to have seen the musicians placed, appropriately, amongst the piles of treasure, as treasures they are and whilst hidden away in a nook, may go unnoticed by some!

The costumes, with a distinct nod to the Disney palette, are colourful, as are the characters. Dash Kruck, and Jessica Harm, are innocent and endearing and delightful as Aladdin and The Princess.

Liz Skitch is exuberant, cheerfully cross-eyed and almost, sort-of, nearly choreographed; A Jeanie-cum-Genie in the most gorgeous, geeky, hot pink and sparkly style imaginable. Cameron Hurry, clearly a crowd favourite as the comic sidekick, Oozela, pulls funny faces and strikes silly poses to support every move made by his master, the epitome of PG-Rated evil, Mahoozela Fahoozela, played to over-the-top perfection by Bryan Proberts.

And now, back to the telling of the tale; Cyril the Cobra certainly deserves a special mention as an inspired idea. Poppy, the discerning four year old, thought he was hilarious. I thought the words were sometimes unclear and that to have a sock puppet narrate the story must have seemed like a good idea at the time. I’m a big fan of the wayang kulit so I was more interested in the way the shadow puppets were used (to great effect)!

I always feel, about a Harvest Rain production, that there is farther to go. It’s as if there have been many brilliant ideas shared at production meetings and during rehearsals and then, somehow, somewhere along the way, some of the brilliant ideas got lost. Each show seems to me to be just a little bit…safe. Or rushed. Or something. But this is a company who knows their audiences and adjusts, just slightly, the way they do things each season. And this pantomime season, I can happily recommend their production of Aladdin.

It’s a fast-paced, fun-filled show squarely aimed at children, it’s interactive without labouring the point and, due to the actors’ skills and the director’s sense of humour, it allows for the adults to get in on the fun. Combining hand puppets, shadow puppets, music, theatre, lots of flashy colour and comedy, this is indeed a safe bet for some family friendly holiday fun.

Letter’s End

Spoontree Productions

4th-15th January 2011

QPAC Playhouse


Fun, enchanting entertainment for the family.
“I’ve always been interested in memory – how at times it tumbles out like Fibber McGee’s closet and other times seems elusive, stuffed away like an old package in the attic.” WOLFE BOWART

Wolfe Bowart is a master of mime, movement, physical theatre and puppetry. Letter’s End is the latest offering from the company founded by Bowart, Spoon Tree Productions. Previously, Spoon Tree brought us The Schneebles and LaLaLuna. The latter – the first show my two year old ever sat through – was a mesmerising tale of the moon’s caretaker as he struggled, one dark night, to re-light the moon.

It (LaLaLuna) had the clean, colourful look of an Oliver Jeffers picture book and the quiet, excitable feel of our household at bedtime on Christmas Eve. This newest production lacks the same joie de vivre and pure magic in every moment that was LaLaLuna’s originality and superb storytelling.

That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy Letter’s End! I laughed out loud and I was impressed by Bowart’s sleight-of-hand and by his signature blend of circus, theatre, interactive film, physical comedy, illusion and music. Drilled in rehearsal and polished to perfection, the choreographic nature of this combination of elements made the thin thread of nearly-narrative more acceptable. The technical elements were second to none.

There is not so much one single story but rather, a collection of other people’s stories and memories, committed to paper and lost in the post, then imagined and beautifully brought to life by Bowart’s brilliant physical theatre, delightful facial expressions, impeccable comic timing and his ingenious use of props and improvised puppets, within the confines of a dead letter office.

For some reason, there was little light and shade and no real journey for Bowart’s character. Everything was so tricky and so lovely and so magical…but did everything serve the story? Could the story have been better served by making much clearer, which memories were his and which which were the memories of others? I might have connected even more with him, had I known more about him. Also, I wanted Bowart to find an alternative to running his various props on and off the stage!

The multi-media element helped to complete his story, which almost went untold. In the final moments of the show, we saw via projected images, the character on screen age dramatically and suddenly lose the love of his life. When the old man emerged from behind the screen, he scattered her ashes in the snow and returned to his original seated position, with just a hint of the younger man, the lightness in his step outweighed by the new heaviness in his heart. A very sombre, European end!

I loved that this show (and Bowart typically) honours a more complex, adult level of theatre, which is in no way condescending to kids. Having said that, it was clearly too complex for at least one adult who, on his way out of The Playhouse, turned to his partner and muttered, “I think it was metaphorical or something…”

For my daughter, now aged four, “It was too long. I needed an interval.” And, not to give too much more away (too late), she also noted that she nearly cried when the fly was crushed. “That was the saddest part.”

Bowart knows how to engage his audience, regardless of age, background, creed or culture. His is a truly interactive theatre and it is engrossing and entertaining. As a single performer, able to keep an opening night close-to-capacity audience of 6 to 96 year olds completely transfixed for 80 minutes without uttering a single word, Wolfe Bowart did a remarkable job. He continues to keep Australian created children’s theatre at an incredibly high standard.

If you have children, or feel the need to treat your inner child, go see this great man at work.



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