23
Apr
19

CLUEDO! The Interactive Game

 

CLUEDO! The Interactive Game

Brisbane Immersive Ensemble

Baedeker Wine Bar

April 17 – May 25 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

CLUEDO! The Interactive Game is the most fun you’ll have outside a theatre until Anywhere Festival takes over all the unlikely performance spaces in Brisbane and across the Sunshine Coast (May 9 – 26). Since its humble beginnings during the 2017 Anywhere Festival, with just two performances on board the Kookaburra Queen, the award winning interactive game / show CLUEDO has continued to attract capacity audiences, and also serves as an attractive corporate option, by special arrangement.

 

This Baedeker Wine Bar season is Brisbane Immersive Ensemble’s third, returning to delight audiences who come to collect clues and assist the iconic board game characters to solve a murder mystery by the end of the night. Ultimately, we don’t actually care who it was, or with what, or where; but others do and either way, the fun is in the chase. We follow our favourite suspects curiously, to see how well they hold up under interrogation. And by that I mean, who here has the sustained focus, and the rather unique skill set required for the successful navigation and manipulation of this style of entertainment and its audience? Not only that, do these performers have the energy and ability to genuinely connect with their audience in this close-up context? No pressure. 

 

CLUEDO is undoubtedly Brisbane’s best improvised immersive dinner theatre experience, encouraging dress ups, dancing and mingling – as much or as little as we like – as we hear from characters made famous by the classic board game (1949) and the film it inspired, starring Tim Curry, Madeleine Kahn, Eileen Brennan, Christopher Lloyd, Colleen Camp and Lesley Ann Warren (1985). A cast of thousands appears to be on hand for each season of the live show, and testament to the nature of the production and this far-reaching yet tight-knit ensemble, a number of past and present players attend on opening night just for fun, including Chris Kellett, Jonathan Hickey, Aurelie Roque (on alternate nights playing Madame Peacock), and Damien Campagnolo (credited with a variety of roles).

 

 

The current season sees the debonaire Colin Smith (Kelly, Nearer the Gods, An Octoroon), step into the role of Dr Black, perfectly suiting both the suave attire and high society demeanour as the host of a 1930s style cocktail party in the beautiful Baedeker building. 

 

The stock characters are variously informed by the experience and confidence of the performers. Most notably, Madame Peacock (Elizabeth Best) and Reverend Green (Tristan Teller) hold their own no matter what’s thrown at them by the punters. Best struts and postures, relishing the bold and brash Americanisms and eroticisms of the role, as well as the effect on guests of her towering headpiece. (Standing at almost 6ft tall even without this plumage, for Roque to don it on alternate nights must make her Madame Peacock the most imposing character of the night and possibly, with the exception of Joanne in RENT, of Roque’s repertoire to date). Best’s version of Madame Peacock has a sense of the Unsinkable Molly Brown about her, and she won’t be beaten. Likewise, Reverend Green has all the answers and when for an instant he almost appears not to, he conveniently and appropriately passes the buck to God. And in a neat casting trick of the Gods, we think that Teller, surely the most accomplished performer here, having previously been cast opposite Tom Hiddelston and Eddie Redmayne, and with a list of special skills too long to mention (I resist including his CV), could actually be Jude Law’s long lost brother, such is his precise and very lovely vocal work, distinct look, and with a devilish glint behind them, his distinct looks. For a man of the cloth, the shifts between pious and wicked are too deliciously easy, and if he can be kept in Brisbane, we can look forward to Teller’s next captivating performance, in a mainstage production, or a commissioned festival piece, or in a staged reading, just of some memes or something somewhere. Or just sitting, reading, silently. Or drinking coffee, or anything, actually. Seriously. Someone. Anyone. Give him work. Make him stay.

 

 

Professor Plum (Joel O’Brien) and Colonel Mustard (Zane C Webber) provide wonderful contrasts in their statures, mannerisms and banter, leaving Mrs White (Jessica Kate Ryan) and Miss Scarlett the least memorable guests on the list. Ordinarily, the latter role is in the hands of Geena Schwartz, however; due to unforeseen circumstances, was filled at the last minute by Director, Xanthe Jones. In her ill-fitting red satin, designed and made for Schwartz (and we love Kaylee Gannaway’s designs – remember, I own one – everything else here is perfection), the stand-in Miss Scarlet’s simpering, and her protestations to the accusations made against her, lack light and shade, and Jones misses many opportunities to keep us engaged with her story, however; there are others who remain entranced with her from start to finish. Perhaps they knew she had thrown herself into the mix, or perhaps they are granted eye contact, which we are not. She only looks up in passing to compliment me on my stole, which I would love to tell you is faux fur but it’s properly vintage so… Mrs White, a character informed neither by Madeleine Kahn nor Colleen Camp in this case, is not attuned to the offers from her fellow performers, and despite her efforts to cut through the noise of the crowd or the quiet intensity of a scene, Ryan fails to make an impact as Dr Black’s German hausfrau. However, had we seen her in a scene rather than in between scenes, we might gain a more complete picture of both the character and the actor. More on this later.

 

 

Patrick Aitken gallantly strides in to save the day – or at least, to facilitate and wrap up the investigation of the crime committed while we had enjoyed jazz and booze in the ballroom, driving a challenging scene that amounts to wrangling cats since most of the guests are by this time happily holding their third or fourth glass of wine. He is assisted by prettily named detectives, Carmine, Periwinkle, Dove, Moss, Cobalt and Honey (James Elliot, Johanna Lyon, Julia Pendrith, Tom Harris, Patrick Shearer and Matthew Butler).

 

Genevieve Tree and Samuel Valentine sing up a merry storm with the band led by MD Jye Burton (I would name the talented musicians if they were credited). This aspect of the evening is so enjoyable that if solving the crime doesn’t interest you, you’ll have a decent night out just sitting and listening, or dancing to the band! All the players can carry a tune and when I mention my surprise to Chris Kellett, because here we are with the Immersive Ensemble and not Oscar Production Company, he laughs and tells me, “Yes, it’s what we do!”.

 

Written by Xanthe Jones and directed by Jones and Ben Lynskey, CLUEDO makes the most of the superb Heritage listed space in which its staged. It relies on clearly drawn characters and mostly audible instructions to move punters through a range of interesting rooms, and a story full of intrigue and action, but therein lies the challenge. The construct itself is problematic, allowing us so much freedom during the evening that we miss vital scenes. Is it enough to get a version of events from other guests? I would like to have seen more for myself, particularly from Mrs White, and Miss Scarlett. Perhaps their scenes are more engaging than those moments in-between. A solution might lie in a ‘menu’ of appointments, a card in the style of the original game if you like, or iPads – so good for the company’s socials and data collection too but then, how would one hold one’s drink? – distributed to guests upon arrival to ensure they know where to be and when to be there, in order to witness each conversation or altercation in turn. Ensuring that everyone is an eye witness to everything will invariably lead to more efficient and more relevant lines of questioning. Some of the questions! Be patient with your friends, friends! Also, another point of conversation and certainly a more glamorous offer, befitting of the surrounds and the style of the party, would be a generous grazing table in the dining room, rather than the plates of food currently available, which you won’t feel the need to photograph. Anyway, after running such an event for two seasons, I know that I would start to want more control of the crowd (think of the Divergent trilogy; Poppy is obsessed with it!), but such solutions are less obvious from the inside. And drugs are bad. 

 

Despite a sense of chaos during the time allowed for questioning suspects, and a few loose ends here and there, what makes this immersive and quite sumptuous version of the much loved CLUEDO a winner is its perfect location and its cast, and their genuine interactions with members of the audience. If you’re prepared to interact, it can be a very personal theatrical experience, as if what you imagine to be true will make all the difference to the outcome! You might not feel quite as satisfied at any other show after this one, or quite as willing to sit still in the audience and stay mute. Go with a group and work together in a team or go rogue like we did, and investigate from the fringes to solve CLUEDO’s mystery – or not – and have a swellegant, elegant time of it. 

29
Mar
19

The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon

John Frost, Stuart Thompson & Important Musicals

QPAC Lyric Theatre

March 20 – May 31 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

 

One man’s blasphemy is another man’s scripture. Matt Stone

 

Religious stories are just stories. That’s enough. They don’t need to be more. Bobby Lopez

 

We grew up with Mormons, and their MO is to beat you by being kinder than you and higher than you. Trey Parker

 

 

Is the opening of this musical not the most iconic and adored since we first saw Maria running, twirling and singing across the tops of those hills? (You can’t miss the cheeky nod to her later). In keeping with the new curriculum – not that any school should feel the need to make a group booking; see note below – The Book of Mormon blows musical theatre apart. And raises suit standards for young male Mormons everywhere.

 

PARENTAL ADVISORY: If you’re a parent and you’re OK with your kids watching South Park, then use your own judgement about letting them see this. I would add to that, if you would consider that I’ve taken my child to just about everything, and that we talk about just about everything, now that she’s 12-going-on-32 we agree that this content is not what she needs in her life right now. It’s a little like choosing not to have the evening news on in our house. We know stuff is happening to people everywhere, and quite simply, we can better serve those near us. It’s not so much about being blissfully ignorant as it is about retaining our right to make conscious choices. Having skipped the songs marked explicit on the soundtrack for years, we discussed again recently that there is so much else for Poppy at the moment, and she can look forward to experiencing this show in its entirety another time. As an adult, you might decide the same thing. And then you’ll have to decide how you feel about that because when everyone else is seeing it and talking about it, there’s a real risk of FOMO! 

 

HELLO! Hilarious and irreverent beyond belief, and boasting a company of new and engaging triple threat male performers, The Book of Mormon must be the most eagerly awaited show to open at QPAC this year. And it returns next year! It doesn’t disappoint. If you’ve never even listened to the original Broadway cast album (apparently, there are still people who go in cold to a show) you’ll be thrilled to see that it’s been brought to life in the most outrageously musical theatre way imaginable. 

 

Directed by Trey Parker and Casey Nicholaw, with choreography by Nicholaw, and outstanding full orchestrations from a 9-piece band under MD David Young, The Book of Mormon, for those making a conscious choice, is a must-see. 

 

 

When Elder Price (the ridiculously talented and gorgeous, Guy Smiley channelling Blake Bowden) is paired with Elder Cunningham (his perfect foil and the best import ever, Canadian, Nyk Bielak) at the Mormon mission training centre and they’re assigned their mission destination, Africa is not exactly the place they had in mind. (Two By Two & You and Me). While their pals get to go to Norway and Japan, the mismatched pair are sent to war-ravaged, poverty-stricken, AIDS-infected, maggot-infested, fuck-you-God Uganda.

 

Disappointingly, it’s not a bit like The Lion King. (Hasa Diga Eebowai)

 

 

Despite their best efforts to deliver the word of the Heavenly Father and convert the sinners, the suit clad, little blue book bearing boys make little positive impact on the Ugandan people. In fact, they attract all the wrong sorts of attention, from cynics to local war lords, as well as complicating relationships with their Mormon missionary brothers (Turn It Off & I Am Here For You) and before long, having given preaching a red hot go (All-American Prophet, the first incredible showstopper, harking back to the all-singing, all-dancing, all-grinning numbers of the 1950s-ish Golden Era of all-American musicals), Elder Price walks away from his mission partner and his mission, with the intention of going to Orlando, with its clean streets and theme parks. Without his best little buddy by his side, the version of biblical events offered to the villagers by Elder Cunningham is mostly imagined, but the strange stories appear to make sense to the Africans, who all agree to be nice to people, and to be baptised as Latter Day Saints. (Man Up, Act 2 Prologue, Making Things Up Again). Bielak has so many fantastically funny moments that it’s impossible to pick just one. The secret to his performance, and to the rest of them, is that there’s nothing happening that’s actually outrageous. Everyone is completely genuine and responding just as they might in real life, within the world view created on stage, and therein lies the best kind of comedy and the most convincing kind of theatre, no matter how silly the premise might appear to be.

 

A proper South Park style scene, Spooky Mormon Hell Dream takes the ridiculous to new heights – or depths – as Elder Price laments his decision to leave, hearing from Lucifer, and a couple of Starbucks single-use styrofoam coffee cups, and infamous historical figures, including Ghengis Khan and Hitler. This is a dazzling musical theatre disco zombie showstopper; it’s superbly staged, very Fosse, riotously funny. The design team – Scott Pask (Set), Ann Roth (Costumes), Brian MacDevitt (Lighting) and Brian Ronan (Sound) – create worlds within worlds, keeping each chapter of the story within a proscenium of stained glass, complete with revolving heralding angel, against a backdrop of the entire universe. If you look closely, you’ll see that you have your own planet up there. 

 

The costume design, I would hope, is certainly conscious of what the show is saying about the world. Ann Roth

 

 

The high energy performances from every last member of this company means that there are no weak links. It’s virtually impossible to single out an ensemble member, but the Brisbane audience thrills in seeing our own Alex Woodward (a standout, though we don’t know when he’s had time to learn the show, having been busy recently staging so many of his own), Tom Davis and Billy Bouchier. Sydney’s Joel Granger is a perfectly over-enthusiastic McKinley, and Andrew Broadbent is a groovy and gallant Joseph Smith, among a number of other roles. The bedtime tap number, Turn It Off, is a properly polished and fabulous number, and includes a nifty costume trick to draw gasps and squeals of delight. A new graduate of APO and VCA with beautifully controlled vocals and a smile to brighten even the darkest Ugandan day is Tigist Strode, a light-filled Nabulungi. (Sal Tlay Ka Siti, Baptize Me)

 

 

We went to restaurants and we’d grab one of the wait staff and say, do you know any Mormons who went on missions? They’d say, yeah, me and all of our wait staff. And then we’d say, do you know anyone who was gay, and gay Mormons? And they were like, yeah, me and all of our wait staff. Bobby Lopez

 

 

Blake Bowden smashes the role of Elder Price, and I Believe serves as confirmation, in case we weren’t sure when we heard You and Me, that Bowden is a superstar. On the Sunshine Coast we already knew this, having hosted Bowden in Noosa over the last couple of years. But if you don’t get out much, or you subscribe to the myth that Broadway still boasts the best of musical theatre, it might be difficult to predict how good Bowden’s performance is. You simply have to experience it to believe.

 

 

…there are literally no jokes in that song; it’s just facts. It’s just funny ways to describe Mormon things that they believe in. It’s all directly from The Book of Mormon. Bobby Lopez.

 

 

Matt Stone, Trey Parker and Bobby Lopez use the darkest and most ludicrous comedy to highlight some truly horrific humanitarian issues, including religion, race, gender, power, privilege, politics, violence, sex, discrimination and indoctrination. And just like any issue highlighted or disrupted by an art form, what we do about it after the show, or not, is up to each of us. The Book of Mormon is the most irreverent, the most hilarious, the most surprisingly poignant in parts, and the most polished, energetic and entertaining show we’ll see in Brisbane this year. You better believe it.

 

 

According to its own merch and social media, The Book of Mormon is God’s favourite musical, and it might just be yours too. 

 

 

The Book Of Mormon is the winner of four Olivier Awards (West End, London) and nine Tony Awards (broadway, NYC), including Best Musical, Best Score (Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, Matt Stone), Best Book (Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, Matt Stone), Best Direction (Casey Nicholaw, Trey Parker), Best Featured Actress (Nikki M. James), Best Scenic Design (Scott Pask), Best Lighting Design (Brian MacDevitt), Best Sound Design (Brian Ronan) and Best Orchestrations (Larry Hochman, Stephen Oremus); the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical; five Drama Desk Awards including Best Musical, the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album; four Outer Critics Circle Awards, including Best Musical, and the Drama League Award for Best Musical.

 

The Australian production of The Book of Mormon is the winner of the coveted 2017 Helpmann Award for Best Musical. It has performed for over 500 packed houses since opening on January 17, 2017, and broke the house record for the highest selling on-sale period of any production in the 159-year history of Melbourne’s Princess Theatre.

23
Mar
19

Hydra

 

Hydra

Queensland Theatre & State Theatre Company of South Australia

Bille Brown Theatre

March 15 – April 6 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

There is this woman, Charmian Clift. And I have to dress up as her and go out and be her.

 

 

A sea change. A haven for creatives. Heaven on earth. Until it’s hell.

 

Sue Smith’s Hydra is the new work we’ve been aching for. More than a simple drama built around the words of one of our most under-appreciated female writers, Hydra is a haunting, unsung song cycle actually, the imagery so Australian in its detail yet so universal in its broader sense. Its glittering prose wakes something. Inner eyes flash open, inner ears tune in and we become aware again of that sleeping voice inside beginning to growl and hum and trill with possibility, and also of that other voice reminding us, be careful what you wish for.

 

On the Sunshine Coast, we are the sea change that others crave. We never wanted to feel as if we were stuck in the city without space and sea and sky all around. It’s a choice to stay here. It’s why we live here. But the lure of the Greek islands remains real to us too, just as it must have been to Charmian Clift and George Johnston then, in the fifties; an ideal expat island lifestyle promising escape from the uninspiring daily drudgery of Australia.

 

 

Smith writes about artists as fallible human beings and not as mythical creatures, capable of changing the world one word, one song, one picture at a time, although once they believed they could. These are the artists who support artists. The women who support their men. The addicts supporting, and enabling, the addicts. And the friends, like family, who make a choice to walk away, finally, after nothing more can be done for the ones we love. And what makes us love them, anyway? Do we even remember? When the end comes, did we ever really know what it was that caught our attention, our whole heart? Does it even matter, when a connection runs so deep, when there is so much scar tissue, when there are so many stories to tell, that the wounds won’t ever heal while we insist on retelling them?

 

It’s not a happy story, although there is joy, wonder and contentedness in the tiny moments.

 

 

Anna McGahan shares Clift’s wounds and words in a way that fills us with wonder, delight, and yes, some despair. Her precise vocal work and the cadence of her speech is naturally lilting and wonderfully poetic without being predictable or pointed or laboured, finding entries into Clift’s language and imagery as if she is opening doorways to a fairy realm. And perhaps she is, giving us a peak inside her bohemian faery bower. Bryan Probets breathes a full life into George Johnston, her famous husband (the author of My Brother Jack), even as the character’s breath fails him. On multiple occasions I wish him ill, hoping his breath will catch for the last time, long before it is destined to do so. At one stage I think he’ll stumble into the sea and drown. Good! No. He stays and lingers, and seethes and rages, and slowly, too slowly, he rots and Clift remains by him.

 

Incredibly, Clift helps her husband to write the great Australian novel in lieu of her own, finally physically placing a canvas cover over her typewriter at one end of the table. The metaphor is plain, as she dulls her light to allow his to shine. And so it is in creative partnerships. Yet her turn will never come. Not really.

 

Narrated by Martin, the couple’s omnipresent Greek Chorus son ( a gentle, patient and emotional performance from Nathan O’Keefe), this tragedy of quite ordinary proportions – excepting the proportion of gin consumed, which is quite extraordinary indeed – is elevated by its language and the intensity of the relationships at stake. Vic, better known as painter, Sidney Nolan (Hugh Parker) and wife, Ursula (Tiffany Lyndall-Knight) are the best buddies who become distant friends, opting for sanity and a life beyond the heady days and nights on Hydra, rather than a sad extension of that period, which is impossible to transfer. The romantic artist’s existence becomes the nightmare of every waking hour; the mythical, miserly struggle just to survive, even in Australia, the lucky country. Let’s leave the discussion surrounding the inexplicable miscasting of the French and Greek roles until another time. Let’s simply agree that it’s always a delight to see Ray Chong Nee.

 

 

Director, Sam Strong, breathes gentle, respectful life into this version of events, crafting each of Smith’s scenes to stand alone in the storytelling, as well as adding, piece by piece, the detail that will urge us to look more closely at our own lives, our choices, our commitments…our worth. Almost in three parts, the journey for which we join these characters traverses oceans and years, and delves into their heaving, sighing, cracking, crumbling hearts. While it takes almost a third of the performance for the actors to settle and simply share their story, this is (unfortunately for first audiences everywhere) a bit typical of opening nights. The last couple of chapters of the story, set in Australia once the couple are perceived to have achieved a modicum of success, offers the most real, raw and honest performances of the evening. It’s almost as if we suddenly reach the real story. These are breath-holding, heartbreaking moments, and there are tears. It’s the women in the audience who are visibly affected. And McGahan’s gin-drunk dancing and weeping and collapsing will be mentioned in our Women in Theatre Bridge Club and various book clubs and other women’s circles, going down in Australian theatre history as one of those, “I was there. I saw her do that” moments.   

 

 

Vilma Mattila’s simple and elegant white design is a dream, so pleasing to those who have been to the islands of Greece and seen it before them, as much as to those who have not, and still long to. Nigel Leving’s darkness, creating the purity and peacefulness – and longing – of nights on the island, and sparkling white daylight, despite the perfectly timed thunderstorm outside in real life, which acts like a footnote from the gods at a crucial moment. Quentin Grant’s composition and sound design lures us into the dream before startling us out of it.

 

These words, though. These words of Clift’s, stitched seamlessly into the text by Smith, are like pieces of glass worn smooth by the sea. The memories of jagged edges are so distant that the gems they’ve become might never even have existed in that form, like somebody else’s version of past events.

 

There’s a deeply felt need here for the woman to exist on her own in order to create, just as Virginia Woolf wrote. For a woman’s most authentic work to be conceived and completed, she must exist in space and time for some time, supported, and utterly alone.

 

There is a sort of dreamlike quality in returning to a place where one was young. Memory is as tricky as a flawed window glass that distorts the view beyond according to the way one turns one’s head. Charmian Clift.

 

06
Mar
19

Dead Puppet Society Academy

Train and Perform with the Olivier Award Nominated Brisbane Company:

Dead Puppet Society

 

 

Home from sell-out seasons overseas of The Wider Earth, and nominated for an Olivier Award (Best Entertainment and Family) for that outstanding production, in their 10th anniversary year, Dead Puppet Society is once again opening the doors to their training Academy. Emerging to mid-career artists and tertiary students are invited to apply.

The ensemble will meet weekly, and under the guidance of our senior artists take part in training, learn the fundamentals of puppet construction, and work towards the creation of an original public performance at Brisbane Powerhouse.

The program offers artists the opportunity to connect, collaborate and forge new working relationships while actively learning, listening and finding the space to let imaginations run wild.

 

THE ACADEMY OFFERS TO PARTICIPANTS:

 

  • Introductory workshops

  • Concept and creative development

  • Design and construction techniques

  • Rehearsal period and tech week

  • Public performances

  • Individual mentoring

  • Guest artist talks

  • Insight into the design process for Storm Boy

 

THE DATES:

Weekly Training:

Tuesday nights from 2 April to 4 June, 4-7pm at Brisbane Powerhouse.

 

Intensive Rehearsal Week:

Monday 10 June to Friday 14 June, 10am-6pm daily at Brisbane Powerhouse.

 

Performances:

Saturday 15 June at Brisbane Powerhouse.

 

COST:

$550 + GST

 

APPLY:

Applications are now open until 22 March 2019. Please email a copy of your CV and why you’d like to be involved.

 

 

 

04
Mar
19

Two

Two

Ensemble Theatre

QUT Gardens Theatre

March 1 & 2 2019

 

Reviewed by Shannon Miller

 

 

“First night in here? Well, you’ll get used to us. We’re a lively pub, but it’s, eh, calmed down a bit now.” In this busy two-hander, British playwright, Jim Cartwright’s Two, has married-in-real-life couple, Kate Raison (A Country Practice) and Brian Meegan (Sea Patrol, Water Rats) play Landlord and Landlady, along with 12 other characters between them.

 

 

Set in an indistinct hotel somewhere in regional Australia, the story is ostensibly about a publican’s acidic relationship with his wife, and the characters who patronise their bar on one particular night. They had their twenty-firsts there, their wedding reception, and now they own the “bloody” place, the Landlord protests in his opening monologue.

 

Raison and Meegan have good instincts as they seamlessly change costume, and tag team with revolving door precision to inhabit the other characters with a balance of parochial small-town cliché, and dark idiosyncrasy, essentially holding up a mirror to the frustrated psyche of those held prisoner to their regional fate and circumstance.

 

The set is simple: an unremarkable pub bar with stools, green and yellow chunder-coloured carpet, and a tarnished, hand-smudged bar mirror. The drunken nostalgic misery of the 80s blares Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up, Divinyls’ All the Boys in Town, Angels’ We Gotta Get Out of This Place, and Madness’ It Must Be Love as Landord and Landlady bicker ominously during a busy service. 

 

 

There’s a nameless old woman bemoaning into her beer how her life is practically over, and that her husband sits at home, watching the telly in the dark, drinking lemonade. “What’s it all about?” she opines. A little boy enters crying, looking for his dad; he’s been left in the car outside with some soft drink and chips, forgotten. Moth has a wandering eye, breaking the fourth wall to flirt with theatre goers, as his naïve girlfriend, Maude fusses over him, paying for his drinks, and gullibly trying to pin him down despite his unchangeable, smooth-talking ways.

 

Roy is violent, distrusting and possessive over his pregnant wife, Lesly. He interrogates her when she goes to the toilet, and physically strikes her at the slightest uprising.

 

While the language’s text is rooted in broad stereotypes, the characters’ words rise and twist around a poet’s tongue: “Fetch the butcher with his slaughtering kit,” the old woman says, “may I ask you all to raise your cleavers now please and finish the job, raise them for the bewildered and pig weary couples that have stuck, stuck it out.”

 

 

While the assignment of multiple roles encourages the audience to consider the elasticity of Raison and Meegan, we’re also invited to comment on the human condition. Raison and Meegan mime with props and relate to bodies which are not there, and while this is an obstacle for suspension of disbelief, it provides a disarming aesthetic as characters carry imaginary glasses overflowing with beer, and mutter with abstract repetition.

 

Based on dysfunctional domestic relationships, the vignettes, some stronger than others, are interesting, but are at times no more than short character studies, rather than fully developed flash narratives, which only serve to break tension and flow. In the 70 minutes running time there was virtually no sustaining story until the last 10 minutes. This is a comedy, too, albeit darkly humorous, and the audience tended to enjoy the show, laughing in the rights spots with some good-natured heckling.

 

28
Feb
19

Turbine

 

Turbine – the return

Collusion Music & Dance Ensemble

Queensland Academies Creative Industries (QACI) Theatre

Friday February 22 2019

 

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

 

 

Collusion’s show Turbine returned to Brisbane for one performance only, on Friday February 22 this year, after premiering in May 2018. Since then, a substantial excerpt has also been performed in September 2018 at the DANCESTAGES: Shanghai Dance Festival. The music for the performance in Shanghai was partly recorded, rather than performed live by violinists Benjamin Greaves and Camille Barry, and the composer Thomas Green.

 

At the Brisbane Powerhouse, Turbine was performed in traverse mode (the audience seated on two sides of the performers, and on the same level) in the intimate setting of the Turbine Studio. The latest performance at the QACI Theatre in Kelvin Grove was in a proscenium arch setting, with the audience at more of a remove from the action on stage.

 

While some of the raw immediacy of the physical action was lost, the show made a more powerful impression as a whole. With the stage that little bit further away, we in the audience could see all the performers at once, rather than shifting attention, say, between the music and the dancers. The musicians were more prominent visual presences as performers (particularly Thomas Green on electronics), complementing the power of their sound. (Note that I was sitting only a few rows from the front. My impressions may be different from those of people sitting much further back.)

 

The athleticism, commitment and expressiveness of dancers Gareth Belling, Michael Smith and Jacob Watton were as impressive as in the premiere – with an additional assurance and a sense of their performances and roles maturing since the first showing of Turbine in 2018.

 

27
Feb
19

Death of a Salesman

 

Death of a Salesman

Queensland Theatre

QPAC Playhouse

February 9 – March 2

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

THE REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM THAT DEFINED THE 20TH CENTURY

 

What is a human life worth?

 

I saw the very first preview performance (this is the first time the play is seen by an audience outside the privacy and security of the rehearsal room) and two and a half weeks later, one of the final performances of the season. Despite my knack for writing really interesting and insightful and particularly generous preview reviews because I can imagine that a show will be exactly where it needs to be by opening night (I keep telling them that!!!) we tend not to write up previews – in fact, we’re asked not to – because at this stage the production is still in its infancy, and things can be a little clunky, or not quite clear. There’s still time before opening night to make changes and tweak things, and this is why you’ll often pay less for a preview ticket…and why it’s often a good idea to make a return visit to experience the show all over again, as the director intends it to look and feel, before closing night.

 

 

And so, in true teacher guise, I experienced Queensland Theatre’s first offering for the year, Death Of A Salesman, not once but twice: the first time, at the end of an excellent and entertaining day of professional development with Andrea Moor, analysing the text and remembering tricks to try with drama students to get realistic scenes on their feet without any fuss or (ironically) theatrics, and the second time, with our senior drama students after a chat with the director in the Playhouse Lounge. As  you can imagine, if you know the play at all or anything of it, there were some strong reactions to the matinee performance on Wednesday February 27, and some tears.

 

 

Arthur Miller’s seminal text from the 1940s remains as disturbingly relevant now as ever. With society’s emphasis on mental health, the worth of a man or woman, our best advice coming to our newsfeeds in the form of funny memes, the #metoo movement, and the somewhat token efforts to overhaul our education and health systems, Jason Klarwein’s faithful production for Queensland Theatre stands firm and strong. This version is a towering warning sign, as we continue to veer towards our own self-destruction as a workaholic, weary society. Sounds dismal, doesn’t it? Well, we know there’s not going to be a happy ending. Willy Loman is not a happy man. His failure to attain for himself, and deliver to his family the fabled American Dream sees him broken, unable to celebrate the success of others or relinquish his stranglehold on the past, defeated and eaten up by envy, self-loathing and regret, unable to go on.

 

 

Peter Kowitz lives and breathes every complex, tragic aspect of Willy Loman. Every haunted look comes from somewhere we wish we could see into more clearly so that we might know the ways to help him to see for himself the good that his long-suffering wife, Linda (Angie Milliken), still sees in him, and that we want to believe is at the core of every man. It’s a slow-burning, heartbreaking performance, challenging us to withhold judgement and simply accept that he’s always done only what he’s always felt he had to do. Kowitz has boundless energy in the moments spent in Willy’s mind, literally leaping and dashing about the stage, in stark contrast to his downtrodden state each time he returns to reality. Kevin Hides leaves his indelible mark on this production as the distinguished, rich, dead, older brother, Ben, and what a settle-back-in-your-seat pleasure it is to hear his beautiful, distinctive vocal work again. Likewise, elevating this role into another realm entirely, Charles Allen holds our attention, and in his voice and powerfully still presence, brings both ancient wisdom and boyish joy to the role of the neighbour Charley, the man whom Willy recognises – while Charley does not – as his only friend. “Now, isn’t that remarkable?”

 

 

 

Thomas Larkin’s finely layered performance – perhaps the best we’ve seen from him; certainly it’s the most demanding role he’s been gifted and he rises to every challenge – is just as heartbreaking, the measure of a man made clear to Biff by his father and Biff’s perception in turn made clear to us, that he will forever fall short of expectations. Larkin and Kowitz find something so raw and real in their father-son relationship that even the toughest teenaged boys in the audience are visibly affected, finally shifting in their seats after their perfect stillness throughout the savage shouting, and tears around the kitchen table, and awkward embraces by the sink, and end-of-the-night promises on the stairs.

 

 

Jackson McGovern, the perfect foil for Larkin’s Biff, is his younger brother, Happy (really, this is such superb casting, these two), and for a whole disquieting scene, he is also Willy’s heartless employer, Howard.

The audience reaction to this scene is something else, taking the travesty of Willy’s situation beyond even the mood the actors have established.

Each of Willy’s offers to take a pay cut are met with audible sighs of disappointment, shock, immense sadness. The air in the Playhouse gets heavy. The pauses on stage start to get uncomfortably long and it’s perfect. I’ve never heard or felt anything like it. The energy of the entire audience is with Willy, wanting desperately for him to see his worth and to sell that.

 

 

I always feel when I read this play on the page as if not enough attention is paid to Linda, who chooses her suffering and enters graciously into a life of it. (Imagine the contemporary sequel! Again I say, Bubnic it!). She can get a bit lost, but attention must be paid to Milliken, whose magic is in her seemingly effortless embodiment of the woman behind the man and the mother of their two hopeless, lovely boys. Her attempts to gently influence, and interrupt and disrupt the train wreck of family events / non-events are well measured, and her outbursts are as magnificent as her quieter, more nuanced, more devastating moments. We feel kids and adults alike, all around, cringing and squirming, and the couple in front include me in their parenting discussion during interval (they’d seen on the news that our College has banned mobile phones on campus).

 

Meanwhile, Miller’s words out of Milliken’s mouth have never been truer. 

 

 

The slightly jarring, suddenly changing lighting states to signify Willy’s altered state of mind happen seamlessly now, making what has always been a little confusing in the text abundantly clear on stage. The new wave design team here include: Verity Hampson (Lighting Designer), Justin Harrison (Composer/Sound & Projection Designer), Anthony Spinaze (Associate Designer/Costume Designer) and Richard Roberts (Set Designer). No, no one is new to their job but there might be a lovely new combination of aesthetic and abilities right there.

 

If I could, I would even see this production a third time. The play is a masterpiece. By leading us into their world and onwards to the crescendo of their lives, we recognise something of ourselves in these characters – these humans – and in their choices, and in the story they tell. It’s actually our story and there is medicine in its darker aspects, its shadows, if we are willing to look beyond what we are led to believe is best and real and right.