19
Feb
19

Matilda Award Winners 2018

2018 MATILDA AWARDS

STILL Brisbane theatre’s night of nights. Perhaps Paul Bishop said it best: the importance of the Matilda Awards is that we come together not to celebrate brands, but to celebrate our stories as humans.

 

The new judges deemed the following stories and storytellers the winners. Congrats to all!

 

2018 GOLD MATILDA AWARD

Debase Productions
This special, open award recognises either a standout production or performance element in the year’s theatrical season or, in this instance, recognition of an individual company or group for their contribution to the industry as determined by the judging panel. DeBase are being recognised this year for their commitment to making theatre of excellence in Queensland for over 20 years, touring nationally and internationally, focusing on the use of comedy to address social issues in a way that is in tune with their target audience.

 

INAUGURAL EMERGING FEMALE LEADER AWARD

Christine Felmingham
Announced at the 2017 Matilda Awards Ceremony, this award is sponsored by the Brisbane Women Arts Leadership Group with a cash prize of $1000, provided by the sponsors of the award.  The Brisbane Women Arts Leadership Group will work with the recipient of the award to develop a 12 month program of mentoring and development that is specific to the recipient’s needs and goals. The Program could include one-on-one mentoring with an Arts Leader, networking opportunities through invitations to opening nights and other industry events and professional development.

 

The Lord Mayor’s Award for Best New Australian Work

Crunch Time – Counterpilot

Including works from all performance categories, this is a very competitive category and this year is awarded to an outstanding new work that pushes the boundaries of what contemporary theatre is or can be. A transmedia performance work, sitting in the world of immersive theatre, Crunch Time places its full trust in the hands of the audience, combining intricately complex interactive digital design, with a guest chef from a public position, to set the scene for a performative dinner party designed to model the processes of democracy while providing the audience with a uniquely immersive theatrical event

 

Best Video Design

Craig Wilkinson – A Christmas Carol

An original and captivating video design that incorporated new video forms, staging magical gestures that were both theatrical and cinematic to impeccably support the aesthetic of the production. Craig’s design enchanted audiences with its spectacle, but only ever to serve the wonder of the story being told.

 

 

Best Lighting Design

David Walters – Nearer the Gods

In a production that that deals with both human foibles and the mysteries of the star-studded universe, David Walters’s original design displayed exquisite lighting artistry, providing moments that transported us beyond the characters’ earthbound realities, giving the audience evocative glimpses of the cosmic enormities that grounded the story.

 

 

Best Sound Design/Composition

Babushka – Happily Ever After

Babushka, in collaboration with Luke Volker, created an impressive sound aesthetic that incorporated blind-siding arrangements of a combination of original composition and existing works, utilising exquisite vocal harmonies and live music to deliver a darkly seductive and wickedly theatrical score.

 

 

Best Costume Design

Penny Challen – The Owl and the Pussycat

From a Surfers Paradise beach as part of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games Festival 2018 to a season at Flowstate and then on tour, the costume design for this work needed to be flexible and pack a visual punch. And that’s precisely what Penny Challen succeeded in doing. A visual feast, within an innovative contemporary context, the costume design provided seamless dramaturgical support for the work, with each costume displaying an impressive attention to detail and providing a vibrant and precise expression of the characters within their pea-green world.

 

 

Best Set Design

Josh McIntosh – A Christmas Carol

For inventive use of scale, theatrically realising a shifting cityscape that brought a vivid liveliness to this world. Josh’s modular design enabled a dynamic relationship between the characters and their environment, where the whole world seemed to open up and close in on its inhabitants as the story unfolded. This outstanding scenic design created a highly adaptive space that traversed numerous locations and technical requirements in a way that clearly evoked the environment of Ebenezer Scrooge’s world, while giving the artists a space within which to explore and create.

 

 

Best Director

Natano Fa’anana and Bridget Boyle – We Live Here

To the excellent directing team of Natano Fa’anana & Bridget Boyle, for their elegant and nuanced direction, and sensitive, funny, yet hard-hitting sharing of the story of the people of Hummingbird house. These directors worked collaboratively to create an incredibly strong visual narrative that seamlessly combined forms of circus and recorded narration to portray real stories. The result of their attention to detail was a compelling and unforgettable theatrical experience.

 

 

Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role

Andrea Moor – Hedda

Andrea Moor was barely recognizable in her standout portrayal of Aunt Julia Tesman, completely embodying the bogan matriarch, skilfully bringing both humour and heart in this layered and nuanced supporting performance. This outstanding work solidifies Andrea’s place as one of Queensland’s theatrical treasures.

 

 

Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role

Jackson McGovern – The Owl and the Pussycat

Jackson found gravity, balance, humanity and humour in an eclectic array of larger-than-life characters including a turkey, a pig, a bear and a moon. In a challenging breadth of roles, the skill of the performer shone through to create many memorable and standout moments that expertly supported the storytelling.

 

 

Best Female Actor in a Leading Role

Noni Hazlehurst – Mother

In a solo work written specifically for her, Noni gave an outstanding performance, giving voice to Christie, a lost, fallen and ultimately dispossessed woman existing on the fringes of society. Through her nuanced portrayal, we were able to connect with the humanity of this beautifully wrought character, and perhaps reflect on our own.

 

 

Best Male Actor in a Leading Role

Paul Bishop – Poison

For his compelling and unflinching portrayal of a father faced with life after the death of his son and the breakdown of his marriage, Paul Bishop brought the depth and breadth of his experience as one of Queensland’s most experienced actors to this work, presenting an intimately moving performance that captured the complexity of loss as both particular and universal. With Paul’s embodiment, the sticky details of this character’s backstory open up to accommodate our own grief and heartaches.

 

 

Bille Brown Award – Best Emerging Artist

Carly Skelton – The Hatpin

In the early stages of her professional career, Carly is being acknowledged for her portrayal of Harriet Piper, clearly meeting the professional requirements of the challenge. Carly displayed a solid skill base within a fully realised character journey replete with inventive choices and excellent comic timing that was skilfully coupled with vulnerability and empathy.

 

 

Best Circus or Physical Theatre Work

We Live Here – Flipside and Metro Arts

A unique collaboration of physical theatre, circus and recorded verbatim stories, this intricately nuanced production utilised a strong ensemble, excellent skills base, transformative design, stunning direction and detailed, touching performances to deliver an impossible-to-forget story about life in the face of death. For many, this work offered one of those divine experiences in the theatre – where an inexplicable moment in time and space lands with such emotional resonance that it transcends all language as a way of connecting us to each other.

 

 

Best Independent Production

The Sound of a Finished Kiss – Now Look Here and Electric Moon

In a strong year of independent work, The Sound of a Finished Kiss was considered the best overall independent production because of the unique nature of the musical work, the execution of the production, the degree of difficulty and uniqueness inherent in the original concept and the way in which all elements of the production came together to create an innovative theatrical experience of the indie musical reimagined for Queensland audiences.

 

Best Musical or Cabaret

The Sound of a Finished Kiss – Now Look Here and Electric Moon in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse

The indie musical reimagined for Queensland audiences, this compelling story of love, loss, betrayal and share-housing was explored in an inventive work inspired by the songs of The Go-Betweens. Using four singers, a live band and eleven songs from this iconic Brisbane band, The Sound of a Finished Kiss proved to be a powerful coming-of-age story that cut across genres and generations.

 

 

Best Mainstage Production – TIE

Prize Fighter (La Boite & Brisbane Festival) and The Longest Minute (Jute, Debase and Queensland Theatre)

This award is shared between two exceptional productions this year. Prize Fighter is recognised for the further development that has refined it into a powerful theatrical work of excellence. The urgent heart of this production explores the compelling story of a Congolese refugee, haunted by his past as a child soldier, as he fights to build a future in Brisbane.

The Longest Minute is acknowledged as an excellent collaboration between Jute, Debase & Queensland Theatre, fully immersing a diverse audience in the world of sport & theatre. By capturing attention through a uniquely local premise, this play sneaks up on us to explore underlying social, cultural and gender themes within its compelling story.

All elements of both productions were consistently outstanding and worked harmoniously to deliver theatre of excellence.

 

 

 

 

05
Feb
19

The Sisters Brothers (Les Freres Sisters)

 

The 30th Alliance Francaise French Film Festival

The Sisters Brothers (Les Freres Sisters)

Media Launch

Palace Cinemas, James Street

January Tuesday 29 

 

Reviewed by Shannon John Miller

 

 

This year’s 30th Alliance Francaise French Film Festival returns to Palace Cinemas in Brisbane from 14 March and is set to spoil cinephiles with a cultural foie gras of film. From the opening night with Audrey Tautou in The Trouble With You, to a special Australian premiere of the fully restored 1963, Last Year at Marienbad, the festival also offers Cannes’, Sink or Swim.

 

One particular plat principal on offer is French filmmaker, Jacques Audiard’s first English-language film, The Sisters Brothers. Lauded as the Australian festival-only premier, this film based on the award-winning novel, is set in the 1850s Californian Gold Rush. Eli and Charlie Sisters, (John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix) are cold-blooded hitmen brothers in the employ of a wealthy baron known only as the Commodore who tasks them with the job of hunting down a man called Hermann Warm (Riz Ahmed), a chemist who’s allegedly perfected a formula, which causes gold-bearing rock to illuminate in water.

 

Meanwhile Warm is also being tracked by John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) a henchman also in the pay of the Commodore, however the two men strike up an unexpected alliance and Morris defects with Warm to build a utopian society in Texas. The film is premised on this game of cat and mouse, however the plot takes an unprecedented twist remarkable of western film genre.

 

 

John C. Reilly is well cast as the brother eager to retire from their line of work, and he’s up against Phoenix, commanding and severe, who’s keenly settled on pursuing his career criminal aspirations. As hardened outlaws typical of the dry, uninhabitable terrain of the much-trod western, their masculinities are starkly juxtaposed against the gentle, emotionally intelligent, intelligentsia of Gyllenhaal and Ahmed. Although Gyllenhaal is miscast, both men provide a fresh reprieve from the harsh cruelty of the world this film is at pains to create and discern itself from.

 

Production design and costuming handsomely portray this period piece, especially the rendering of 1851 San Francisco, and while cinematography is at times too dark and moody, this adds to the film’s off-beat nuance. Oscar-winning composer, Alexandre Desplat provides a peculiar score to the film, which doesn’t exactly land, but reconceptualises the western genre music score so entrenched by Ennio Morricone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly score.

 

While there’s some dark humour in the idiosyncrasies, this is all ultimately weighed down by the mean-spirited misery the characters must endure, and what is left is a sombre and unpleasant film filled with dying horses, spider bites, limb amputations and all the horrors of the west. With themes including American progress, camaraderie and the promise of Utopia, Director Audiard imbues this outwardly American tale with his contemporary European film making sensibilities, and while still painting with a Hollywood palette of red, white and blue, he has created something new and exciting, which isn’t completely lost in the doldrums.

 

The 30th Alliance Francaise French Film Festival runs March 14 – April 14

 

See here for Brisbane details

 

02
Feb
19

Peter Pan Goes Wrong

 

Peter Pan Goes Wrong

Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, Kenny Wax Ltd. & Stage Presence

In Association With David Atkins Enterprises & ABA

Griffith University Queensland Conservatorium

January 30 – February 3 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

When the First Aider requires First Aid, what can you do?

 

After Mischief Theatre Company’s production of The Play That Goes Wrong, which made us laugh until we cried and cursed our non-waterproof mascara, we knew to expect from anything that followed, much hilarity and probably, an un-happy ending. This time, the Cornley Polytechnic Dramatic Society present their very special production of Peter Pan and we can only hope for a familiar ending to the classic tale. Or at least, with disaster after disaster turning Neverland into Never Again Land, a finale that leaves everyone alive. But if you’ve ever done a show on a community stage, or seen one, you’ll know that both quality and safety standards are the variables that make it exciting…and entertaining…and a unique experience that, once it’s all over and everyone has done the best they can, you feel compelled to experience it again! Such is the life of a Cornley player, each just doing what they have to do, to put on survive a show.

 

Clever actors-turned-writers, Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields have followed their winning formula to create this new version of a behind-the-scenes spectacle in which anything that can go wrong, does. It might not be as strong a piece structurally as the original – The Play That Goes Wrong – but everything still fails miserably and falls apart beautifully, and it’s just as funny, if not funnier, because we know who’s who and we know what to expect from them. 

 

 

Luke Joslin, as well as playing to the absolute hilt, Robert the Co-Director, the shadow of Peter Pan, Pirate Starkey, and beloved dog/children’s nanny Nana, is also Resident Director on this touring production (originally deftly directed by Adam Meggido), which means every joke lands perfectly and the pace is kept snappy, except perhaps during Act Two’s lengthy revolving, unfolding montage of catastrophic climactic events, but this is by design. Let’s acknowledge that while Simon Scullion’s set looks simple, it incorporates tricks to rival those of Haversham Manor, designed by Nigel Hook for The Play That Goes Wrong. Costumes designed by Roberto Suce also appear to be typical of a community panto, and typically thrown together, but each addresses every detail of character and practical necessity, and the bright colours and a multitude of interesting textures and additions come together to delight rather than horrify, as is so often the case when costumes are credited as “cast’s own”.

 

 

Connor Crawford offers every annoyingly accurate quirk of an amateur director as Chris, who plays George Darling and Captain Hook. George Kemp returns as Dennis, playing John Darling and Mr Smee, although because Dennis doesn’t retain his lines, he has them fed to him by the stage manager in the wings (until he doesn’t!) via an obtrusive set of headphones that also enables him to give us the winning Powerball numbers and various other radio station snippets as well as the final moments of a marriage. Tegan Wouters, triple threat that she is, is wonderfully physical and vocal as Lucy, the shy and stuttering, eventually transformed, Tootles.

 

 

 

Adam Dunn is Trevor, the no-nonsense, no-idea, no-end-to-his-patience stage manager in his final year of training for the third year running, and he almost steals the show, such is his presence and perfect comic timing. (The combined and complementary energies, and the quick wit of Dunn, Crawford and Joslin in the audience before the show is unforgettably very funny). Matt Whitty and Jessie Yates are the understudies who appear as assistant stage managers to Trevor. Jordan Prosser plays Max who can’t act, but whose uncle contributed the funds to make the production possible, so he is given the roles of the smiling crocodile and Michael Darling, and with his Colgate smile he nearly steals the show! Francine Cain is Sandra, and thus, Wendy Darling, though you’ve never seen a good little girl behave quite like this one. Sandra has something rather intense going on with Jonathan, who plays Peter Pan, played by Darcy Brown and she also has some seriously impressive interpretive dance moves.

 

As Annie, Tammy Weller gets a series of the quickest quick changes we’ve ever seen, playing both Mary Darling and the maid, Lisa, and then risks death by fairy lights as Tinker Bell. In the meantime, as Tiger Lily, she is rescued from certain death (the only other extended scene, strangely lengthy). Is there a harder working actress at Cornley Polytechnic Dramatic Society than Annie? I think not. 

 

 

Jay Laga’aia doesn’t keep us waiting long to hear a few strains from the Playschool theme song, and as Francis, he has a fantastically fun time playing the Narrator and Secco the pirate. His warm, generous performance in both cases is well received, as is the abundance of fairy dust each time he enters or exits with a flourish, by those in the front row. 

 

Peter Pan Goes Wrong, like last year’s The Play That Goes Wrong, could easily enjoy a much longer or more regular run in the right venue. (Another purpose built venue! Imagine that! In the meantime, imagine this franchise moving into Gail Wiltshire’s Twelfth Night Theatre. Actually, perfection), but it should be widely known by now that these touring productions in fact enjoy only a very short season before moving on. It’s simply not the same to sit in front of the 2016 film (or in front of any film when the live production is an option), so we must remember to take note of the early publicity and get tickets each time as soon as possible, and get a fix of Mischief Theatre’s special brand of hilarious, highly entertaining family friendly storytelling. I guarantee you’ll go home feeling better about any misadventures in your own life, reassured about your own ability to safely construct a bunk bed for the kids, and (as I am), completely convinced that we really do have some of the best talent in the world, right here on our own stages. If in doubt, if you’ve seen the Australian cast now, compare those performances with the ones below… But it’s true, right?

 

28
Jan
19

Sweet Charity

 

Sweet Charity

Understudy Productions & Lizzie Moore

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

January 25 – February 10 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

FUN     LAUGHS     GOOD TIMES

 

 

Singing without acting is just noise.

Sutton Foster

 

Social change is coming and things will never be the same again.

It makes literal the misogynistic idea that women’s bodies are rented, until they are “bought” by a husband.

It is a show that stands as relevant today as ever.

Kris Stewart and Maureen Bowra

 

You probably know a number of the famous songs from Sweet Charity, but you might not be as familiar with the show, which tells the tale of a perpetually lovestruck, politely regarded “dance hall hostess” in the swinging sixties, while NYC’s Madison Avenue bustles, hemlines rise, and eternal optimist, Charity Hope Valentine, sets about rebuilding a broken heart and readying herself for life outside…other people’s apartments. More than fifty years after opening, Sweet Charity retains its innocence, and as we find ourselves in the new Age of Aquarius, we also find that the torrent of emotions and frustrations expressed here by writers Cy Coleman (music), Neil Simon (book) and Dorothy Fields (how about those how-about-it-palsy lyrics), against the foibles of love and the attentions of the patriarchy are, unsurprisingly, apt. 

 

 

Sweet Charity’s director, Kris Stewart knows musicals. Like, in case you didn’t already know, he KNOWS musicals. And with Dan Venz not only performing but choreographing too, Shanon Whitelock not only on keys but musically directing too, Ben Murray making flawless sound happen like the miracle it quite often appears to be in a Brisbane venue, and Maureen Bowra by his side as Co-Director and Associate Choreographer, Stewart must have have thrown his head back to the sky and laughed at how perfectly this team came together.

 

And in the intimacy of the Visy Theatre, the performers are close enough to let us in on their every nuance, which means the hyper-reality of Charity’s theatrical storytelling is nicely balanced with the authenticity of the performances. This is a must-see production, beautifully realised, and these performances, I guarantee it, are already among the best this year. 

 

 

 

The company on stage is the strongest we’ve seen in Brisbane since Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, which boasted among its cast members Charity (Naomi Price) and Vittorio (Andy Cook). The ensemble is also superb and so strong that we can’t help walking away thinking that luckily for Price, she is THAT good! To be outstanding in such convincing company is testament indeed to the carefully studied voice and accent, the commitment to the pigeon toes and other awkward angles, and the natural flair for character and comedy that Price possesses. I think she’s the funniest I’ve ever seen her when hidden in Vittorio’s wardrobe to keep out of sight of his lover, Ursula (Lizzie Moore, also at her comic best!).

 

Price really is Sweet Charity, embodying every gorgeous, ridiculous tendency offered by the original girl on the page, without adding so much sweet, sticky, tacky taffy that we’re repelled by her and compelled to pry her from between our fingers and flick her away. Instead, we find ourselves giggling with her, dancing through these little bits of life with her, and eventually wanting to leap into the lake with her! Charity always reminds me of Milly Molly Mandy, only she too often depends upon boys to get her out of a scrape and she needn’t be home for tea.

 

Through all her misadventures, we find ourselves hopelessly, irresistibly, infuriatingly, firmly in Charity’s corner. Sigh. Yes. We all have a disastrously sweet Charity in our life.

 

 

This show is a big show, with a big mood, recognised famously in If My Friends Could See Me Now, which Price smashes out of Central Park, but even so, we recognise that the dear girl’s plight each time is just another human one, and in the grand scheme of things, hers is another tiny story in the world. Really. Consider. Charity is flawed, and fine, just like the rest of us. But without feeling anything for Charity, without hoping against hope that she will find the love of her life and somewhere better than where she’s let herself be, we wouldn’t actually care whether or not she finds true love, or friendship, or ever even escapes from her seedy workplace. This tiny story has suitably high stakes and loads of heart. This is of course, the secret to making seemingly light, fluffy musical theatre material speak to a contemporary audience the way it was intended to. Or better yet, more clearly than ever. For the telling of this heartfelt, heartwarming story, Price is perfect. 

 

 

Big Spender introduces the sassy chorus of girls with whom Charity works. This is essentially, before it was ever imagined, the title song and bar scene from Miss Saigon, and their Fosse-esque posturing and pouting go a long way in painting the picture of this place, where the open set fails to do so (Set Design Joseph Noonan). Or does it? Others think it’s ideal, but I feel it’s lacking in detail and a mood distinct from several other scenes (Lighting Designer Christine Felmingham). The number, staged diagonally, isn’t as effective as it could be in this space and the dance, as obviously Fosse as it is, lacks the sophistication of the style, and the nuance of the acting, with the temptation to push it into an an aggressive, self-righteous attack on all men everywhere proving too great to resist. The slow burn of the number, no matter how many times we’ve seen it, is still in our full realisation of exactly what the job entails and how au fait the girls are with it, but there’s little space held here for our growing horror. Perhaps we’re no longer horrified. Perhaps that’s the point. Let’s settle with saying that the majority appear to be a little too eager to be anything but eager (deliberately, delightedly, genuinely nonchalant is incredibly difficult to pull off, it tends to come across as bored), although there’s a startling energy that I fail to pinpoint; someone whom likely fully wields their feminine power off stage as well as on. There’s always one. What leaves a deeper mark for me than the execution of the dance itself is that there are moments when the girls as a collective are fierce enough to make us realise that they don’t want to be there, and feel they don’t have a way out, and vulnerable enough to make us realise that they don’t want to be there, and feel they don’t have a way out. And there’s the reminder. Dancing without acting is just movement. 

 

There’s also a slight anomaly in the tears shed by both Nickie and Helene, as we simply haven’t been given a chance to see the friendships develop enough to warrant said tears. Perhaps this is the point, and even these relationships have been that shallow. The ensemble features legit triple threats, Emily Corkeron, Shay Debney, Irena Lysluk, Sophie Stephens, Kate Yaxley (who steps into Charity’s chorus shoes just for January 31), Hayley Winch (Helene), Lizzie Moore (Nickie) and Rebecca Rolle, who simply shines, it having been said already that it’s quite a feat to stand out in this superb ensemble. The men are equally impressive, with dance detail and character traits well considered and delivered (Elliot Baker, Carlo Boumouglbay, Luke Hodgson and Venz).

 

 

To make up for the apparent lack of consideration for the set design, Noonan has successfully dressed (or semi-dressed!) the company in super cute sixties outfits, right down to the minis and boots. The ensemble’s Off-Broadway revival inspired all-white-everything and precision execution of the peculiar choreography during this extended sequence transforms Rich Man’s Frug into a beautiful aesthetic, somewhere between My Fair Lady, James Bond and Austin Powers. There’s Gotta Be Somewhere Better Than This is missing the same level of attention to detail though, and with its passion intact, with pace, precision and a genuine connection between the girlfriends, should be another showstopper by the end of the season.

 

 

Stephen Hirst, as the adorable, unbearable Oscar Linquist, brings a special kind of warmth and weirdness to the role. He and Price are well matched, and we shouldn’t be at all surprised if someone else takes advantage in the casting of anything upcoming to reflect this. I’m the Bravest Individual is clearly a crowd favourite, such as it is, sung in the most awkward situations.

 

 

Other than Price-as-Charity, the highlight of the show is The Rhythm of Life featuring Elliot Baker, Whitelock’s sensational new arrangement, and some Hair inspired staging, undressing and choreography. A band in this space has never sounded better, thanks to Ben Murray (the band comprises Whitelock on keys, with Daniel Robbins, Conall O’Neill, Michael Whitaker, Lisa Squires and Alanna Ritchie). I’m surprised when this toe-tapping (foot-stomping) full company number is not reprised, such is the audience’s obvious thrill on opening night, to experience a reinvigorated version of it. I ‘reckon if you can secure closing night tickets you’ll get a second look! For me this entire sequence sums up the approach we see Understudy Productions taking to stage anything, inspiring a fresh look at some of the more familiar (and less so) stories on stage, and to do so in a way that not only moves and delights audiences, but reignites our local industry. 

 

Sweet Charity is the feel good show of the year; there’s not a more enjoyable or inspirational night out to start your theatre year, and trust me, it will sell out! Book here. Wouldn’t you like to have fun, fun, fun?

 

 

16
Jan
19

The Illusionists: Direct From Broadway

 

The Illusionists: Direct From Broadway

Simon Painter, Tim Lawson, Andrew Spencer & Alexandra Hirst

QPAC Concert Hall

January 11 – 19 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

Why do people continue to come in droves to experience The Illusionists? It’s a mystery. The magic of the theatre…and savvy marketing.

 

Paul Dabeck, enigmatic and entertaining host and emcee of the latest incarnation of The Illusionists, direct from Broadway, is the highlight of the show, with magic tricks to amaze and lively, witty banter to amuse. I adore him. A natural entertainer of the highest calibre, Dabeck is the most down to earth of the group, with the genuine charm and good humour lacked by the others. His style is sophisticated and super relaxed, with just the right amount of spice; he’s a crowd favourite and the highlight of opening night in Brisbane. 

 

 

Every other act comes with a super-size-me serving of spray-on cheddar jack cheese, nope, not even pepper jack, just that old-school schmaltzy, sickening, pausing-for-effect, praise-me style that we thought had died out just as the rest of the circus and burlesque worlds continued to evolve, keeping only the very best aspects of vaudeville and real showmanship, as demonstrated by Hugh Jackman in The Greatest Showman, and Todd McKenney – I anticipate – in Barnum.

 

Not everyone is immune and there are just a few who leap to their feet at the conclusion of the show, having clapped and cheered at each trick much louder than anyone else – in the Concert Hall it’s more obvious than it is anywhere else – and perhaps they’re all the mates of our Aussie escapologist poster boy, Sam Powers…or perhaps they really love this strangely halting show. The American cheese bookending each act has a different impact upon most though, slowing the pace and flow of the show, and distancing us from the entertainers and their art, putting it all on a very high pedestal instead of inviting us in, seducing us, bringing us anywhere near any sort of mystery surrounding each performance, except that we’re actually so physically close to the action to notice the glitches from the outset. I seem to recall this being a disappointment last time (2015) and like the anti-climax that comes with yet another close-up magic card trick rather than a magical spectacular full company finale, I wonder why there hasn’t been since then, an assistant director or one of the producers or publicists, making the same observations aloud. These clumsy errors are quick to happen and just as quickly glossed over, swept into the shadows in an instant – if you blink you miss them – but if you catch them, it’s hard to un-see such imperfections. As is the case with any disappointment in life, our high expectations are mostly to blame, and as much as we go in ready for anything, it’s a general expectation that anything of this calibre will be fairly flawless. 

 

 

Mark Kalin (The Showman) and Jinger Leigh (The Conjuress) perform an old ring trick, using jewellery taken from the hands of audience members, and it appears to be the real deal, but like disappearing and reappearing people, we don’t look too closely at the detail. Eliciting gasps and warm applause from the audience, these illusions are a couple of the best. Leigh’s manipulation of a glowing sphere is less convincing, especially when we see it disappear beneath a black cloth, despite her showgirl eyes and smile alluding to the magical powers of the cloth she triumphantly wields in the foreground.  

 

The frenetic energy of Chris Cox (The Mentalist) does not endear him to everyone, but apparently the success of his act is largely due to his “side-splitting, confident, silly, charismatic and mischievous sense of magic”. It’s all very well to admit to reading behaviour not minds as the basis for a potentially entertaining and highly amusing act, but make it entertaining. And amusing. And foolproof. This act was foiled on opening night by the father who had to remind his son exactly what costume Cox had told them before the show, was what he’d be wearing beneath his suit. 

 

Florian Sainvet (The Manipulator) is too ridiculously good looking to be human, and this is the most intriguing part of his act. Both he and Leonardo Bruno (The Alchemist) are less than convincing. This is a shame, both for the audience and the award-winning Berlin male model types. We won’t mention the pretty female assistants at all because included in the company, are the pretty male assistants also. More clothing. Less lighting. Fewer sexy moves. Whatever. 

 

 

Luckily for our Sam Powers (The Enigma), his life or death world-first suspended escape act is a success. He even has time, twice, to pause and pose, hanging upside down by his boot straps during the 2-minute race to remove himself from a straitjacket, and then from the hooks that hold him upside down, before a burning bear trap collapses on where he would otherwise have fallen to his death. THE NEW ELEMENT BEING A BURNING BEAR TRAP. There is at least some comedy in the ridiculous.

 

 

In 2015 we saw The Daredevil (Jonathan Goodwin) hoisted upside down and left to hang by his boots too, while a fuse was lit and flames crept towards his trousers, leaving him just sixty seconds in which to get free and put out that fire. Has Powers even raised the stakes? Again, chiselled good looks saves this entertainer from too much criticism. But as part of his persona, he’s almost too relaxed, nonchalant, so that we don’t actually care very much about him while he’s dangling from a rope, apparently struggling…we’re actually confident that he’ll be fine. All in all the scene lacks tension. This is typical of each act, with a grandiose buildup doing more harm than good, and causing those around me to snicker at times, and others to yawn. You won’t see that in the pull quotes. BUT YES ABSOLUTELY WITHOUT A DOUBT SOME PEOPLE LOVE IT. And it comes as no surprise because our reality television shows are still rating highly too.

 

Let’s just note that the particular performance style perhaps preferred by Australian audiences within the magical realm now, or always, is less about the grandiose and more abut the genuine entertainment value. This may be about to change with all the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas (we hope not), or it may depend on which aspect of their show we’re referring to…anyway, the Americans will get a run for their play money when Brisbane’s infamous duo The Naked Magicians take up a strictly limited MGM Grand run, opening February 13 at Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club. Now THAT’S entertainment!

 

A big, safe, shiny, eternally touring show, The Illusionists: Direct From Broadway likely won’t exceed expectations, but it’s a fun night out for the family and friends – let’s say three stars – and the shared experience will probably provide some entertaining fodder for a few days of dinner table conversation. It might even inspire a new generation of entertainers. But if you’re the type who won’t have the television on during dinner, and can’t name even one of our latest “celebrities” to find themselves stuck somewhere in Africa, you’ll agree that this impressive franchise also continues to glitter, but it isn’t gold. 

08
Jan
19

Jersey Boys

 

Jersey Boys

Dodger Theatricals, Rodney Rigby and TEG Dainty

QPAC Lyric Theatre

 

January 5  – February 16 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

You sell a hundred million records. See how you handle it.

Nick Massi

 

You ask four guys how it happened, you get four different versions.

Tommy DeVito

 

Comparison is the thief of joy.

Theodore Roosevelt

 

Of all the jukebox musicals, Jersey Boys is the best (And I ‘reckon SHOUT! The Legend of the Wild One comes a close second), and this production, unless you saw the original touring production (2009-2012) is the best! A sizzling, slick retelling of the real life story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, featuring their original much-loved music, and flamboyant characters and events to shape the era that saw the blue-collar boy band become one of America’s biggest pop sensations of all time, selling 175 million records worldwide. A little dramatic license allows time to move swiftly by, and almost all perspectives to be taken into account, as Frankie Valli (Ryan Gonzalez), Bob Gaudio (Thomas McGuane), Tommy DeVito (Cameron MacDonald) and Nick Massi (Glaston Toft) take turns to narrate, and manoeuvre themselves through fame, fortune, misfortune and finally, to land a place in The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, back when a place in The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was hard won. Like, when top of the class and good behaviour awards actually went not to the next name listed in the roll, but to the kids who were top of the class and well behaved. Like, when five stars and superlatives actually went not to every show under the sun, but to the productions that could blow your mind and change your life. There’s a bigger picture here…

 

For an entertaining and highly energetic musical production with a strong story and a smash hit, chart-topping, finger-snapping score performed by one of the tightest little musical outfits in the country (MD Luke Hunter), I mean it; Jersey Boys is the best. I know you’ll love it. You’ll actually love. this. show. You already love the music.

 

 

If you want the breakdown from a comparative point of view, read on.

Let’s just quickly note that as per the book (Marshall Brickman & Rik Elice), the girls play second fiddle; it’s the band’s story but even so, in a range of support roles Cristina D’Agostino, Mia Dabkowski-Chandler and Mackenzie Dunne seem even less a part of the story than in the earlier production. Even given the chance to prove that there’s more to the woman, D’Agostino is an extremely bitter and angry Mary Delgado – and perhaps, to the male writers and director, award-winning though they may be, she is reasonably so – but in each moment, particularly those fragile moments after the fury, leading into My Eyes Adored You, which is delivered beautifully and delicately, it would be far more interesting to see the full gamut of emotion, and I’m afraid we don’t. Imagine, just for fun, for half a second, what Paige Rattray might ask of her within the same limited timeframe? As The Angels, the trio is vocally precise and the harmonies just gorgeous. It’s a shame we don’t get to hear more from them during the road trip / tour scenes. But, not their story, y’know? 

 

 

Another missed opportunity is in the role of Tommy Devito, with Cameron MacDonald coming across at times as overly aggressive, however; others see this as the ideal interpretation of the character. My guess is that he’s overcompensating and that he’ll settle as the season continues. At the moment, if there’s any sense of vulnerability, guilt, shame or softness it’s a case of too little too late. Originally, MacDonald had understudied the role, and now he misses the opportunity to strip away Devito’s many layers, as Anthony Harkin did, without having built this character from the core, though of course the actor – and director – and coach – would say that he did exactly that. But as performer, the trick is to have done all the work, allowing us to catch glimpses of the degrees of shade without letting us in on the work it takes to get to that place night after night. These subtleties, or lack thereof, are inconsequential if you’ve never seen someone else embody the role.

 

Thomas McGuane doesn’t let memories of Declan Egan’s Bob Gaudio cloud his own captivating performance. With Egan taking on the UK touring contract after our Sydney season ended, it must have been thrilling for everyone involved to see McGuane step into his shoes. He’s a standout, a proper superstar, with the voice, and energy and charisma to slow-burn for days.

 

Who can forget the wit and sass of Helpmann Award winning cabaret star, Michael Griffiths, as Bob Crewe? Unfortunately, Glenn Hill doesn’t appear to, and he is allowed to overplay to the hilt. Again, if you’re a Jersey Boys virgin you might be amused by his particularly camp posturing, but I miss Griffiths’ stylish and sophisticated take on what must have been just as challenging a role in real life at the time. It’s a pleasure to see Enrico Mammarella return as Gyp, and always a pleasure to see in any guise, Luigi Lucente.

 

 

Ryan Gonzalez opens as Frankie Valli, and perhaps we’ll get less aggression as he settles into the season, or perhaps we’ll get a better sense that this is Valli’s fierce determination (we’ll see yet another interpretation of the role with Daniel Raso at alternate performances). It seems ridiculous to confirm that he can hit the notes – if he couldn’t he wouldn’t be here – but there’s a bit to settle into yet. Having done it all before, Glaston Toft hits his stride early, and of course he’s vocally splendid, and this time he’s also fitter and finer, more relaxed, in the role of Nick Massi.

 

 

The staging is slicker, the television studio scenes are snazzier, and though the production overall looks and feels less casually confident than before, the vocals and harmonies are spot on, and the story’s a good one. It’s a perfectly finished and polished jukebox production, and the crowd does indeed go wild! Believe it! Because this Jersey Boys is just as glossy as its new-look souvenir program.

 

With just a few Brisbane shows remaining, there’s no reason to miss Jersey Boys; certainly not because you’ve already seen it! We know that we love to return again and again to the stories that resonate with us, and if this is one – if one of these versions of the story is the one – that resonates with you, don’t let the opportunity pass you by. There. That’s Jersey Boys

 

They ask you, what was the high point?

…when everything dropped away and all there was, was the music – that was the best.

 

18
Dec
18

Louise Bezzina to Lead Brisbane Festival as Artistic Director

 

Brisbane Festival announces Louise Bezzina as Artistic Director

 

Brisbane Festival has announced Louise Bezzina as the incoming Artistic Director for a four-year term. Her first festival will be presented in 2020. Bezzina is the creator and inaugural Artistic Director of Bleach* Festival; the Gold Coast’s Festival. Relocating to the Gold Coast from Brisbane in 2011, Bezzina created Bleach* Festival and built it from a pilot project to a major annual event that has reached almost 1million people since inception. 2019 will be her 8th and final Bleach* Festival, having led the organisation through the Commonwealth Games as part of the Creative Lead Team for Festival 2018 and establishing Bleach* as one of Australia’s leading site-specific contemporary arts festivals.

 

 

For Bleach*, Bezzina has commissioned more than 50 new works, from major outdoor spectacles to intimate dance and theatre productions from local, national and international artists. In 2018, four Bleach* Festival commissions were nominated for Helpmann Awards, with TIDE by Gold Coast dance theatre company The Farm winning Best Visual or Physical Theatre Production. Bezzina also co-produced the inaugural Opera on the Beach by Opera Australia and is one of the curators of sitespecific immersive arts experience Hotelling; a groundbreaking cultural tourism initiative of the City of Gold Coast. Bezzina was listed as one of 11 inspiring women of the Commonwealth Games on International Women’s Day in 2018 and has won several awards for her contribution to arts and culture in Queensland. She recently completed the Australia Council for the Arts’ Arts Leaders Program. Prior to Bleach* Festival, Bezzina held a number of high-profile roles in Brisbane, including Program Manager for the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts; Producer at Brisbane Festival, including Producer for the opening of the cultural precinct (GoMA, QPAC and State Library of Queensland); and Director of the Mackay Festival of Arts. Brisbane Festival Chair, Paul Spiro, praised Bezzina’s commitment to the cultural sector in Queensland and said her extensive festival experience and broad international connections made her an ideal candidate for the coveted role.

 

 

“After a competitive international search, the Board of Brisbane Festival is incredibly excited to appoint exemplary cultural leader Louise Bezzina to role of Artistic Director to guide Brisbane Festival future development alongside CEO Charlie Cush,” Mr Spiro said. “Having known and admired Louise as Bleach* Festival’s creator and Artistic Director, I’m delighted that she will be our next Artistic Director.

 

“Louise’s deep understanding of festivals, her curatorial rigour and vision for the future of Brisbane Festival made her an irresistible choice,” Mr Spiro said. “Brisbane Festival celebrates and reinforces Brisbane’s international cultural reputation and I look forward to Louise being part of Brisbane Festival’s ongoing development and change.” Bezzina said she looked forward to returning to the Brisbane Festival team following Bleach* Festival in May 2019. “The combination of Brisbane’s rich history, its contemporary dynamism and future ambitions offers a great thematic foundation for a festival and its artistic program,” Bezzina said. “The responsibility of an Artistic Director is to find the unique gems, welcome all citizens and, most importantly, turn the city ‘on’ during festival season. “Our job is to inspire audiences with new ideas and experiences that leave life-long impressions,” Bezzina said.

 

 

“As Artistic Director, I will showcase what characterises Brisbane, celebrating its wonderful artists, delivering a strong Indigenous program as well as curating a bold international program that makes sense for the city, ensuring it is loved by all of Brisbane.” Arts Minister Leeanne Enoch thanked outgoing artistic director David Berthold for his many achievements and welcomed the appointment of Louise Bezzina. “Louise has done an extraordinary job leading Bleach* Festival, helping to shape the Gold Coast event into one of the state’s leading multi-arts festivals,” Minister Enoch said.

 

“She will bring to the Brisbane Festival her passion for creating unforgettable arts experiences and a commitment to showcasing Queensland artists.” Lord Mayor Graham Quirk said. Bezzina takes over from David Berthold, whose fifth and final festival will take place in September 2019. Brisbane Festival Chair, Paul Spiro, paid tribute to Berthold’s contribution to Brisbane Festival during his tenure as Artistic Director. “Queensland audiences have benefitted from the extraordinary vision of David Berthold,” Mr Spiro said. “Over the past five years, the festivals that he curated have confirmed his status as a truly international festival director, able to connect with audiences of all ages, tastes and sensibilities. “He has brought unseen and unforgettable worlds to Brisbane for which we are deeply grateful,” Mr Spiro said.

 

The Spirit of Churaki

 

The Spirit of Churaki will be seen next at Woodford Folk Festival December 28 & 29