08
Aug
18

Jasper Jones

 

Jasper Jones

Queensland Theatre & MTC

QPAC Playhouse

August 3 – 18 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED……………

 

In the sizzling summer of 1965, a bookish 14 year-old boy flees from the boredom and bullying of small-town life by burying himself in stories of epic adventure. He never thought he’d find himself living one. Charlie Bucktin lives in a tiny, insignificant bush town where nothing happens. Nothing, that is, until Jasper Jones stumbles upon a gruesome crime out by the dam. Who else would he call on for help but the sharpest kid around?

 

A midnight tap at Charlie’s window sparks a race to solve a murder and clear Jasper’s name.

 

JASPER JONES IS AT MY WINDOW

 

A superb re-staging of the MTC production, adapted by Kate Mulvany and directed by Sam Strong, this Jasper Jones will satisfy. Brisbane’s opening night audience leapt to their feet, in the stalls at least, not even waiting for the final moment to sink in, in appreciation of the talent on stage and off. This tends to happen on opening night! And sometimes it’s best to see a different performance, once the season has started. With a stellar cast and creative team, Strong’s telling of Craig Silvey’s darkly disturbing small town story of intolerance, abuse, suspicion and suicide, is made surprisingly light and broadly appealing. It’s chilling in its true-crime flavour, but a distinctly Australian sense of humour prevails, both in the book and on stage, largely due to Kate Mulvany’s instinctive adaptation.

 

 

I miss the underlying moodiness of the novel at times and the eerie sense that a constructed eucalyptus forest on stage might bring to the live performance, with moonlight shining through branches rather than, as it is here, sensibly, through a fast and functional scrim, which is flown in and out to change our location in an instant, wasting no time to take us to the scene of an unspeakable crime, a place that’s so special to the titular character. The scrim has its place and yet it’s my least favourite aspect of the Helpmann Award winning design, which has come from the incredible imagination of Anna Cordingly, incorporating water and using tiny houses set around the outer edge of a revolve to bring to life the insular town of Corrigan. The revolve and the actors’ excellent timing allow for seamless transitions between scenes and brings some of the pivotal action centrestage, to the cricket pitch, the town’s common ground. Matt Scott’s inspired lighting states and Darrin Verhagen’s bushland soundscape help to transport us back in time and out of the city to a typical Australian town. This creative team’s close attention to detail, from the street lights to the gutters, to the louvres to the sandals and to the dirt beneath them, may have you convinced that this is in fact your place, your childhood neighbourhood. 

 

I spoke with someone recently again about the importance of memory, personal associations and adding scent to the live theatre experience to support a properly multi-sensory way into a story – remember, we’d diffused rose oil during our La RondeErotique and Diabolique, and then there was the breakfast cooking offstage during Neil Armfield’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll – anyway, without it being incorporated in the design, during Jasper Jones I could nevertheless smell the eucalyptus, the wattle, the creek, and the dust of Stringybark Road. It’s always amusing to see the look on students’ faces at school when I start a story with, “Before this school was built…” or “Before this road went through…” and watch their eyes widen before one of them invariably asks, “How old ARE you, Miss?”

 

 

Nicholas Denton’s embodiment of Charlie Bucktin is one of the most searingly honest, and sensationally funny physical performances we’ve seen on this stage in a long time. It’s an endearing performance, his ability to go from awkward and gangly to grown up, wise and worldly within seconds giving us a sense of an old soul in an adolescent body. His love of literature feeds his reality and his relationships, and helps us navigate our way through the mystery as he narrates. It’s through the use of gesture and the manipulation of spatial relationships that we gain additional insight into Charlie’s world, and the people inhabiting it. That comment obviously for the students… Denton takes special care as Charlie, to establish a lovely, awkward, guarded rapport with his strikingly beautiful, strong and stubborn mother, Ruth, the sensational Rachel Gordon. In this role she is somehow a symbol of the era’s frustrations and feelings of isolation, sharing repressed rage and grief, and personifying a similar lingering discontent and sense of disempowerment to Carita Farrar Spencer’s poignant performance in Ladies in Black. I feel like she’s every woman before me, and also me. Charlie also has some weightier moments with his dull and detached, determined-to-do-better father, Wesley. A sensitive Ian Bliss, with just a dash of Doug Hastings/Barry Otto, complete with shameless combover, earns our sympathy and eventually, our admiration too. 

 

 

YOU GOTTA’ GET BRAVE

 

Shaka Cook is a real, raw, intriguing and engaging Jasper Jones. Like a hunted, haunted animal, his vulnerability lies, barely visible, beneath the surface of a tough act that’s become his habitual behaviour. Cook beautifully underplays the complexity and sustains the edgy energy of a thing about to pounce or run away. By the same token he has a languidness about him, unnerving Charlie and suggesting to us that, in possession of this juxtaposition, he might just be the coolest guy in school these days, as opposed to the scapegoat dropout. The unlikely friendship between Jasper and Charlie is handled sensitively, keeping all the nuances intact; it’s a joy to witness this relationship, and their mutual respect, develop before our eyes. 

 

The less subtle friendship is between Charlie and Jeffrey Lu, an animated, dynamic performance by Hoa Xuande, hilarious and at times, heartbreaking. I do wonder if the others were warned during rehearsals that he might steal the show. Melanie Zanetti is exquisitely ageless, playing both the ghost of Laura and her little sister, Eliza, who is very much alive, and coquettishly bold and cute, until her complete unravelling, which also undoes us a little bit. Hayden Spencer, as well as contributing the satisfying thwack! of the cricket ball as Jeffrey finally gets his moment in the sun/on the crease, lets loose as Mad Jack Lionel, Corrigan’s biggest mystery and apparently, most obvious murderer. His truth is revealed beautifully, compellingly, and completely believably, adding rich context to the themes of secrets, lies, love, family and forgiveness.

 

 

Silvey’s novel is a contemporary classic and Mulvany’s stage adaptation, directed by Sam Strong, could tour forever under the same banner, such is its unblinking look into human nature, connection and communication, and the prevailing attitudes of 1960s Australia, which haven’t necessarily changed very much, have they? I love the seemingly low-tech approach, the attention to detail, the unhurried moments spent in Jasper’s sheltered, secret glade, the musings and laughter and delight of the friends, and the days spent outside sans digital devices, as well as the look inside Charlie’s head, and through him, the remarkable insight we gain into the humans that surround him, and that surround us. With the astuteness of To Kill a Mockingbird, the kooky humour of The Goonies, and the casual, lasting impact of Stand by Me, Jasper Jones is easily my favourite Queensland Theatre production this year…perhaps until the final two.

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07
Aug
18

The Book of Mormon on sale today!

 

The Book of Mormon, Broadway’s smash hit musical written by Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez, is coming to Brisbane and Adelaide and tickets are now on sale!

 

The Tony®, Olivier®, Grammy® and Helpmann® award-winning show will begin performances at
QPAC’s Lyric Theatre on 16 March 2019 for a limited season, before it transfers to the Festival
Theatre, Adelaide from 27 June 2019. BOOKINGS: HERE

 

The Australian production of The Book of Mormon has notched up 615 performances since
opening at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre on 17 January 2017 for a one year run, then moving to
the Sydney Lyric Theatre from 27 February 2018, with every performance selling out.
Winner of nine Tony Awards® including Best Musical, the Grammy® for Best Musical Theatre album
and four Olivier Awards® including Best New Musical, The Book of Mormon set a record for the
highest grossing on-sale of any musical theatre production in Sydney’s history with more than
45,000 tickets sold by the end of the first day of public sales, and broke the house record for the
highest selling on sale period of any production in the Princess Theatre’s 159-year history in
Melbourne.

 

At the 2017 Helpmann Awards, The Book of Mormon was crowned winner of the coveted Best
Musical award, while Trey Parker and Casey Nicholaw were awarded Best Direction of a Musical.
Since making its world premiere in March 2011 at New York’s Eugene O’Neill Theatre, The Book of
Mormon has played more than 380 consecutive weeks there, at more than 100% capacity
(standing room adds additional capacity), and has broken the house record more than 50 times.
Its successive North American touring companies have played to more than 100% capacity for a
combined total of 3,768 performances and broken 104 house records at 57 theatres.
The London production opened in February 2013, winning four Olivier Awards®, including Best
New Musical.

 

The Book of Mormon smashed box office records for the highest single day of sales in West End history and has sold out every single one of its 2,268 performances thus far in London’s West End.

 

Book, Music and Lyrics are by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone. Co-directed by Trey
Parker and Casey Nicholaw, The Book of Mormon has choreography by Casey Nicholaw, set
design by Scott Pask, costume design by Ann Roth, lighting design by Brian MacDevitt, sound
design by Brian Ronan, orchestrations by Larry Hochman and Stephen Oremus, and music
supervision and vocal arrangements by Stephen Oremus.

 

 

 

The Australian cast stars Ryan Bondy (above), A.J. Holmes, Bert Labonte and Zahra Newman.

 

The Book of Mormon is produced in Australia by Anne Garefino, Scott Rudin, Important Musicals
and John Frost.

 

 

 

02
Aug
18

Lysa and the Freeborn Dames

 

Lysa and the Freeborn Dames

La Boite & QUT Creative Industries

La Boite Roundhouse Theatre 

July 21 – August 11 2018

 

Reviewed by Meredith Walker

 

 

Aristophanes’ classic Greek comedy Lysistrata is a comic account of a woman’s extraordinary mission to end the Peloponnesian War by withholding sexual privileges from their men as a means of forcing negotiation of peace. As an early exposé of sexual relations in a male-dominated society, it is an apt source for Lysa and the Freeborn Dames, a new work by Claire Christian, which waves the feminist flag through a story of self-discovery, albeit with some stereotypes.

 

Bold and defiant first year university student nineteen-year-old Lysa King (Tania Vukicevic) resents the traditions of her regional home town, most notably its annual rugby match known as the war weekend. Bolstered by viewing the 2017 women’s marches, during a trip home to the typical church/Chinese restaurant/CWA town, after awkward reunion with once girlfriend Peta (Clementine Anderson), she stages a protest to disrupt the event, as mouthpiece of the #metoo movement, angering most of the town, including her friends and her father (Hugh Parker) who is being awarded Man of the Year in one of the weekend’s rituals.

 

 

Rather than rallying the women of the town in solidarity with their international sisters, Lysa alienates almost everyone though her fired-up hostility and wide range of demands for equality as she locks local footy star Grant (Jackson Bannister) hostage in the club’s locker room after he catches her alofting a ‘Pussy Power’ flag over the hallowed footy field. As the show revolves around this decision and its consequences over one night, in one place, staging occurs within the one room of the local footy club, represented simply by a sunken set complete with daggy club-type carpet. And music is likewise used to effect, especially in cementing a concluding sentiment through Cold Chisel’s Flame Trees.

 

 

Its recognisable everyplace type of town ‘somewhere in regional Queensland’, setting increases its accessibility, however, clearly the show’s intent is to engage a younger demographic through showcase of impulsive protest as a privilege of youth, which may alienate traditional mainstage audience members. At times, it verges on caricature, overwhelming potentially poignant moments with over-the-top character portrayals which can make it a frustrating experience, especially when any warning about the potential dangers of single-minded activism seems to be breezed over in its somewhat all’s well ending.

 

 

It is difficult to empathise with Lysa. Even though she has right on her side, her raging militancy is off-putting, especially as we witness her refusal to accept other viewpoints or ‘I don’t care’ perspectives which almost cost her close friendships. And although there are three male characters within the story, their responses to Lysa’s assertions appear as mere mentions, dismissed as being ‘part of the problem’ rather than allowed space for consideration.

 

 

Obviously whether audience members will see passionate defiance or stubborn belligerence in Lysa will depend on their personal experiences and life’s journey stage. Thankfully, there is a Greek chorus of freeborn dames (the all-wonderful Barbara Lowing, Roxanne McDonald, Hsiao-Ling Tang) to mix things up. The trio doesn’t just setup the action, serving as Lysa’s persona oracle, but allows for a reprieve from her lack of relent, providing a powerful presence in their punctuating reminder the feminism is not just for the young. In particular, Lowing’s monologue about legacy and post-middle-age liberation from the repression of service to others conveys a moving honesty that makes the audience applaud mid-show. And the trio’s sardonic commentary also offers much dry humour. Indeed, like its Ancient source material, “Lysa and the Freeborn Dames” is very funny, thanks largely to its vibrant supporting cast – prim and proper(ish) fourth generation Miss Weekender (with sash to prove it), Esme (Tatum Mottin) and brash tell-it-as-it-is gutter-mouth Myra (Samantha Lush), who bring an engaging energy to the at-times physical show, especially in its spirited ‘Wild Ones’ dance scene. Also of note are Morgan Francis as the town’s well-intentioned, plucky young caught-in-the-middle policeman and Hugh Parker’s as Lysa’s everyman, good-bloke father who by his own admission, just doesn’t understand.

 

With provocation at its core, this is far from polite theatre. The show begins with a punch of profanities which continues in some way for most of its duration. The words do become wittier as the show ebbs and flows along, but its message sometimes lacks discernment; in touch on big themes like gender, sexuality, politics and sexual politics, there is a lot going on and while sometimes it works, sometimes not so much.

 

Turning the international lens inward to feminism in rural Australia makes for an interesting theatrical premise, but working toward social change that takes everyone into consideration is complicated and it is probably for this reason that the show seems to lack a single thesis. From this tangle, there arises much opportunity for discussion though, especially for its target school group audiences, which is the show’s real value, for as Lysa tells her father when he questions her changed appearance and claim not to care what people think, “how is anything going to change if people can’t even have a conversation.”

 

One way or another, Lysa and the Freeborn Dames will evoke a response, whether it be in the form of feelings of frustration or fulfilment, and will, as enticed by its “fury fuelled dramedy” descriptor, generate contemplation and conversation.

 

 

28
Jul
18

Beautiful The Carole King Musical

Beautiful The Carole King Musical

Michael Cassel

In Association With Paul Blake, Sony/ATV Music Publishing & Mike Bosner

QPAC Lyric Theatre

July 19 – September 2 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

Beautiful tells the inspirational true story of Carole King’s remarkable rise from teenage songwriter to global superstar. She fought her way into the record business as a schoolgirl but it wasn’t until her personal life began to crack that she finally found her true voice and went on to become one of the most successful solo artists in pop music history.

 

Michael Cassel’s production of Beautiful The Carole King Musical is so extraordinary it’s hard to know where to begin, but let’s make it as simple as possible: right from the outset Beautiful is an exceptional show, inspiring and life-affirming, its magic largely due to its star, the incredibly intuitive and talented performer, Esther Hannaford

 

I’ve hash-tagged #allthesuperlatives on social media and I mean it. Beautiful is the most structurally sound, entertaining and touching show we’ve seen at QPAC since Tim Minchin’s Matilda. In case you’re still a bit Brisbane-centric, it’s worth noting here that Beautiful’s Musical Director, Daniel Edmonds, joins The Book of Mormon’s Blake Bowden in Noosa tonight, to premiere Bowden’s original cabaret Straight From the Hart. With Edmonds at  the helm, both in Brisbane and here by the sea, we can be sure we’re in good hands.

 

Beautiful has garnered so much attention, won so many accolades since its Broadway beginnings, it’s no surprise that at this year’s Helpmann Awards it took out Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical (Marc Bruni), Best Female Actor in a Musical (Esther Hannaford) and Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical (Matt Verevis). 

 

 

The book is witty and funny and at times very moving, with the observations of these wonderful real-life characters laced with intelligent humour and lifting the story out of nostalgia – dangerous territory in a contemporary musical. Written by Douglas McGrath, who notes in an interview that King’s music is infused with her kindness, “marked by forgiveness, compassion and warmth,” the show successfully hones in on the earlier and most essential elements of King’s songwriting story, to give us a glimpse into her world, and the people inhabiting it.

 

As singer-songwriter Carole King, Hannaford is sheer perfection, bringing pure and simple joy, and her own wry humour to the role. Her soaring, stunning vocal work lifts us out of ourselves. Bookended by the title track, the opening and closing scenes reveal either the most convincing acting ever seen on an Australian stage or actually, Hannaford’s whole heart and soul shining through.

 

If you’ve met Hannaford, you’ll know it’s the latter. The woman is that incredible, and honest and humble too. Her higher vibration probably influenced the feeling generally on opening night, with Beautiful premiering in a warm golden glow as opposed to the typical excitable bright white hype that we love…and sometimes love to have a break from. In terms of experiencing live theatre, this is such a soulful night out, I defy anyone to remain unaffected by Beautiful.

 

 

Hannaford skilfully manages the darker aspects of the story too, taking time and at times, allowing a single glistening tear to leave a streak down one cheek as she ponders the deeply troubling aspects of King’s life and the tumultuous relationship with first husband, Gerry Goffin. There’s so much involved here, but for the sake of brevity, as Facebook would suggest, over time the relationship becomes “complicated”. Josh Piterman’s portrayal of Goffin is heartbreaking, encouraging us to consider how much our attitudes towards mental health have changed, if at all. This is another accomplished performance that enamours, challenges and ultimately earns our compassion and understanding.

 

 

Lucy Maunder is a gorgeous, intelligent, sassy Cynthia Weill. She has to be to come up against the brassy confidence and bold advances of Barry Mann (Matt Verevis) and just as quickly fall for him. This pairing is divine casting, creating a completely convincing second songwriting pair who remain together to this day. It seems Maunder can truly turn her hand to anything, and it’s such a joy to see her embody this role with gusto and great comic ability as well as the tenderness of King’s closest friend.

 

Pitch perfect performances also come from Chloe Zuel (Little Eva, the babysitter, gifted Locomotion), Stefanie Caccamo (Betty), and Naomi Price (Marilyn Wald), proving once again that there are no small parts, and in our current musical theatre climate, no small players either. Let’s take a moment to recognise what a thriving, amazing, exciting musical theatre industry we’re enjoying right now!

 

Mike McLeish (Don Kirshner) and Anne Wood (Genie Klein) each bring such attention to detail to their roles, and rounding out the core ensemble, we wish we could see more of them. These are the roles that would be fleshed out for the film version, which – let’s face it – is a no-brainer. Hurry up, Tom Hanks!

 

 

Jason Arrow (Righteous Brother, Neil Sedaka), a recent WAAPA grad in his professional music theatre debut, makes a couple of fantastic and very funny, though all-too-brief appearances, as Neil Sedaka; keep an eye on this one, we’ll be seeing him again and again. As the other, taller Righteous Brother, and also as the lovely Nick, Andrew Cook once again leaves a lasting impression. Some of Nick’s mannerisms seem so familiar that I had to resist asking him after the show if he’d studied our Thomas Larkin in real life, since he was also there and this would have been awkward. Every characterisation is so natural, despite the silliness of some of the songs, testament to the talent on stage and the belief in the story. The Drifters and Little Eva’s Locomotion dancers are hilarious, largely because their every number is a tongue-in-cheek effort to celebrate the music and at the same time, unapologetically laugh in the face of its factory generated bubblegum aftertaste. From the outset, with a fabulous medley of smash hit ditties, we understand that Kirshner was the Stock, Aitken and Waterman, or the Willy Wonka of this musical era, and the Brill Building his chocolate factory. Edmonds’ musical direction takes the accomplished band through the decades, and the design team neatly place us in each location (Set by Derek McLane, Lighting by Peter Kackzorowski, Sound by Brian Ronan, Costumes by Alejo Vietti and not to be overlooked, amazing Wigs & Hair by Charles G. Laponte).

 

Director Marc Bruni has superbly realised McGrath’s take on Carole King’s early career and personal life. The most successful female recording artist of 1971, outselling any album by The Beatles, staying on the charts for six years and selling more than 15 million copies of her award-winning album Tapestry, King’s transformation from an ordinary sixteen year old girl with extraordinary talent, to a successful songwriter and singer in her own right, is an inspiring true tale of destiny, dreams and empowerment. Beautiful is a joyride. We only have to look at Hannaford to see its essence in her smile, and be sure of this show’s lasting impact.

28
Jun
18

Guru Dudu’s Silent Disco Walking Tour

 

Guru Dudu’s Silent Disco Walking Tour

Out of the Box

QPAC Cascade Court

June 26 – July 4 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

The Brisbane Guru Dudu team boasts four energetic and very brightly clad tour guides – Maja Hanna Liwszyc, Stefan Cooper-Fox, Daniel Cabrera and the original Guru Dudu, David Naylor – who take turns to take super fun silent disco walking tours.

 

The concept is not only an Out of the Box smash hit but also, a private-party-in-public-spaces phenomenon sweeping Australian and UK cities.

 

I think we all wish we’d thought of it.

 

We arrive on QPAC’s front steps to be greeted by staff in their black and red, and to greet festival volunteers in their orange. That distinction is deliberate, many of them being a bit shy, or else, not yet in character as Effervescent Festival Vollies. We are issued with a set of headphones each, and instructions to meet Guru Dudu and the green group at the top. Fortunately for punters on the first day, most of QPAC’s staff, being not quite as shy, and a number of them having survived several Out of the Box festivals since 1992, knew a good deal more about where things were and indeed, what things were, than many of the vollies. We’ll put misdirection and reticence down to opening day/night jitters. 

 

We could see our Guru Dudu (Stefan Cooper-Fox) and as soon as we had our earphones in place we could hear him, and that the party had already started! We joined the group and I made a strong offer of a classic disco move. Not being known for my enthusiasm when it comes to audience participation, I’m not sure if it was me or Poppy who was more surprised by this unusual willingness to be involved. Panic at the disco? Having to talk the talk in recent devising sessions? Actually, it’s harder not to join in; the music makes us want to move. This silent dancing/walking caper is hard to resist! It’s actual real-life living-in-the-moment stuff without the memes, instant heightened awareness, just-add-earphones increased confidence, without inhibiting levels of self-consciousness. It’s liberating and laughter inducing.

 

Of course, we’re not really aware of anything happening outside of the world created by Guru Dudu. We realise on some level that without earphones, onlookers don’t know what’s happening; all they know is what they see, which is a group of super confident disco dancers of all ages and abilities having super amounts of uninhibited, silent, silly fun. Going by the raised brows and wide smiles, it must be hilarious to witness. A mum shares her headset with a random woman, her bewildered expression transforming into one of recognition. She knows the song and she suddenly understands the set up. She offers a big smile and double thumbs up, passes back the headset and continues on her way with a new bounce in her step.

 

The song choices are good, with a few of them kitsch enough to be cool – it’s a kids’ festival after all, but the grown ups have to make it through the day with some humour too. The Mission Impossible theme is the first challenge, as we move like Super Spies across the walkway, heading towards the museum and art galleries. Bjork’s Quiet is performed conspiratorially, now that we’ve all bonded during our impossible mission, just as we might expect to see it at an early Wakakirri rehearsal (or an early evening karaoke effort), with parents getting down low to join Guru Dudu and kids, gesturing “SHHH” and singing along, although whether or not any of them are singing the same notes as Bjork is anyone’s guess.

 

Not as popular with the adults as with their children are the more literal song and dance tasks, including being dinosaurs to Katy Perry’s Roar, and dancing like monkeys to a track that was previously unknown to me: Disney Junior’s Big Block SingSong Two Banana Kind of Day. I don’t recommend it.

 

Everyone happily joins a conga line, and takes their turn At the Carwash, although Poppy thinks this one is odd and I remind her that everyone – even the kids of Rydell High – have their variation on a tribal initiation or celebration circle. We wind down with some actual circle dancing, as any sub-culture would, with parents pushing their offspring into the centre, confident that with so much live on-camera experience after this, their children are well and truly ready to be reality television stars. Walk Like An Egyptian garners massive support from tour participants and randoms, and we finish up with a fun free dance and enthusiastic high fives for Guru Dudu.

 

Despite the exquisite pressure of a tight turnaround before the next tour and a couple of unintentionally quiet moments that occur at the push of a wrong button (these are met with merry laughter), Guru Dudu has been relaxed and fun, keeping things moving at a safe, steady, contemporary, public-space-disco pace. It’s been real.

 

There is obviously safety in numbers and everyone feels comfortable to do their very best silly dance moves in a big group. Guru Dudu’s Silent Disco Walking Tour is so much fun. There’s no right or wrong; we’re free to be ourselves and have some uninhibited fun.

 

Guru Dudu is one of the most exciting inclusions in this year’s program, with a terrific payoff for participants and an awesome ongoing opportunity for artists. And the festival is always amazing – you can see its success in the smiles on small faces and the stats in the press – but I miss the amazing festival feeling of previous years, when school groups and families all settled in the sunshine, on the grass by the river, sharing the open outdoor space, a village, a common ground. Without that now, and everything happening instead within the QPAC building and cafe areas, it all feels very safe and neat and contained, a little like the development and support of the arts in this country generally. I mean, it’s hard to believe that there’s a festival on at all. I guess in good weather over the weekend, the Cultural Forecourt will come to life again. 

 

Perhaps Guru Dudu’s tour group will be allowed to venture out into the open then, since this immersive event goes some way to filling the community festival feeling void (The other great crowd event is Dance…Like No One is Watching, don’t miss it!). We’d noticed the first tour group of the day moving through that riverside space, and I can only imagine the reasons to move to a more contained concrete area upstairs (weather and workplace health and safety considerations/risk assessment factors, and comments from carers who would rather not admit that in fact, they’ve always felt a bit insecure in their attempts to wrangle small persons in open spaces). It probably looks easier on paper to take it all inside. But easier is not often better or…funner.

 

 

Minister for the Arts Leeanne Enoch said Out of the Box was a great opportunity for Queensland children to engage with amazing arts experiences, to sing, dance, move, play, paint, create and imagine. “With ongoing support from the Queensland Government for more than 25 years, Out of the Box has presented quality performance and cultural activity that celebrates and supports learning, play, and discovery for children,” Minister Enoch said.

“Since the first Out of the Box in 1992, the biennial event has engaged more than one million participants and 3721 artists. It has presented 1534 performances, 2335 workshops and 9461 activities.

“Out of the Box has presented 103 brand new works, some of which have gone on to tour nationally and internationally and creating work for Queensland artists,” Ms Enoch said.

QPAC Chief Executive John Kotzas said the delivery of the biennial Festival and associated community engagement activities connects children with a variety of arts experiences and is a great example of how QPAC inspires our community to talk about broader issues in the world today.

 

 

 

27
Jun
18

The Arrival

The Arrival

QPAC’s Out of the Box & Red Leap Theatre

QPAC Playhouse

June 26 – July 1 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

A man flees his homeland and journeys across vast seas to arrive in a strange, wondrous

new world where giant ships fly through the air and curious creatures abound. There he

negotiates dazzling architecture, bizarre foods and foreign tongues to build a new life. On his

travels the man meets fellow migrants, each with their own tale to tell.

 

 

There are no notes for a relaxed performance, though that’s what it is, with hundreds of kids spilling into the seats in the Playhouse on the first day of QPAC’s Out of the Box children’s festival, asking questions already, and right through the show. And this is the way theatre used to work, and needs to continue to work, allowing us to be involved and completely immersed and alive, feeling every moment. For a kid, more often than not, this means feeling out loud, speaking their mind in the moment, and not accepting being told, “Shhh…we’ll talk about it later”, although if you’ve been following for a few years you’ll know that that is precisely what I’ve told Poppy, now twelve, for years of attending theatre with adult audiences. (I care less now about the glares). I love the children’s chatter during the shows that are especially created for them. I also love when they are captivated and silent, and in this show there are those magical moments too, when a hush descends over the entire audience of under-eights. But not for long! It’s too interesting and exciting!

 

What’s happening? What is that? Where is he going? Why can’t they be with him? Is the tiny ship the ship he’s on? Why can’t they go on the ship too? Is this a true story? Not all of it is understood, but there is a basic family unit separated and eventually reunited, and in between there is survival, friendship, war, horror and a new home.

 

More questions. This time from Poppy, afterwards. Why can’t we see Air Play? Why can’t we see everything? Why did he have to leave his home? Why couldn’t his family go together, stay together? Did the beautiful origami bird letter reach them? Was it even a letter? Money? Was it his love being sent symbolically across the ocean? This last, not as clear as it might have been, unless of course you’ve recently read the book, which Poppy had not. If you’ve not looked at the book recently either, or never looked at it, watch this brilliant animation. I had shared it with ten-year-olds at one school before we wrote about our favourite images, and created leaving and arriving freeze frames. At another school I was asked not to use the book again, it was too much to discuss. “We don’t have time to talk about that.” 

 

Adapted by Kate Parker and Julie Nolan, and directed by Nolan, this outstanding production, like Shaun Tan’s award winning graphic novel, comprises a series of incredible images, created by bodies, and the muted colours and textures they wear and through which they weave. Set pieces slide, and fold in and out and onto themselves, offering a semblance of a pop-up storybook on stage, perfectly lit. Scenes and moods and emotions shift seamlessly in curious exploration of a whole new life and the wonderment of living it, and the challenge and contentment that comes with communicating and connecting with other living beings. 

 

 

To have The Arrival of the title, we must first have a departure. This is a poignant goodbye, preceded by the opening image of the three as one – a perfectly balanced family trinity, clutching each other in a lifted embrace before they separate, to be seen as three individuals, each with their own feelings and ways of working out the world. There is a long journey and a ship sails by, beyond the action, just as a suitcase ship is constructed downstage, in front, in the real-life world of the play. The kids get it. Perspective 101. Performers become migrants, and make a porthole of their arms, and we fully accept the style of the show now – I remind Poppy that she saw something like it for the first time in Wolfe Bowart’s beautiful works, including Letter’s End and La La Luna; his is some of my favourite visual/children’s theatre ever – combining live performance and physical theatre, puppetry, projections, silhouettes and shadows, an evocative soundscape and original music. Adults and kids alike marvel at various inspired aspects of Red Leap’s storytelling, even something as simple as swaying together to create the shared trepidation of the travellers and the movement of the ship. With only the faint hope of finding more than a day’s work, it’s the opening of Les MiserablesAt the End of the Day, played out in silent slow motion on a boat. Birds fly overhead, heralding a strange new land, and crying freedom and joy and flight and hunger and fear. Of course, that depends on who you’re asking.

 

 

The walking fingers of performers, representing the newcomers’ insignificance as much as the figures themselves, hurry along a gangplank, which rests between the suitcase ship and an official looking person, standing formidably and stamping passports, allowing them passage across the bridge to a new world. A projected image seems to be the shape from the book, which is a beautiful, spot-the-difference moment with children if you have a copy at home or at school; it’s the towering, hand-shaking figures in their boats, but it’s not as clear as the Statue of Liberty would be (and how clear is her message at the moment, anyway?), and perhaps it’s a missed opportunity to incorporate another amazing design feature, as The Rabbits had its central tower of earth. Perhaps not.

 

 

A hot air balloon is revealed before it’s miniaturised, and our man continues his journey, looking over a vast new city. This means of transportation is gentle and other-worldly, like Dorothy’s intended way home, or Charlie’s Great Glass Elevator once it’s crashed through the factory ceiling. There are oohs and ahhs all around us. We see seasons pass, and the man is rained on, snowed on, each element initially indicated by the actions of the ensemble, clustered around him, reaching and clicking fingers in the air, and more reaching, fingers pinching snowflakes, unintentionally making the “okay” sign because (the boy behind me), “Look! Everything will be okay, don’t worry, Mum”, and (Poppy beside me), “Surely someone will be kind enough to give him a home.” And someone is. The new home is tiny and strange, with strange things in it! The ensemble members become a hat stand, a shower, and the puppeteer of a stray creature, a new best friend. A wonderful moment sees the actors react to a spray of water from the shower, and kids all around us shriek and laugh! In the pages of the book we see that there are many like the man, however; this story is mostly his story, and it has not been made too overwhelming by frequently and needlessly reminding us that there are countless others in his plight, focusing instead on just a few migrant stories to represent millions. The most engaging of these, a great and terrible battle in which many lives are lost during a series of lifts and spins and balances, and a near tragedy, depicted by a woman moving over and under a continuously moving ladder to retrieve a precious book, perhaps her only possession. These are highly physical sequences, the company of actors having settled with each other and with the demands of the show over a very short rehearsal time, however; during the extended season, once they’ve really settled, you’ll see an even tighter, more precise and even more closely connected ensemble, comprising Giema Contini, Nerida Matthaei, Leah Shelton, Michael Tuahine, Charles Ball, Danielle Jackson, Kristian Santic, Caroline Dunphy, and Tama Jarman & Shadon Meredith from Red Leap Theatre.

 

 

We appreciate more and more the work of these performers, largely disguised during the journey in their on-stage-stagehand roles, manipulating the invading dragon tail dementors in the sky, and moving city walls, and later, pulling up cloth from below the apron of the stage to create a field of flowers, the perfect realisation of Tan’s original illustration. A devised imagined language also makes perfect sense, supported by comedic gestures and facial expressions, often bringing light to this dark story. There’s a very funny snozzcumber moment, when a refreshing, revolting tasting fluid is sourced from some weird vegetable at the market. A more frightening BFG/Holocaust/The Mission moment comes with the sudden, violent extraction of tiny people by enormous shadowy figures looking suspiciously like Ghostbusters (the original Ghostbusters, kids, the best).

 

It’s gorgeous to see and hear this society brought to life by accomplished performers, making this production a theatre makers’ masterclass: for physical theatre / devising / directing addicts/aficionados we see in The Arrival a stunning example of contemporary theatre, and specifically, Visual Theatre and Physical Theatre using the essential elements/ingredients of composition, including all of The Viewpoints. For example, and this is especially for my year 9 & 10 drama kids, who are used to me telling them to go see whatever it is I’ve just seen, a beautifully constructed sequence of everyday activities exploring gesture, tempo, repetition and duration, as well as a choreographed dream-turned-nightmare, and a unique game in which lawn bowls meets bottle-flipping, to the great delight of everyone-who-is-not-a-teacher-with-playground-duty-experience.

 

 

With the arrival of another Spring, comes the arrival of the man’s family, and again this moment is miniaturised, the fingers doing the initial walking, building our anticipation before, finally, a running, leaping, embracing reunion, made even more moving this way, setting up the final lasting image of the family standing together again. 

 

The Arrival comes to us with its universal story, its beautiful, powerful, theatrically conceptualised and constructed images, and Red Leap’s signature aesthetic. It’s unparalleled at this year’s Out of the Box Festival, superbly realised, designed and directed, imbued with so much meaning and emotion, and waiting for your take on it. This is the intelligent, aesthetically and emotionally inspiring theatre that kids (and adults) never forget. Take the whole family and talk about it, and about what it means to each of you, and what – if anything – you might do about the feelings that come up for you. It’s not a call to action exactly, but a gentle nudge, a reminder to love and be loved, and to be kind to those near you – family, friends, strangers – because at the core of The Arrival is the struggle to survive and stay connected, and that’s everyone’s story.

 

Red Leap Theatre – The Arrival TRAILER from Red Leap Theatre on Vimeo.

16
Jun
18

4Seasons

 

4Seasons

QPAC, Expressions Dance Company & City Contemporary Dance Company 

QPAC Playhouse

June 14 – 22 2018

 

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

 

 

 

The Chinese Australian Dance Exchange Project is more than just a dance exchange. It is an exchange of ideas and an intertwining of culture, with an enormous amount of generosity and respect between everyone involved.

Natalie Weir, Artistic Director, Expressions Dance Company

 

 

A collaboration between Expressions Dance Company (EDC) and Hong Kong’s City Contemporary Dance Company (CCDC), 4Seasons is the latest development in EDC’s Chinese Australian Dance Exchange Project. Presenting three very different works by three choreographers, it premiered in Hong Kong last month.

 

First on the program is Summer, created by independent choreographer Kristina Chan for the CCDC dancers. She has imagined a future world of fierce heat as global warming worsens, exploring how people react to changed climate.

 

The dancers are already on the stage when we enter the theatre, slowly walking, crouching, and writhing on the floor in silence, under a burning orange light shining through a silk canopy above. They are dressed in black and grey.

 

This is an ensemble work, with no individuals singled out — it is as if we are watching a community of organisms from a distance as they are burnt by fierce heat, blown by gales, and fearfully watch the orange sky.

 

The dancers move in slow motion with great fluidity and control — a population weighed down, moving through an oppressive atmosphere. They huddle together, shielding each other, entwining, collapsing, recoiling, and occasionally running.

 

The music, James Brown’s Summer, is ominous, with long drone-like notes humming and blaring, pounding beats, noises like a helicopter, rumbling, the sound of the wind, and rasping breath.

 

An endpoint seems to arrive when the sky falls and envelops the dancers in a silvery shroud. However, in an anticlimactic final section after a short stillness, some people extricate themselves and crawl away. Others survive to struggle on, with eventually only a lone figure left standing.

 

This work is intense and, despite its apocalyptic vision, at times hypnotically beautiful in a minimalist way.

 

 

Following a very short break (when the audience remains in darkness), the second work on the program begins. Dominic Wong, Assistant Artistic Director of CCDC, created Day after Day on the six EDC dancers and one CCDC dancer, using music by Nils Frahm, Olafur Arnalds, Max Richter and Patrick Ng.

 

Focusing on partings and reunions, in analogy with changing seasons, it opens dramatically with the group entering quickly, carrying Alana Sargent above them as if she is swimming through waves. Their transparent white pants and blazers contrast with the darkness of the previous work, and accentuate the rapidity and detail of the movement.

 

The EDC dancers dived into this work with great energy and commitment, meeting the demands of an astonishing variety of movement. In a complete change from Summer, this is frenetic and tic-like at first, with scratching movements, heads jerking like birds, little jumps and wriggles, nodding and head shaking. In one section, the thrashing music, white suits and high-energy movement are reminiscent of a nightclub.

 

Behind the EDC dancers, Bruce Wong of CCDC is walking in ultra-slow motion across the back of the stage. With shaved head and almost naked, he is a complete contrast to the other dancers. He suggests the passage of time, or an underlying reality of life with non-essentials stripped away.

 

When Wong turns towards the front of the stage and begins to walk forward towards a column emitting bright white light, the mood changes. The music becomes plaintive and has a singing piano-like tone. The movement of the EDC dancers changes pace, with slow-motion lifts and slow turns. As Wong reaches the column, the work ends. 

 

 

The culmination of the program is the signature work 4Seasons, choreographed by EDC’s Artistic Director, Natalie Weir, for all 20 dancers of both companies. Weir’s music choice is Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, ‘recomposed’ in a contemporary and compelling interpretation by Max Richter.

 

The costumes are in soft colours of pale pink, pale grey-green, burgundy and dark blue that reflect the seasons and look lovely together. In this work, as in the other two, the visual and costume design by Cindy Ho, and lighting by Lawmanray contribute hugely to the different moods and styles.

 

Duos representing each season are punctuated by interludes for the full ensemble. Alana Sargent and Ivan Chan evoked spring and youthful romance, entwining around each other. Bobo Lai and Richard Causer projected the sensuality and storms of summer, matching their power and energy. Elise May and Yve Yu, with long extensions and coiling embraces, savoured the richness and fulfilment of autumn.

 

The winter duo for Qiao Yang and Jake McLarnon was electrifyingly beautiful from the instant it started. In its expression of longstanding love, coupled with a poignant realisation of time running out, the couple seemed to melt and soar in intertwining and folding lifts. It was as if the movement itself had become embodied, rather than bodies putting effort into making movement.

 

Qiao is an extraordinary dancer, whose every move is viscerally expressive. In McLarnon she has an extraordinary partner whose strength, line and feeling complement her perfectly. Their interaction is in essence like that between the two companies: the fluidity, control and speed of the CCDC dancers and the athleticism, attack and broad-brush fluidity of the EDC dancers melding and influencing one another.

 

In full circle, the winter couple is followed by a look back at youth. Felix Ke, one of dancers representing spring, dances a lovely solo with a yearning quality, and many slow-motion acrobatic movements. Rousing ensemble work end 4Seasons on a high note. With the pace and variety in this work, and the quality of the performances, it flew past, ending too soon.

 

The whole program is an inspiring celebration of dance, music and the spirit of collaboration, drawing together so many different elements: Vivaldi, Max Richter, the climate apocalypse, romance, passion, fierce athleticism, transcendent beauty, meditative slowness …

 

Production pics by Cheung Chi Wai

 




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