24
Apr
17

Jarrod Duffy Is Not Dead

Jarrod Duffy is Not Dead

Applespiel

Metro Arts Sue Benner Theatre

April 20 – 29 2017

 

Reviewed by Meredith Walker

 

Jarrod-Duffy-Is-Not-Dead

 

Have you ever had someone in your life at one time, who you lost contact with?

Someone you cared about.

How many years has it been since you’ve seen them?

Do you know where they are now?

If you did, what would you do?

Have you ever had someone who just…vanished?

 

It’s Wollongong, 2010 and two weeks before performing in an honours show, Jarrod Duffy, friend and member of the performance collective, Applespiel, doesn’t show up for a rehearsal. He’s disappeared, leaving behind the furniture at his house and no answers from phone calls, emails and Facebook searches.

Jarrod Duffy Is Not Dead is the story of that disappearance and Applespiel’s hunt to find their missing friend. It is important to know this essential premise before attending the show, because of the poignancy it brings to the photographs that are shared on-screen at its beginning as audience members sit in thought of the memories that lie behind the images and the emotions evoked by their recollection. Those most affected, however, are those who lost a friend, the members of Applespiel who begin the podcast section of the show with overlay of dialogue about Duffy’s character.

 

jarrodduffy

 

This initial section is particularly engaging in its authentic recreation of an episodic series, utlitising the genre’s features and respecting its usual structure. As it progresses from recollection of ‘good times’ antics, last conversations, speculative concerns for his safety and possible hints to the idea of leaving, to memories of the initial days after his first disappearance, it becomes clear that ‘memory is shitty’, allowing the audience to share in Duffy’s friends’ frustrations at initially dismissing his disappearance with stories of his flakiness and of how over time, blurred memories create amalgamated stories and even more uncertainly. But things are not all as they seem, as the audience realises in a second half that sees standup, song and appearance of the titular Duffy c/o cardboard cut-outs and then some.

 

As essentially a show of two halves, Jarrod Duffy is Not Dead is an ambitious work of anthropological storytelling that shows how sometimes you need to tell a story to have others ‘get it’. The resulting exploration of truth is both complex and compelling as we are posed questions about the meaning of ‘normal’, when a story exists and the need for narrative closure.

 

There is audience manipulation around original premise with its mention of figures of long term missing persons and the notion of bystander apathy, but deliberately so. As such, the show represents the fundamental nature of Metro Arts’ programming and championing of contemporary arts practice. As a part theatre, part live podcast show, Jarrod Duffy is Not Dead is far from a typical theatre experience. But that is its appeal. Its blend of live action and digital imagery is sure to give audiences much to talk about in terms of its artform as much as its message, provoked by its evocative final question of ‘do you get it?’

 

jarrod duffy

19
Apr
17

Behind Closed Doors with EDC

WHAT: Behind Closed Doors

WHERE: QPAC Playhouse

WHEN: Friday 19 May to Saturday 27 May 2017

A sneak peak ahead of the season…

By Ruth Ridgway

Behind Closed Doors

Coming up in Expressions Dance Company’s 2017 season is the new work Behind Closed Doors. Choreographer Natalie Weir and the dancers explore what lies behind the façade of outward appearance, and turn the audience into voyeurs. Taking us into the private lives of hotel guests and staff, they reveal human nature in its darkness, fragility, and playfulness. Behind Closed Doors features live jazz played by the contemporary music ensemble Trichotomy.

An interview with Natalie Weir, Artistic Director of Expressions Dance Company

What inspired you to create Behind Closed Doors? Is it connected with your 2010 work While Others Sleep, which explores what happens at night in a hotel?

Yes, this is a re-visioning of While Others Sleep, taking some of the central ideas but we’ve moved into different areas this time. I’ve always been interested in voyeurism. I did a work called Insight years ago here at EDC, also with Greg Clarke, the designer. It used the Edward Hopper painting, ‘Night Windows’ as its inspiration and it was about looking through an apartment’s window. While Others Sleep in 2010 had so many ideas within it that I thought were great and I wanted to take to another level. I also wanted to work with Trichotomy again. Our audiences have grown and many have not seen the work, so why not set it in a hotel again and put it on a main stage? It has so many elements that are of interest to the audience and so many short stories within it. The audience have all stayed in a hotel and may relate to the story.

How did you and Trichotomy work together on Behind Closed Doors? Has music been especially composed for this work?

The music is part of Trichotomy’s quite extensive body of work over many years with a lot of pieces composed by Sean Foran. Sean is such an amazing person to work with – everything is easy. I felt like we really gelled when we worked together the first time. I’ve listened to a lot of his original music and this time I’ve spent a lot of time listening to his new stuff. There’s a lot of talking backwards and forwards with Sean. He alters his original music for me to match what I need, and then finds a way to blend the scenes together. Music is extremely stimulating and, because it’s jazz, it immediately sets the mood. When creating the show I imagined that Sean and the band are in the lobby playing in an expensive hotel. The music has a lot of range. It can be cool, sexy jazz but can also be very dramatic and dark. When we get into the rehearsal studio with the band they will watch the choreography and will be able to respond to the dancer in front of them – there might even be some improvisation. We’re lucky also to be joined by Rafael Karlen on Saxophone and vocalist Kristin Berardi. The great thing about these guests is that, not only are they amazing but, because they are a saxophonist and a singer, they can move around the stage and can become part of the action.

How did you and the dancers create the work? Did you create characters and a narrative for the characters, or did you follow particular themes or concepts?

Some of the characters have remained from While Others Sleep and some are quite new. I usually enter the studio with a strong idea of the characters and talk to the dancers about it – and then it’s collaboration between the dancers and me. They create a lot of the movement themselves and I direct it. They also research their characters, which is great because it takes them on a journey through the work. It’s my job to direct the dancers into the right place and to pull all the parts together. This is a big work with a lot of different parts including a set that moves and revolves, so I make sure this comes together seamlessly and keep the direction of the work moving forward. The dancers aren’t dancing what I tell them – it comes from them and then I shape it. I don’t tell them how to be a character they make that decision and own it, which makes it far more personal

The publicity for Behind Closed Doors has a ‘noir’ feel to it, but also mentions playfulness and fragility. How would you describe the balance of the moods and emotions in the work?

It is a balancing act because there are moments that are light and frivolous and others that are very dark. It’s finding a way to structure the work so that each of the moments has a time to be, but not detract from the other and that’s about finding the through line from the work from start to finish. Once you have all the parts you have to bring them together and the work has to be larger than the sum of the parts. While each part has its part as a small story and is part of the theme, it’s the strong narrative that brings it together. Some of the scenes go into the absurd and tongue-in-cheek and it wonders through the landscape of the human psyche. I think it will be very entertaining but it definitely has some depth and guts.

The publicity images of Elise May and Richard Causer in evening dress are very glamorous. Can you tell us more about the costumes and design of the work

The show is set in a very classy hotel and the costumes are designed to range from being quite real through to being quite fantastical. There are so many characters and scenes and the costumes are really important in bringing out the story and the images of the work and making us believe that the characters are real. Greg Clarke, the designer, has been influenced by the photography of Gregory Crewsden and films such as Blue Velvet and Mystery Train. There’s men’s suits, some glamorous dresses and even some underwear. And then some fantasy items that you need to see to understand! The design is really stunning. The costume design exposes the characters and helps inform the audience about who these people are and where they’re from.

The work can put the audience into the role of voyeur. How do you think they may feel about this? How has this potential audience response influenced the creation of the work?

At times the audience are like voyeurs watching something that perhaps they shouldn’t be, as if looking through a window or a door, but other times the characters really take the audience on their journey. That’s when the magic happens – the audience goes from being a voyeur to feeling like they believe in these characters and feel joy, sadness and darkness alongside them. It should be a wonderful theatrical experience for the audience because the gamut of the work is so broad from quite funny to very sad. It will be a roller-coaster ride. Isn’t that what theatre should do – transform the audience…?

Finally, what do you hope the audience takes away with them from Behind Closed Doors?

I know the audience will leave in absolute admiration at the beauty and physicality of the dancers and they will be in raptures over the incredible music played live. Having the musicians on stage playing live changes the theatrical experience. I hope the audience will recognise moments of their own lives, or someone they know within the work, and I hope they come away smiling and feeling moved. To connect to the audience is my ultimate aim. This work does not seek to alienate anyone, but to connect them. I always say that dance has the power to move people, even when you’re not sure why, and that’s its ultimate power.

Two quick questions for dancer Elise May:

What have you always wanted to know about what goes on ‘behind closed doors’ in a hotel?

As a dancer I’ve spent countless time checking in and out of hotel rooms on tour. There is a certain an allure to the homogenised hotel experience, no matter where you travel there are crisp white sheets, city views and monochrome corridors. But when you spend enough time in hotels you begin to notice the coming and going of other guests and wonder about the reasons for their stay or observe the odd hours that people keep. On occasions I have even started to project my imagination into the enclosed private spaces on the other side of the walls or behind the hotel doors… What is happening in the room beside mine? In a very identical room a very different scenario might be playing out, what could it possibly be? The inner private worlds of others has been a topic of interest in popular culture for some time. The concept of voyeurism has been featured in films such as ‘Rear Window’, ‘Minority Report’, American Beauty and countless others. For me, this fascination with the private lives of others is really an interesting starting point for a creative work and provides lots of meaty areas of exploration in terms of character development and movement creation. 

Can you briefly describe your role(s) in Behind Closed Doors, and how you have prepared for them?

My role in Behind Closed Doors is that of a lonely woman who is dealing with feelings of vulnerability and loss of her recently departed husband. We see her character first in the earlier stages of their relationship when they visited the hotel on their honeymoon. The romantic getaway was one of perfection in her memory and is an experience that comes back to haunt her as she returns to the hotel after his death. In an attempt to reconcile her feelings of grief and move on with her life she travels on quite an emotional journey throughout the work. In preparing for this role physically I have experimented with many different qualities of movement from abandoned, flung, weighty movements to angular, anguished and sharp dynamics. My role also involves a lot of incredibly intricate and sculptural partner work which is Natalie Weir’s choreographic forte. In researching the role I also looked into the 5 (or 7) stages of grieving as coined by psychologist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross which can manifest as a mixture/ or ‘jumble’ of strong emotions experienced by those who face major life changes including loss, the prospect of death or the death of a loved one. Although my role deals with some very heavy content, I think Natalie’s choreography weaves these scenes and characters together in a way which is poetic and really casts a microscope or possibly even a mirror over the human condition.

Natalie Weir's Behind Closed Doors. EDC. Image shows EDC's Richard Causer 2. Image by Jeff Camden COLOUR.low res. jpg

Two quick questions for dancer RIchard Causer:

What is your most memorable ‘behind the scenes’ experience at a hotel?

A few years ago I worked part time in a five star luxury hotel in London called Cafe Royal. There I was privy to many behind the scenes moments. One exciting memory I have was something I thought only happened in the movies. I worked as the restaurant host and events host. We would be given a guest list of names that we would expect to arrive for certain private functions or events. As these guests arrived I realised I was welcoming many A-list celebrities who checked in under fake names. It was extremely exciting as this happened on many occasions and I would have to contain my excitement which I never did too well. Instead I would lose all use of words and just smile from ear to ear. Not subtle at all!

What has been the creative process for you, as a dancer, working with Natalie Weir as the choreographer for Behind Closed Doors?

Working with Natalie is always such a heart-warming experience. The rehearsals are always calm and everyone is very respectful and supportive of each other. Working on Behind Closed Doors has been a fun satisfying challenge, we are all working with specific characters and get to play dress ups a lot. I have enjoyed researching my character by watching some great films and reading some interesting online forums which continue to feed me with new stimulus. What is great about working with Natalie is she allows us the freedom to continue developing our roles from the beginning of the process to the very last performance.

14
Apr
17

Model Citizens

 

Model Citizens

QPAC & Circus Oz

QPAC Playhouse

April 12 – 15 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

Melbourne’s Circus Oz, under new Artistic Director, Rob Tannion, returns to QPAC after an absence of some years (you might remember Steampowered  in 2011) with a wink, tongue in cheek and two thumbs up, in Model Citizens, a boldly conceptualised, powerfully political look at what it means to be a resident in our lucky country.

 

In a beautifully designed (Michael Baxter), dramatically lit (Sian James-Holland) model-kit playground of oversized ordinary objects, this newly assembled troupe surpasses expectations, bringing their entertaining physical feats and cheeky Aussie humour to the Playhouse stage for a strictly limited season. It’s a shame it hasn’t enjoyed a longer run right through our school holidays.

This is not so much a new direction for Circus Oz – they’ve always been politically and socially cheeky and funny, and had the band on stage and performed all the tricks – but more a refinement of the mischievous, clever form, which takes the most entertaining and exciting elements from circus, cabaret, dance and theatre, and combines them to create a refreshingly different circus style. The real difference here is Tannion’s uncanny ability to fuse concept, design elements and content, making Model Citizens a more polished show than we’ve seen previously, and without having an actual narrative, is just about as seamless as circus gets.

In an Arts Review interview last year, Tannion noted, “Having a broader pool of artists to draw from will open the possibility for numerous and concurrent collaborations for shows and acts that may evolve into intimate smaller shows, site specific performances or develop into our Big Top productions … This will continue to challenge our preconceptions of the creative process and expectations of what our audiences will see and experience on stage.”

Tannion’s dance and choreographic background comes through in both the fast-paced super busy sequences, with the performers running and leaping and balancing and tumbling all over the place, and in moments of relative stillness, such as the opening sequence when we find ourselves grinning at ironically stereotypical frozen statues that come alive and eerily, like mannequins or Stepford Wives, peer at the emcee Mitch Jones AKA Captain Ruin, and run away from him, playing a sort of hide-and-seek-milling-and-seething ensemble game. Just to note, in case you’ve also gone back to school and ended up studying composition this year, Tannion’s direction is the best application of the Viewpoints I’ve seen in a while (only Natalie Weir’s work with EDC regularly does anything remotely similar). It’s an interesting, discerning use of triangular floor space, and giant everyday objects, including a peg, a cotton reel and a safety pin.

The giant safety pin serves as our Chinese Poles (actually opening and shutting with the weight and agility of the performers, a brilliant realisation of design and purpose) and an enormous pair of Bridget Jones’ knickers provides a unique take on a classic aerial act, with silks dropping from overhead on a peg. A balancing act on a house of oversized credit cards has us considering our economic situation when, proudly and precariously teetering at the top, Luke Ha is offered yet another card i.e. more credit, which, to the delight of the audience, he adamantly refuses.

Jones as Captain Ruin, heavily inked and sporting a pink punk mohawk, a gold tooth and a tutu, sings and roller-skates and gets himself out of a straitjacket in record time, which we’ve seen a good friend do too, sure, but not whilst hanging upside down by his ankles! Jones is irreverent and enigmatic, irresistible, driving the show and stitching many of its pieces together.

The most surprisingly erotically charged knife throwing act ever sees the bewitching Freya Edney ducking and weaving, then blindfolding Jones to finish the act. Her hoop act astounds and then, upping the anti, a giant roue cyr (cyr wheel) is manipulated by another performer while the ensemble members roll bowling balls around him.

A series of silly puns throughout the show have us groaning in a good way, and the original songs elicit raised eyebrows, some dropped jaws, wide eyes, and lots of raucous laughter. A small herd of sheep causes hysterics in the audience at the beginning of Act 2 as a sheep dog rounds them up and puts them into their pen, which also holds a Webber barbecue and Captain Ruin. In an undeniably Amanda Palmeresque performance style, Edney plays ukulele and sings straight-faced about how tolerant and accepting we are of others, “but not in my backyard.” The undercurrent of pseudo-political correctness and self righteousness is, unfortunately, easily recognisable and appeals to the collective sense of humour on opening night. Jeremy Hopkins and MD Ania Reynolds add heightened energy and sass on stage as well as strong musicianship skills.

Historically, Circus Oz has found it difficult to resist having a go at the world’s most famous circus since Barnum & Bailey, Cirque du Soleil, and refreshingly this time, rises above the seemingly typical Australian need to take a swing in their direction. This time no reference or comparison is made. Circus Oz has grown up and gotten confident, claiming their space in the contemporary Australian circus arena.

Model Citizens boasts a beautiful sense of childlike playfulness and innocence without forsaking any of the sheer thrill we expect from circus, and on the other hand, offers a wizened, wry look at the way we see ourselves. It’s perfect whole family fun at an affordable price, right here in our own backyard.

 

Model Citizens features the many and varied talents of Freya Edney, Jake Silvestro, Jarred Dewey, Jeremy Hopkins, Lachlan Sukroo, Luke Ha, Mitch Jones, Olivia Porter, Rose Chalker-McGann & Steph Mouat.

 

12
Apr
17

I Am My Own Wife

I Am My Own Wife

Oriel Productions

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

April 4 – 8 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

I can only begin to imagine what it must have been like during the Third Reich. The Nazis, and then the Communists? It seems to me, you’re an impossibility. You shouldn’t even exist.

Doug Wright, I Am My Own Wife

I Am My Own Wife is the most incredible theatrical experience; an intimate and secretive (like, a secret society downstairs underground back room Weimar Cabaret performance…oh, wait), and one of our more memorable evenings at the theatre; it’s one that I’ll treasure not only for its extraordinary story, but more so, for its captivating star performer.

Ben Gerrard saw the Tony Award winning production starring Jefferson Mays, which toured Australia in 2006 and “never in a million years would’ve imagined” that he would one day attempt to do the same, playing more than 30 roles in two acts over 90 minutes, to tell the true story of Berlin’s famous transvestite, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf.

Pulitzer Prize winner, Doug Wright – he also wrote Quills, Grey Gardens and the stage adaptation of Disney’s The Little Mermaid – joined Charlotte in Berlin for a series of interviews over several years, in which she shared her survival stories and precious collection of antiquities, satisfyingly represented in this production by tiny wooden boxes, all of different sizes, hidden intrinsically within the surface of a quaint three-legged table. Against a wall of yellowed official documents, the stories spill forth, in a precise German accent and with a slightly mischievous sense of humour, which makes us wonder how much of any story is actually the truth. Gerrard is so completely convincing as this enigmatic character that I feel as if this is who I would expect to meet after the show. But we know the real Charlotte died of a heart attack in her eclectic downstairs museum, aged 74, in 2002. She had survived the Nazi and Communist regimes, collecting clocks and phonographs and gramophone records (“re-cords”), and other items of interest, and had been involved in the black market before she operated as an informant. She established an underground bar in her basement for Berlin’s LGBT+ community – the last Weimar Cabaret of the the gay 1890s – and dressed as a woman in sensible all-black-everything.

Caroline Camino’s simple, sombre design, Hugh Hamilton’s moody, poor man’s lighting and Nate Edmondson’s evocative soundscape wholly support Gerrard’s multiple voices whilst remaining true to the main character’s obsessions with precious things. Perhaps Charlotte’s love of objects more than people stemmed from the fact that there were very few upon whom she could rely. But then we discover that she betrays a friend and colleague, Alfred, and we understand that her loyalties do indeed lie at home, where she doesn’t need anyone. Proudly and defiantly, she offers the utterance that became the play’s title, “I am my own wife”.

A tender scene depicts the day of enlightenment for he-who-would-be-she, Lothar Berfelde, when the support of a cross-dressing aunt manifests in her wry observation, having caught him wearing one of her frocks, which she’d long since discarded in favour of men’s pants, that “nature got it wrong”. She gives him a copy of Magnus Hirschfeld’s Die Transvestiten, which becomes Charlotte’s bible for her newly self-determined life. It’s a beautiful story in itself, a quiet nod to our instinctual nature, our desire to connect with others – or not – and our need to be seen. This is just one of many moments, so sensitively, meticulously crafted by talented Director, Shaun Rennie, in which Gerrard captures our hearts and our imagination.

Having seen Mark Kilmurry’s production of David Williamson’s Odd Man Out (twice!), I was delighted to see Rennie have the opportunity this year to be a “fly on the wall” at Ensemble, under Kilmurry’s expert eye.

My favourite space here, the intimate Visy Theatre in the stripped-back Brisbane Powerhouse is ideal, allowing us to feel as if we’re there in the dingy room with Wright and his subject, peering curiously over his shoulder as he chats with her. The stories – the bits and pieces of them – are incredible, almost beyond belief, as tales of oppression and horror are to those of us lucky enough to avoid similar life experience.

And then came the wall. And for us here in Eastern Berlin, it was finished, gay life. The bars, closed. Personal advertisements in the newspaper, cancelled. No place to meet but the tramway stations and the public toilets?

So I thought to give homosexual women and men community in this house. Yes. It was a museum for all people, but I thought, “Why not for homosexuals?”… And there was over the bar an attic. When a boy or girl met a man, and wanted to go upstairs, they could. Two men, two girls, a boy and a girl? it did not matter….

There’s no rush to get past the uncomfortable details, including a gruesome self-confessed murder (yeah, but did you do it?), but instead, the moments are precisely measured and the mood is mostly constrained. Even in the opening moments, we get a sense of mastery and secrecy, and immense trust when Gerrard enters the dimly lit space to find his light centrestage, and sweeps his eyes over his audience, making eye contact with many of us from just a couple of metres away before he disappears into the darkness again… Something unspoken has happened, a deal has been wordlessly sealed.

Gerrard is a beautifully poised and accomplished actor who knows every trick in the book and still comes across as genuine and whole-hearted, able to make a pact with the audience early, and establish that rare and magical, unbreakable personal connection until the end. Later, Gerrard communicates on the same intimate level; open, curious, completely trusting. The quietest, strongest presence in a foyer full of excited, delighted and completely satisfied opening night chatter.

Who would have imagined that while the wonderful Elise McCann was with Matilda the Musicalwinning a Helpmann Award for her work on stages around the country as Miss Honey, she was simultaneously making this humble little show happen, and having the most profound impact on a whole different sector of the community. If Oriel Group’s I Am My Own Wife comes anywhere near you, you simply must see it.

10
Apr
17

Red Sky Morning

Red Sky Morning

Room to Play

Lisa Taylor-King Gallery

March 29 – April 8 2017

 

Reviewed by Katy Cotter

 

 

Room To Play Theatre

Lauded Australian playwright, Tom Holloway’s, beautiful work is given grace by Brisbane actors, Wayne Bassett, Maddi Kennedy – Tucker and Heidi Manche.

 

Room to Play strives to create intimate performances in industrial-like spaces outside of the typical theatre. It was my first visit to the Lisa Taylor-King Gallery in Newmarket, and when I stepped inside a backyard tin shed I was intrigued. Being familiar with Australian playwright Tom Holloway’s work, I knew this setting was a perfect match for his story Red Sky Morning. The play has three characters – a man, a woman, and a girl – and it focuses on a traumatic event in the family’s life.

Holloway’s style arose from the post-dramatic movement. During a time when theatre was becoming experimental and fragmented, Holloway took what he loved from those plays and began inserting narrative back in. With overlapping dialogue, reading his plays can be quite the challenge, though seeing one performed well is a testament to his great writing. Director Beth Child has achieved this.

The action was minimal, having each character claim a small portion of the stage. The man (Wayne Bassett) was seated on a sun-bleached grey bench, used to look out over his property or as a counter in his hardware shop. The girl, played by (Madison Kennedy-Tucker) occupied a computer chair that shifted from being a warm bed to curl up on, or a couch to disappear into. The woman, (Heidi Manche) had a chaise-lounge that acted as a bed, a kitchen bench, and a barrier against her stark reality.

Child focussed on the text, which, as I’ve mentioned, switches rapidly at times back and forth between the characters. The actors handled this with precision, listening intently to each other and harnessing the musicality of Holloway’s writing. There were three pauses I can recall when all action and speaking ceased, and the actors and audience were awarded a breath. These were consciously placed by the director and allowed a moment of reflection – the silence was beautiful. Though the pace was mostly all go-go-go, I loved watching the character’s melt into heartbreaking moments, revealing the humanity of Holloway’s work.

These are ordinary people – like you and me – and feelings of frustration, desperation and despair are relatable. Also our ability to laugh in dark times. There are plenty of comedic moments in this play.

A genuine connection exists between the characters and the audience that is not forced. They are confessing their secrets to us, but Child’s direction allows us to ease in and get to know the three characters before hitting us in the guts with that ending. This play is superb in its slow burning tension.

All three performances by Basset, Manche and Kennedy-Tucker are stunning. Whilst completely in the moment of their individual story, they never abandon the other voices but allow those narratives to affect their own.

The production is perfectly balanced, captivating, and emotionally devastating.

Room To Play Theatre

Red Sky Morning

02
Apr
17

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone In Concert

 

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone In Concert

J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World & CineConcerts

Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre

Saturday April 1 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

hp5

We’re at Brisbane’s Convention and Exhibition Centre with a crowd that is not your ordinary theatre crowd, although perhaps it’s a new theatre-ish crowd, and we get some interesting looks ourselves, as if we’re the odd ones out. We’ve swept into the venue at the last second, having parked at QPAC because we always park at QPAC (it’s automatic now; the car can magically get itself there), which means that when the show is not there, a graceful-as-a-giraffe little run down Grey Street and across the road is required to get to the right box office. This mixed crowd, in the Convention Centre foyer, is not expecting an evening of live theatre.

They’re here for a movie concert, the first of a new genius series from CineConcerts, featuring your local symphony orchestra playing every note of a Harry Potter film shown on a 40-foot screen.

It may be a movie night but it’s an entirely theatrical event! The vibe is electric and a great number of hard-core fans are proudly wearing Gryffindor shirts, and ties and sweaters and robes. Everybody is so excited to be here.

hp2

We take our seats moments before the house lights go down and when Conductor, QSO’s Sarah Hicks, appears, she is welcomed by appreciative applause. She smiles and asks if there’s anyone who’s never been to a live orchestral performance. Many hands go up, and she smiles encouragingly, inviting everyone to get involved. In true pantomime fashion, we should feel free to cheer for our hero and boo the villains. There’s no question about whether or not we’ve seen the film or read the book… No matter what our individual stories are, we’re in for a treat!

I wonder how the orchestra will precisely match the action, but only for half a second before Hicks raises her baton and the Warner Bros logo appears on screen as we hear the first sounds from the string section. A collective shiver runs through the Great Hall. It’s perfect. It’s actually intense. Every moment of the movie becomes sharper and more vital. The entire underscore, which we might forget is there sometimes, when we see the film at home or originally, in the surround sound cinema, comes alive. Every moment of discovery, joy, anticipation, trepidation, celebration and dread is able to be fully experienced, savoured.

Harry-Potter-and-the-Sorcerer-s-Stone-the-sorcerers-stone-23897788-1280-544

And unless we glance at the musicians on stage from time to time, or become mesmerised watching them at their craft, as I do while the harp plays to keep three-headed Fluffy asleep (it’s so beautiful, the sound of faerie slumber), or while the percussionists keep up with thousands of magical additions, intellectually, we almost take for granted that the music is live. But at the same time, soulfully, we’re experiencing something very special. Like a festival event, there’s a true communal feeling, a momentary connection with people we’ve never met, because we all just want Harry to defeat Voldemort! We know this is only the very beginning of an epic battle, which represents something for everyone. And it’s delightful to see this film again, so beautifully realised, and it’s so funny, I’d forgotten.

Poppy has been terrified for years by the more frightening moments in the film, and has never actually watched in its entirety, The Philosopher’s Stone or any of the subsequent films. I’d made this event a surprise so she couldn’t back out and offer her seat to someone else, and she was hesitant about it, telling me she might need to hide under my wrap when we know Voldemort is about to appear. Well, she did hide towards the end, but after settling into the first few magical bars of the music I saw a grin spread from ear to ear as Harry celebrated his 11th birthday and took off to Hogwarts with Hagrid. Guess what’s on in the background as I write this? Poppy has taken out the DVD box collection and put on The Philosopher’s Stone, and as we hear the familiar strains of John Williams’ evocative opening bars, she laments, “The music’s not as good!”

hp3

Our Queensland Symphony Orchestra gives The Philosopher’s Stone a new, unique, incredibly magical quality, the full, rich sounds of the live music letting us dive in deeper, remember our original experience of the film and enjoy J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World all over again.

 

Don’t miss the next exciting event in the QSO / Cineconcert series on October 7 Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets 

 

Harry-Potter-and-the-Chamber-of-Secrets-7

Harry-Potter-and-the-Chamber-of-Secrets-1

Harry-Potter-and-the-Chamber-of-Secrets-5

Harry-Potter-and-the-Chamber-of-Secrets-4-(hero)

 

Harry-Potter-and-the-Chamber-of-Secrets-9

02
Apr
17

Chicago

Chicago

Mad About Theatre

The J, Noosa

March 31 – April 02 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

chicago-sneak-previews002

Who can forget Catherine Zeta Jones and Renee Zellweger in the 2002 movie of the smash hit Broadway musical? Kander & Ebb’s Chicago is the classic roaring twenties’ tale of booze, jazz, liquor, chorus girls, lovers and the law. I love it. I loved the Australian revival touring productions (the original in 1998), starring Caroline O’Connor as Velma Kelly and the Sunshine Coast’s Chelsea Gibb, straight out of WAAPA, as Roxie Hart. Hand-picked by Director, Walter Bobbie, and Choreographer, Anne Reinking, Chelsea is still my favourite Roxie. Notably, both Caroline and the sensational Sharon Millerchip have played both Velma and Roxie – amazing – and as Velma Kelly, Caroline enjoyed an acclaimed and extended Broadway season (2002). So these are very tough acts to follow, and to even consider staging the show with less experienced performers is ambitious to say the least.

Director/Choreographer Madison Thew-Keyworth’s Mad About Theatre is one of the Sunshine Coast’s few professional companies (I can vouch for another two: SRT & XS Entertainment), which we’ll just take a moment to clarify, is a company that pays everybody involved, and not just the director, the musical director, the techies and the band. I was impressed to see Mad About Theatre’s debut professional production last year, My Brilliant Divorce, starring Blossom Goodchild, who returns here as Mama Morton. She’s Mama alright, but not as you know her.

The most seasoned performers will invariably look the most comfortable on stage and so it is with Goodchild, who embodies a sassy, flashy (Bob) Fosse inspired Mama Morton, in all-black-everything: pants, jacket, hat and boots. And it’s so refreshing to see this styling rather than try to forgive a poor attempt to imitate the Mamas who have preceded her. Without the powerhouse vocals we might expect to hear in this role, Goodchild sells it, and with a natural instinct for the comedy within the social and moral codes explored throughout the show, this consummate performer provides many of the night’s lighter moments.

Meggan Hickey is our Velma Kelly, complete with shiny black bobbed hair and the same slightly affected Liza-with-a-Z-esque speech as Mama. She’s a con grad and the new and improved Madison-from-Noosa in Judy Hains’ comedy cabaret First World White Girls. She was fabulously funny earlier this year in their Botox Party and we see a bit of the same level of mischief in Velma, however; it’s very staged, almost at odds with the glimpses we get of her darkly delicious haughtiness and nastiness. The character is there, but not always convincingly so. When she settles into the role she’ll put in the solid performance we know she’s got stashed just beneath the surface.

As much a rookie error in the direction, the awkward opening of Act 2 sees poor Velma/poor Meg standing and leaning about on the walkway above the band (Set Design by Goody), “smoking” a cigarette. Except she’s clearly a non-smoker (isn’t everyone now?), probably hates the taste and smell of the (herbal) cigarette (don’t we all?), and seems unsure about how to do that up there for so long. As actors, it’s not until we have a clear intention, a singular focus and our own inner monologue going on that such a seemingly inane action is made as fascinating as it needs to be on stage (or why are we doing it?). If something is not holding our attention it’s usually distracting us, taking us out of the moment, and away from the world of the show.

Courtney Underhill’s Roxie Hart has all the sweet-and-sour we expect to see in this demanding role. A graduate of Harvest Rain’s Brisbane Academy of Musical Theatre (BAMT), Underhill has a terrific presence on stage and a singing voice that soars. It’s no wonder she was asked to understudy Lauren McKenna’s Tracy Turnblad in HR’s Hairspray. This girl will do just fine in music theatre.

Billy Flynn, the slick lawyer, a fantastic, fun role made famous in the film by Richard Gere, is almost fully realised by Jens Radda, one of the most beautiful singers to have come through Buderim’s BYTES and then WAAPA. Radda still sings superbly and wears a suit well, but at times he appears to be slightly insecure on stage, particularly in his big courtroom number, Razzle Dazzle, amidst a swirling, fan-dancing chorus of lovely girls (Costumes by Sarah Grandison). This is when we must remember that the leads are not entirely supported by the production elements, and that we’ll look forward to Mad About Theatre’s next musical production, when the depth of the stage might be made available, and lighting and sound will be precise, and the direction will allow for staging that is just as interesting but which brings the action forward so we don’t miss what little nuance the performers have to offer.

chicago_cabaretchair

You know I love to see the band, but in this case, under Noel Bowden’s baton, the musicians are a distraction and an unfortunate use of the available space. I know, it’s The J – where else would we put them?! (Insert yet another plea for a purpose built beautiful theatre here). It would have been great to see them in a semblance of costume, watching the action as the story plays out around them, but my guess is that this would have been too much to ask. If the pace and precision has improved by the end of the first short season, you’ll enjoy a much sharper, slicker show when it moves to The Events Centre, Caloundra.

Andy Hanrahan makes a fine Mr Cellophane, AKA Amos Hart, Roxie’s unfortunate husband, forlorn and fixed on feeling sorry for himself. This is a classic sad clown role, which I expected Hanrahan to more fully embrace, and to use to deeply connect with his audience, but they adore what he does with it and we do feel a wave of empathy as he exits for the final time…without his exit music. Poor Amos.

Nick Eynaud, another WAAPA grad making his professional Queensland debut, has come from a European touring season of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and MTC’s The Last Man Standing. In the role of Mary Sunshine he makes me feel as if I should warn our mate, Helpmann Award winner, James Millar (Miss Trunchbull in Matilda) to watch his back. These two must be WAAPA’s tallest and most talented male triple threats since Hugh (Jackman) finished. Eynaud’s performance is so sure and detailed that my friend doesn’t realise he’s a he and not a she until he is revealed by Billy Flynn!

Eli Cooper (Dance Captain) shines in the ensemble. A precision performer with a lovely resonant voice and a strong sense of character even in the smallest, most thankless roles, Cooper is an absolute joy to watch. The male ensemble is rounded out by Brendan Kydd, Ricky Borg and Mark Smith. You may recognise any number of the girls, all consistent triple threats with lots to prove. Cell Block Tango is a highlight, yes, but it requires much more room for the girls to really move; as the showstopper it’s intended to be, it lacks impact. Having said that, this is the only number in which we see the lighting concept work as it was intended. (The female ensemble comprises Demi Phillips, Kirra Johnson, Sarah Wrobel, Meghan Lucken, Rachael Russell & Lucy Clough).

While a slightly lagging pace and careful direction has at times let the production down, and as a result the show didn’t sizzle enough for me, I doubt that anyone else will be bothered by the occasional anomalies, which we’ll simply put down to the need to see more and do more (directing). This applies to every single Sunshine Coast director we know at the moment. If you’re making stuff you must see stuff – good and bad – and learn to distinguish between what has real impact and what leaves you (us) unaffected. Learn what works and what doesn’t, and learn how to coax it from your performers to give us scintillating, electrifying performances. All the elements are there. The talent is abundant. It’s a great, entertaining show.

Mad About Theatre is to be commended because this company is far ahead of the community pack in terms of its professionalism (and now we’re talking about the discipline, dedication and resourcefulness required to get a show like this on, as well as the pay packets), and that’s the idea. We talk about this often: community theatre is for everyone, but to level up requires something extra special. Mad About Theatre offers the more ambitious artists an opportunity to step up and see what they’re made of, and invites audiences to an evening of local theatrical entertainment that’s actually worth the asking price. 

chicago_b&w