American Buffalo

American Buffalo

Brisbane Powerhouse & Troop Productions

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

October 25 – 29 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


Find your mark, look the other fellow in the eye, and tell the truth.

James Cagney

Actors used to be buried at a crossroads with a stake through the heart. Those people’s performances so troubled the onlookers that they feared their ghosts. An awesome compliment. Those players moved the audience not such they were admitted to a graduate school, or received a complimentary review, but such that the audience feared for their soul. Now that seems to me something to aim for.

David Mamet, True and False

It’s not often we see a Mamet and it’s not often we see a Mamet done well. Despite a couple of rookie errors, Troop Productions’ American Buffalo delivers much of what we would expect from this bold American drama and brings an ambitious new company to the arena. 

Director, Kieran Brice, brings together Ron Kelly, Derek Draper and Jackson McGovern in the roles of Donny, Teach and Bobby, three desperate men in a 1970s Chicago junk shop, in cahoots to secure a rare buffalo nickel from a coin collector whom Donny believes conned him of the coin’s real value. We don’t see their shenanigans outside of the shop but we’re privy to the planning of the crime and in fact – spoiler alert – it never happens. Instead, ambitions are questioned, loyalties challenged and friendships tested. Brice shapes and builds tension nicely, and avoids letting the pace lag, unlike another wordy contemporary classic across town. Still thinking on that one…


George Greenhill’s jumbled-by-design, down-and-out junk shop looks as if the play has already happened and the Stage Manager (Shane Kumer) is due to appear next. We see all sorts of grimy, dusty trashy treasure beneath the dim yellow light (Tim Gawne) and it’s a shame we don’t hear a soundscape that includes the street noise each time the shopfront door opens with the jangle of its bell. Kumar adds only the noise (and headlights) of a vehicle pulling up out front. And is it rain hitting the roof during the second act? Difficult to tell so we won’t mention its inclusion… While Greenhill’s attention to detail across the set and costume design (and, it must be said, the use of the space by Kelly and McGovern), go a long way in creating the “world” of the play, a considered, comprehensive soundscape would add an additional immersive dimension to the production.

That is not the character onstage. That is you onstage. Everything you are. Nothing can be hidden.

David Mamet, True and False

Ron Kelly is at the top of his game; this is his show, his most compelling performance to date. He resists complicating anything; we don’t see him “acting”, he simply heeds Mamet’s advice to “Give yourself a simple goal onstage, and go on to accomplish it bravely”. Jackson McGovern also exercises restraint and knows how to really listen. There’s something of Ed Norton in his look, and his timing and phrasing, his cleverly contained frenetic energy beautifully complementing Kelly’s calm and considered performance and at times, when these two hit their stride, we hear the rhythm of the Mamet-speak. At first McGovern’s physical peculiarities make us wary of a put-upon performance, however; it’s a long time since I’ve had anyone in my circles so devastatingly affected by addiction and in his characterisation, McGovern is committed and consistent, completely believable once he settles. His agonised writhing towards the end of the play is testament to McGovern’s ability to make bold contextual choices and perfectly underplay the big emotions, as we do, captivating us even as a whole lot of action is happening behind him. Kelly and McGovern demonstrate in American Buffalo everything Mamet purports is necessary to bring the story, made interesting by the playwright, alive onstage by the actors.


In stark contrast, Derek Draper seems to feel the need to prove himself as a performer, which does little in terms of presenting a relatable person onstage. (Don’t tell me you can’t relate on some level to his small-time hustle). Is he miscast or misdirected? And where was he for his opening night curtain call? I can only put his absence down to an injury, or else an extreme reading of get into a scene late and leave it early! It feels as if Draper is the odd one out, although not in the way the text demands and certainly not because he lacks the talent. Quite simply, his choices are questionable, his choices baffle me. He lays on the physical characteristics from the outset, including snapping his fingers too loudly and too often, and insisting on sitting and standing on an overly anxious shaking leg that doesn’t ring true and must be exhausting to sustain. He wipes his greasy hand not on his shirt but across the lapel of his leather jacket! And I don’t believe he’s a smoker. His entrance, during which he crosses the stage diagonally a number of times to find the empty space (whilst leaping with gusto into his best Anxious and Sleepless and Stressed and About to be Really Angry Acting), as if he were milling and seething during a Drama workshop warmup, should be fair warning. He makes it incredibly difficult for us to watch him and I hope he absorbs, perhaps through osmosis during the season, the value of stillness and simple truth. The space is too intimate, we are too close to him, and we know the play too well to be taken in by his unnecessary effort.

Nobody cares how hard you worked. Nor should they.

David Mamet, True and False

Ultimately, what we’re seeing is the insecurity of the actor (and, I believe, his director, with regard to the management of this role), impossible to conceal onstage, and only of value when the text is spoken through it, in spite of it, because of it. As Draper develops greater (actual) self-confidence and can relax a little about the job he’s doing, which is, according to Mamet, simply “Doing the play for the audience”, I think we’ll see a much more interesting performer emerge from beneath this very carefully contrived and choreographed walking-time-bomb character. And perhaps I’ve missed seeing Draper’s best work elsewhere, but here we don’t really see what he can do until Donny repeatedly tries to make a phone call and Teach insists he hangs up. The looking and listening and reacting at this point, driven more by impulse than compulsion, is precisely what we want to see throughout. In this case it’s a lovely, light, comical moment during which the two appear to genuinely connect; it’s one of the highlights of the evening.


Another highlight is meeting producer and photographer, Ruby Newport; she’s sharp and humble and hard-working. Anyone with (somebody else’s) money and a couple of connections can be a producer, but there’s a sparkle and a savviness about Newport that’s going to continue to attract attention. Also, importantly, she got invites to the Matilda Committee judges in time to confirm our RSVPs not only for opening night but throughout the season. This means the points I’ve made about Draper’s performance, for example, may be moot, shouted down respectfully debated by the time everyone has experienced this production.


Mamet is a tough gig, and American Buffalo among the toughest. This carefully, traditionally pieced together production bodes well for the future standing of the company, and guarantees a good night out.


What is true, what is false, what is, finally, important?

David Mamet, True and False




MTC & Queensland Theatre

QPAC Playhouse

October 14 – November 6 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward




Brené Brown


The moment Disgraced was over I wanted to see it again, right away. It’s the most challenging and confronting play of the year, electric and impossible to leave behind. It’s our past, our present and an opportunity to ponder our future. It serves our confirmation bias yet dares us to see beyond what we think we know and what we keep telling ourselves is important. In the most delightfully bold and entertaining way, Disgraced reinforces everything we’ve been led to believe we’ve got to be carefully taught…and everything we feel sure we’re yet to learn.

The pre-show jazz is deceptively upbeat and sexy, and with Shaun Gurton’s Upper East Side aesthetic, pristine and spacious, and Nigel Levings’ pointed lighting in front of us, we instantly find ourselves not in QPAC’s Playhouse but in a New York City apartment, looking out at the skyline. The mood is privileged, warm; the picture of a perfect life. A perfect couple’s passion is put on hold for the sake of a portrait and plans for a dinner party. Emily is an artist (Libby Munro), and Amir a lawyer (Hazam Shammas). They extend a dinner invitation to his colleague, Jory (Zindzi Okenyo), and Jory’s art dealer husband, Isaac (Mitchell Butel). What begins as a pleasant evening marks the end of an era for these friends. It’s an eventful night!


In this Pulitzer Prize winning text, Ayad Aktar tears open every racial and religious vein, leaving us bleeding on the floor with gaping wounds, our hearts in our mouths, and without answers on our tongues. You might be mistaken for thinking, at first glance, that over its 90 minutes Disgraced barely scrapes the surface of its ancient-current issues, but look closer. Make the decision to engage and really listen. The text is structured so that we get a hint of what’s coming and yet at every turn, at every spike, we’re met with a shocking, unexpected truth. It’s as if we’ve narrowly escaped saying something aloud ourselves during pre-dinner drinks, and we get to stay standing safely on the edge of the group, watching while somebody else squirms in discomfort for committing what might just as easily have been our own social sin.

Hazem Shammas is Amir, the Pakistani-Muslim carving out his success in New York by hiding his heritage to fit in and get ahead in a Jewish law firm. Having recently binge-watched The Fall, I’m reminded that we never completely know someone. The ordinary behaviour packaged neatly within our everyday routines and the original affection we may have felt for a person hides more than we care to uncover, often to the detriment of our own self-discovery, and our mental, emotional and physical state. Shammas fully embraces the complexities of this role, making empathy a possibility and distrust a certainty.


Libby Munro (Grounded, Venus In Fur) worked with this cast for just 2 weeks after seeing the show in Melbourne, and with Director, Nadia Tass, for three hours the week before opening in Brisbane. Munro’s Emily, the white American artist and wife of Amir, is the voice of reason, vulnerability and compassion, exposing enough discrepancies in the popular diatribe to prompt our many questions (and make us think twice before posing them to the opening night after party friends). She is also the figure of appropriation – or misappropriation, depending on your perspective – and with these gentle prods and pokes towards the race, religion and gender politics at play, Munro is striking; poised and precise, and perfectly placed within this stellar cast. When she unravels and suddenly begins to shrink, almost disappearing before our eyes (an incredible accomplishment for an actor, to give up the space and the light and let oneself become less present whilst staying completely present in the story), we’re in the room with her. And we want to leave with her. You can guess the moment. The older woman in front of me gasps, she’s visibly shaken… I wonder, did she read the trigger warning? I also wonder, do we need a trigger warning? Imagine the impact of the truly unexpected! (And the further impact of a perfectly choreographed and executed strike! This far into the season, I’m sure the moment has been remedied). In this role, we see Munro continue to work quietly and humbly at presenting intelligent, fearless, unforgettable women on our stages. This is no rave, it’s just the simple truth, which you can see for yourself. There is no one else on the Australian stage consistently nailing the strength and softness of a woman as well as Munro; she’s in a league of her own. What a complete contrast she must offer in the upcoming award winning one shot independent feature film EIGHT. I can’t wait to see this next incredible work. 


Likewise, Zindzi Okenyo, brings a fierce, self-assured energy into the space as Jory, the lawyer wife of the art dealer, Isaac (Mitchell Butel). With magnificent strength and grace Okenyo’s performance offers another lens, and plenty of razor sharp one-liners in case we forget to remember the history of the black percentage of America’s population. With perfect comic timing and scene stealing stage presence, Mitch Butel is one of the country’s most relaxed and dynamic performers, a superb Isaac. He’s a cliche but he’s not, he’s a Jew but he’s not, he’s afraid but he’s not; he’s a complete anomaly, playing by the rules and pushing all the buttons.


And then there is Abe. As Amir’s nephew, Kane Felsinger represents the worst of humankind: the angry, politically engaged minority, determined to make his mark on the world by transforming it into the vision he’s gleaned from the descriptions found in the Quran. It would be easy to slip into a caricature but Felsinger resists and only gradually allows the true nature of his character to seep through, affecting and alarming us by degrees. His final moments harden us against the stereotype. My heart plunges into my stomach – I feel physically sick – and I wonder what on earth is the writer playing at? Abe represents the extreme violence we’ve been taught to fear. The shock and sadness and confusion and compassion that sweeps across Munro’s face as the final difficult conversation plays out in front of her mirrors my conflicting thoughts and feelings.

The beauty of Akhtar’s text is the ugliness in it and Tass, always the actors’ director, delves courageously into the intricacies and nuances of each human being and their deeply felt – and sadly marred – connections with one another. They are each as real and as flawed as they can be. They insist on blaming and shaming and yet expect to come out unscathed. They are beautifully, brilliantly thrown together into a melting pot that serves to shame us too, or else inspire us (you decide), into making choices every single day that derive from a place of love and empathy, rather than from ignorance and hate and fear. 

Disgraced is a pleasure, a power, and a terror; a terrible and timely reminder that nothing changes unless we show up, speak the words and take decisive and committed action to change what we cannot abide to see in our world.




heartBeast Theatre

Spring Hill Reservoirs

October 7 – 22 2016

Reviewed by Katy Cotter


What is it about Shakespeare’s Hamlet? It is the story of a grieving and tortured young man who seeks revenge for his father’s death. Do we sympathise with him? Do we forgive him for his sins? As an audience, we are sucked into the drama, into the madness, into the world being presented before us. There is no doubt a tragic end approaches, though we never stop rooting for the Prince of Denmark.

Why keep telling this story, or any Shakespeare for that matter? There is no denying that the Bard’s words, his language has continued to be a point of investigation; a search to uncover new meaning. Companies are now taking on the challenge to modernise Shakespeare or place his stories into different worlds. Some have been more successful than others.


HeartBeast’s production of Hamlet is set in a post-apocalyptic world – D-MARK – a High Security Compound. It was my first visit to the Spring Hill Reservoirs and I was immediately transported into another space and time. There was no seating bank. The audience was free to stand or sit wherever they desired, on crates or wooden boxes, and followed the actors as they moved around the compound. There were roughly 10 rooms where the scenes would play out, although I found the spaces other than where the main action was taking place were sometimes more captivating. These “off side” moments were capturing Ophelia in her private moments, or Hamlet meandering around the compound reading or muttering to himself. These were fresh insights into the character’s psyche. Perhaps they were too distracting from the main action at times. I definitely found them more interesting.


Lighting by Jason Harding and sound design by Paul Young were incredibly detailed, creating a threatening and ominous atmosphere that allowed the audience to sink deep into the drama unfolding in front of them. The sound did overpower the actor’s at times and clarity was lost. The lighting and sound desk also doubled as a monitoring room where Claudius and Gertrude would retreat to spy on Hamlet.

The post-apocalyptic scenario worked as far as placing the story into a new aesthetic. The costumes had a medieval/Viking/space-like/futuristic feel to them that looked great under the lights. There were guns and gas masks. Ophelia had a wire strapped to her chest at one point. These elements were visually pleasing but I was not convinced it enhanced or revamped the story. I wondered what were the reasons behind setting the play in this time? What was happening in the world outside of the bunker? The sound design alluded that there was a war but I only sensed this at the end of a scene when there was an explosion, a drone strike perhaps, and Gertrude and Ophelia hit the ground in fear. That scene was terrifying and I yearned for more of these moments, though it never happened again. I felt this may have been a lost opportunity to raise new and exciting stakes for the characters and push the story into unchartered territory.


Hamlet is a long play and like any Shakespeare, it is a challenge for the actor’s to keep the audience invested in the story. Grappling with the language and conveying meaning and genuine emotion is paramount. David Paterson who played the leading role delivered a strong and complex performance. He was charming yet extremely dangerous. I must admit I found it difficult to listen to some of the performers. The ladies in particular spoke in high registers as if they were struggling with the acoustics, and the men sometimes spoke with thick Australian accents that was jarring and brought me out of the world. I think the company would have benefitted from a more coherent sound. That being said they were united and invested in each moment.


HeartBeast’s production of Hamlet dares the audience to participate in the action and not sit back and watch it unfold. I enjoyed the opportunity to view the story from different perspectives and let my imagination interact with the character’s I have grown to know and love. Or do I know them? Do I love them? This work challenges those preconceived perceptions of some of Shakespeare’s well known characters. There are so many elements to this show and some of them work and some fall short of hitting the mark. It is so important to see theatre that makes you question what you like or what you don’t like, what works and what doesn’t work. This High Security Compound is accessible this week only. Head on down to D-Mark.




Brisbane Powerhouse & Oscar Theatre Co

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

September 23 – October 15 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


Warning: Coarse language, adult themes, nudity, glitter and show tunes

The sexiest show in town just got better. Better see it at Brisbane Powerhouse before it goes global!

Driving through Fortitude Valley after midnight on a Saturday night is enlightening, isn’t it?

Oscar Theatre Co’s third iteration of their smash hit super sexy sell-out up-late cabaret (let’s make it a hashtag), Boy&Girl would have made the perfect prelude to a messy, sexy night best forgotten by morning an intimate and stylish, sophisticated and special date night. Boy&Girl is a whole new world of lycra, lace and latex, (barely) veiled debauchery, and loads of fun for anyone with a sense of humour and the need for late-night actual-entertainment in this town.

Emily Gilhome designed for Oscar Theatre Company a very simple strategy several years ago, staging superior musical productions  Spring Awakening and Next To Normal and [title of show] – and rapidly building a massive local following comprising artists and audiences. For eight years this humble company could do no wrong (still, can do no wrong), and became something like Brisbane’s James Bond: everyone wanted to be in an Oscar show or be at an Oscar show. They (“He” i.e. Oscar) disappeared for a little while but after a bit of travel and NIDA style life experience, Oscar’s back with a vengeance, well, with a brand new version of the hugely successful Boy&Girl brand: a sexy, racy, hugely popular show featuring some of the city’s best talent. The show is a superb stand alone piece and a fantastic festival opener. A scaled down version (or an even bigger, bolder production) could easily be seen, with the right backers, anywhere in the world.

The winning formula consists of several well known big voices within a company of superior singers and dancers, all dressed for sex, delivering a series of slick and sassy musical numbers, some cheeky comedy, and a couple of flashy circus tricks. It’s as simple as it sounds. But unlike Strut & Fret’s substandard Blanc de Blanc at Brisbane Festival this year (there are no excuses good enough to justify that level of lazy, tasteless entertainment), Oscar’s Boy&Girl delivers. Again.


Pre-show entertainment (and during Interval too for those who can resist making an additional dash to the bar) gets us in the mood and sets expectations high. That’s if they weren’t already sky-high after viewing Joel Devereux’s publicity shots of the black leather and Lycra clad company. I wondered why there was no photo booth for punters to get a pic with their fave sexy star…maybe next time. Outside it’s noisy, chatty, and inside, as the pre-show banter continues, the mood is so relaxed we could be at a swingers’ party. But it would be a Spiegeltent swingers’ party, such is the glitter induced joy and sparkling natural charm of the performers. The front row consists of well-loved sofas, but with a great deal more white light on them than we had sat beneath during the original Visy Theatre season (remembering the second version was staged in the less intimate Powerhouse Theatre). For someone who appreciates audience participation from some distance and under the cover of darkness, the sofas suddenly seem less alluring…

It’s a slick show, opening with The Andrews Sisters (Simon Chamberlain, Lachlan Geraghty, Patrick Dwyer), a tight outfit, in tight outfits, and they offer an entirely new take on Britney Spears (Oops! I Did It Again). The first big company number, taken from La Cage Au Follies, sets the gender-bending tone of the evening (We Are What We Are), and our hosts, Stephen Hirst and Aya Valentine get things off to a rollicking start. The musical arrangements are terrific and to better appreciate the top notch band, we could do with slightly better sight lines and less distance between us and them. 


To the delight of the Saturday up-late show crowd, Sam Turk struts and whips her way through Sweet Transvestite / Sex Bomb. Followed by a cutesy double entendre laden Disney medley featuring Stevie Bishop, Patrick Dwyer, Monique Bowdler, Kristyn Bilson and Aurelie Roque.


Josh Daveta dons a dramatic cape and formidable 6-inch heels to become the evil under-the-sea Ursula (Poor Unfortunate Souls) and slays. And while nothing can ever top the original season’s Single Ladies (an encore performance by special invitation was enjoyed at the Matilda Awards), Lady Marmalade and Big Spender come close – ferocious and full of sass. (Garret Lyon, Josh Daveta, Lachlan Geraghty, Matt Bonasia, Stevie Bishop). The girls shine in Grease Lightning and Roxanne, in which the dancing features more strongly than the vocals, which seem not entirely suited to the vocalist, Alana Tierney. (Chloe Rose-Taylor was absent from Saturday night’s performance). As far as vocals go, for this tough little number, it has to be said that an encore performance of Luke Kennedy and Sam Coward’s passionate rendition of Roxanne would give them a run for their money. 

Speaking of Sam, he either enjoyed Boom Boom more than he’d like to admit, or he’s scarred for life and has expertly hidden the damage behind a diplomatic, “Yeah, that happened” expression.


It’s unfortunate that, once again, we have dancers and vocalists competing for attention. They probably don’t feel they’re competing but I always love to see a good singer sing without having the distraction of a dancer on the floor. (Sam says hide the band and hide the singer, a la Cirque du Soleil; i.e. bring out the singers for one number and after, wave them off again!). Quite simply, when you’ve got Garret Lyon just give us Garret Lyon.


Even Ellen Reed, a star singer with a powerhouse voice and stage presence so powerful she deserves her own line of superhero merch in the foyer, gets a little lost behind so much action on stage. Act 2’s pole dancing sequence (Earned It featuring Reed) needs slightly less fire, fewer Pippin tricks, and a bit more pizazz, however; Matthew Bonasia’s strength and grace is indeed impressive and his flesh, ink adorned, is itself a work of art. This is the sequence with the least polish. With a little more focus on the big picture effect it could be the beat change that brings about the finale.

His choreography is still sharp, snappy and oh so sexy but we miss seeing Dan Venz on stage (he’s busy again with Hairspray). Likewise, I’ve always loved Chris Kellett’s cheeky reading of the emcee role but Stephen Hirst’s brazen performance as Emcee/Uncle gives us the gift that is Long John Blues. It’s hysterical and could easily earn him billing beneath Catherine Alcorn in the next tour of The Divine Miss Bette if she was ready to cast boys as her back up singers. This happened once, when she and Tom Sharah were up for the Noosa Long Weekend Festival on the same night. But I digress. Let’s bring it back to Boy&Girl. I’d love to see Tom Sharah featured in the next Boy&Girl…


The modifications, as much as the style of the show, its talented artists and its savvy, glossy marketing collateral keep us coming back to this show. It’s a complete package, sizzling hot, fresh and bold, surprising, sweaty, sassy, classy and all over much too soon. On another level it challenges the way we see the world, calling us to action in its rousing final ensemble numbers One Voice and Born This Way.

Beg, borrow or steal a ticket to Boy&Girl – it’s the hottest, strongest, longest running/most often returning political campaign cabaret we’ve seen in this state.


Tequila Mockingbird

Tequila Mockingbird

QPAC & shake & stir

QPAC Cremorne Theatre

October 5 – 15 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


Tequila Mockingbird is an uppercut, flattening us and leaving us stunned.

Despite their humble claim (“shake & stir is one of Australia’s leading contemporary theatre companies”), this team could surely be viewed now as the creme of the crop, creating new, urgent theatre with a focus on the way their results can be used in an educational setting. The emphasis on the ways in which teachers and students can look to the themes and nature of the work to better understand themselves and their world, and the company’s commitment to training and touring has set them apart, and continues to put them far ahead of so many others.

In stark contrast to most of the theatre on our stages, Tequila Mockingbird delves deeply and honestly into the small town psyche, with unsurprisingly disturbing results. I consider Nelle Lee’s text, inspired by Nelle Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird to be shake & stir’s best work to date. This return season is slicker and more grounded than the first, and on the strength of its universal truths, even more confronting and challenging, with its roots planted firmly in our local Australian soil, in our own backyard.


Tequila Mockingbird holds a mirror up to society like no other production has dared to do. Its worth goes well beyond its two sell-out Brisbane seasons, its Queensland touring schedule and its possible inclusion in our curriculum. This is a show that forces us to take a good hard look at ourselves and make a decision about how we’ll get on with our lives.

Relationships develop because people exist together in the same space. In this case, they are shackled together in the dilapidated, rather desperate outback town of Stanton. Far from Sydney’s hustle, though not so different from anywhere else, Stanton is home to some of the most appalling people on the planet.

Lee’s incredible (incredibly close to home) story, doesn’t shy away from the big issues, in fact, it brings our attention to a number of them: communication, connection, alcoholism, domestic violence, ignorance, fear, the judicial system, the medical system and racism. Director, Michael Futcher’s craftsmanship and careful attention to detail is unmatched in Queensland, and we’re lucky he chooses to play here. His high calibre cast is unparalleled in their focus, their connection with one another and their authentic characterisations, all neatly fitting together; disparate pieces of a puzzle we don’t really want to see completed. It’s too frightening, too confronting. But like a fatality on the freeway we can’t look away…nor should we. The unfair treatment of an individual based on his cultural background, and another’s treatment based on her gender, demands a critical conversation, one that must not be silenced.


Ross Balbuziente, in his most electrifying performance to date, slithers out of the primordial mud to become a truly sickening monster of a man, both detestable and dangerous. His depression, alcoholism and violence, his dependence on a mother who comes from an even darker place, his irrational mistrust of the girlfriend, the mate and then the newcomer, all underpinned by a distinct lack of intelligence and respect for the human race, is a revelation, leaving an indelible mark on this story and this audience. In complete contrast to this vile character, Balbuziente completely embodies a bored teen prankster who steals and smokes and drinks and planks and Snapchats. (The updated references are typically shake & stir: current, clever and comical, just when a laugh is what’s needed most.) Likewise, Nick Skubij, offers nicely contrasting characters. Skubij is both Dan, a down and out without-an-opinion everyday drinker in the pub, and Marty, the teen who’s messed up in Sydney and been brought to Stanton by his father in order to stay out of trouble and get his act together.

As Marty’s father, Richard, Bryan Probets brings a solid, more grounded guy to the story, more the father than the lawyer this time, his empathy and tenderness more expertly applied across both roles so that when he speaks on behalf of the Defendant (the court scene is handled exceptionally well, its impact more powerful than before), it could just as easily be his son in the stand. The parent-child relationship explored here is no cliche and the connection between the two is tangible. Their deeper connection and closure in the final moments of the play feels real, bringing tears to the eyes of the actors and opening night audience members.


Nelle Lee’s Rachel clatters into the story, a damaged woman of satin not silk standards, a disturbing juxtaposition against her secondary character, the teenager, Mel, whom we see indulging in – and purging herself of – a little too much of something mixed with Malibu. (There’s a lovely George’s Marvellous Medicine moment as we hear what’s gone into the nauseating concoction). Lee brings a new level of maturity to the role of Rachel, a previously untapped depth and strength, giving us a gleeful young girl long lost beneath the ink and unsmiling tough-chic exterior, as well as a glimpse of the older, wiser, sadder woman of days to come; we see the before and after shots of a tragic heroine. Sadly, we can guess her end.


Bringing to life the three older women, none of them any the wiser from their experiences but all of them understandably downtrodden, is Barbara Lowing (Karen / Sue / Trish). Lowing gives us three very different characters (we overheard after the show debate about whether or not there had been additional, uncredited actors on stage in these roles), and what she gives in each one of them is a gift to audiences. We see her heartfelt, powerful realisation of people who live in a world of loneliness, existing to serve others but unable to help themselves, and those who dwell in their own world of devastating pain, who must transfer their guilt and grief and anger and humiliation onto others in order to feel better about themselves. Most disturbingly, we see in Trish the lowest of the low; she represents the most unintelligent, hateful and spiteful among us, and the cycle of violence that too often passes from parent to child. In these desperate people we see the whole story.


Shannon Haeglar also brings something more to this retelling; as the OTD he is unflinching, and undeserving of his fate, but Haeglar has discovered a lighter quality now, and a lovely, genuine concern for Rachel, whose assault he is framed and blamed for. The connection between these two is manipulated keenly, beautifully, subtly complicating issues, and at times we’re not sure whose story we should believe.

The imposing abstract design (Josh McIntosh) places us squarely in the confines of the collective psyche, and the combination of Jason Glenwright’s lighting and Guy Webster’s sound design constrains us, challenges us and directs our attention to the finer detail, assisting with an efficient, highly effective denouement, the very definition of rising tension.

More shocking than you remember and more relevant than ever, shake & stir’s Tequila Mockingbird is the most powerful must-see, must-talk-about theatrical production of the year.




Continue the conversation with these talking points –



Faking it and fitting in

Using violence to assert power and gain control when we feel we have none

Accepting responsibility

Recognising vulnerability

Responding to those in need

Recognising the lens through which we view the world

Developing the confidence to stand up for what we believe is right


Singin’ In The Rain

Singin’ In The Rain

Dainty Entertainment Group

QPAC Lyric Theatre

September 22 – October 30 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


Scott J. Hendry’s staging of Jonathan Church’s Singin’ In The Rain is sensational, the most visually spectacular and enjoyable evening we’ve had at the theatre this year. Perfectly cast, beautifully staged and choreographed, light-hearted, fun and entertaining, this is a slick show we could easily enjoy more than once. And if you’ve managed to avoid seeing A Clockwork Orange all your life you’ll enjoy it so much more… NOT linking to that.

The title number was originally supposed to be a showcase for the three leads but Gene Kelly figured it would work well to illustrate his character’s joie de vivre.

I love Rohan Browne and Brisbane loves Rohan Browne, and thanks to a savvy somebody in production or marketing who also loves Rohan Browne (perhaps Casting Director Lynn Ruthven), we were privileged to see Rohan Browne open the Brisbane season. The ideal Don Lockwood (The Production Company thought so too, in 2013), Browne is just swell; suave, sophisticated and funny. He dances up a very stylish storm (well, a downpour at least), executing Andrew Wright’s swanky choreography effortlessly. The title number is the epitome of pure joy, complete abandon, and it comes complete with authentic rain soaked swagger, precision lamp post swinging, splashing and smiling like any silly, lovely, completely lovesick schoolboy. If ever there was a performance as competent and confident as Gene Kelly’s this is it.     

Although uncredited, Gene Kelly had two incredibly talented choreography assistants. These ladies were none other than Carol Haney (The Pajama Game (1957)) and Gwen Verdon (Broadway star of “Can-Can”, “New Girl In Town”, “Damn Yankees”, “Redhead”, “Sweet Charity” and “Chicago”). In fact, Kelly’s taps during the “Singin’ In The Rain” number were post-dubbed by Verdon and Haney. The ladies had to stand ankle-deep in a drum full of water to match the soggy on-screen action.


Don Lockwood’s love interest, Kathy Seldon, is recreated by the gorgeous Gretel Scarlett, a fantastic singer and dancer, and unlike Debbie Reynolds, she performs every number herself! She’s pitch-perfect, tap-happy and finds just enough fire in the belly of this character to give Lockwood a hard time before a happy ending. These two are so sweet together, somehow finding that elusive chemistry that sells a show without upsetting the off-stage other halves. 

In the “Would You” number, Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) is dubbing the voice of Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) because Lina’s voice is shrill and screechy. However, it’s not Reynolds who is really speaking, it’s Jean Hagen herself, who actually had a beautiful deep, rich voice. So you have Jean Hagen dubbing Debbie Reynolds dubbing Jean Hagen. And when Debbie is supposedly dubbing Jean’s singing of “Would You”, the voice you hear singing actually belongs to Betty Noyes, who had a much richer singing voice than Debbie.


As Cosmo, Brisbane’s Jack Chambers is no Donald O’Connor but as far as the opening night audience is concerned he’s worthy of their whooping and cheering. His is a polished, fast-paced performance and thoroughly entertaining, but lacking in substance. Chambers presents an uber confident, slickly marketed stage persona and a well rehearsed performance but he’s yet to dig deeper and give us more. The simple fact is that on any other stage Chambers might shine but he shares the space and the spotlight with a couple of brighter stars.

The “Make ’em Laugh” sequence was created because Gene Kelly felt that Donald O’Connor needed a solo number. As O’Connor noted in an interview, “Gene didn’t have a clue as to the kind of number it was meant to be.” The two of them brainstormed ideas in the rehearsal room, and came up with a compendium of gags and “shtick” that O’Connor had done for years, some of which he had performed in vaudeville. O’Connor recalled, “Every time I got a new idea or remembered something that had worked well for me in the past, Gene wrote it down and, bit by bit, the entire number was constructed.”


Erika Heynatz (you’ll remember she whipped us into shape in Legally Blonde), almost steals the show once more, this time with her original portrayal of the glamorous, self-serving silent movie star Lina Lamont, pulling out all the stops and eliciting screams of laughter at her screeching vocals and department store mannequin mannerisms. We haven’t seen anyone posture quite so beautifully since Ladies In Black. Heynatz creates a gorgeously groomed train wreck of a character, whom we can’t stand and can’t wait to see again. Her Act 2 dressing room solo What’s Wrong With Me? brings down the house.

Ian William Galloway’s AV perfectly complements the plot, bringing the show up to date in terms of production values, and the production itself into a seamless cinematic realm that we’re privileged to see quite often in Brisbane actually, on a slightly smaller scale, because optikal bloc. Production elements combine perfectly to keep the focus on the performers, with design (Simon Higlett) and lighting (Tim Mitchell) showcased in the title number, and in company numbers All I Do, Beautiful Girl and the epic Broadway Ballet. It’s a fantastic ensemble with standout performances from Broadway Ballet Girl, a sexy, naughty Nadia Coote, and Make-Up Girl, Rachael Ward, both completely captivating, easily drawing the eye in a bevy of triple threat beauties, which is no mean feat in any company. 

Of course it’s quite a feat to make it rain onstage – even looking up at the source of the rain doesn’t spoil the effect, in fact we have time to marvel over the making (and lighting and sound) of it, and the disappearance of it in time for the second act. Throughout, MD Adrian Kirk leads a stellar group of musicians.

Browne, Scarlett, Chambers and Heynatz lead this company in the most spectacular theatrical production of the year, bringing childlike joy to our backyard until October 30. Brisbane, we are living the meme.



Chekhov’s First Play

Chekhov’s First Play

Brisbane Festival & Dead Centre

Brisbane Powerhouse Powerhouse Theatre

September 21 – 23 2016


Reviewed by Meredith Walker




From its at-door sign warning of loud, sudden noises, coarse language, nudity, sexual references, pyrotechnics and smoking on stage, it is easy to recognise that Dead Centre’s Chekhov’s First Play is going to be take audiences far from the usual Chekov places. Yet still, in its disassembling of the great Russian playwright’s work, as well as theatre itself, the play takes its audiences to some surprising but ultimately superb places.
The show begins somewhat traditionally, apart from the fact that audience members are all wearing headphones in order to obtain Bush Moukarzel’s audio director’s commentary. This allows, he claims, for him to unclutter the complicated work and, accordingly, his words include snippets of explanation of its play’s subtext, highlight the universality and thus modernity of its metaphors about property and clarify the dramatic concept of Chekhov’s gun… providing the cast don’t muck it up by accidentally skipping a few pages of dialogue. There is humour too as he makes metatheatrical observations regarding the actors, such as in reaction to their underplay of lines, moving towards offer of his opinion of them, including their flaws.




The soap-opera story of Anton Chekov’s first play, Platonov, which he started writing ‘before he was Chekhov’ at just 18 years of age, is of the widowed Anna Petrovna who can no longer afford the upkeep on her giant house (represented by Andrew Clancy’s imposing and immaculate redbrick set) and the benefactor trying to woo her despite her love belonging to another, already married man. At five hours in unadapted form (thanks to 83 scenes) and with a 20 character cast and multiple themes, the ambitiously complicated play is generally accepted as unstageable.

But this is far from a traditional telling, and not just due to the headphones. Things begin to change towards the abstract when the obscure Platonov arrives on stage, with the actors slipping in and out of character. As they await and then laud Platonov’s arrival, the Chekhovian language begins to breakdown; as Chinese takeaway is ordered, mention of traditional superstition is Googlised and talk even turns to Kim and Kanye. Chaos soon ensues as the show’s stately staging is wrecked (literally) and the gun reappears. And it works… mainly due to Platonov, the central character, who does not utter a single word as the world implodes around him. To say more would be to ruin the impressive imagery and pack-a-punch impact of the work’s modern application of its after and always themes of ownership, translated too within a feminist discourse. All cast members are impressive, whether performing the naturalism of Chekhov’s original script or when within the heightened melodrama of later lip-synced sections.




Chekhov’s First Play is a hugely inventive work, not just in the realisation of its rebuild from the broken down fragments of its source material, but its concept of modern examination of a classic, and shows that the leading character can be any one of us. Like An Oak Tree and Gob Squad’s Kitchen (You’ve Never Had It So Good), with a bit of last year’s Confidence Man, Chekhov’s First Play creates a truly memorable and though-provoking theatrical experience through its insightful reconciliation of Chekhov’s trademark naturalism with the commotion of our everyday world. Go for the comfort of its classic premise but stay for the challenge of its shattering of preconceptions. And then share your thoughts so that others might also join in the incredible privilege we have to be seeing such acclaimed work from this year’s ‘Irish Rebellion’ Brisbane Festival Artists in residence.



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