18
Dec
18

Louise Bezzina to Lead Brisbane Festival as Artistic Director

 

Brisbane Festival announces Louise Bezzina as Artistic Director

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

The Spirit of Churaki

 

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

 

18
Dec
18

A Very Naughty Christmas – The Second Coming

 

A Very Naughty Christmas – The Second Coming

Understudy Productions

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

December 6 – 16 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

Elliot Baker & Sophie Christofis. A Very Naughty Christmas.

 

THE POLAR OPPOSITE OF CAROLS BY CANDLELIGHT

 

Alex Woodward’s Understudy Productions returned to Brisbane Powerhouse for the holiday season with the naughtiest Christmas cabaret show in the city. It really should have run for another week. It’s the return of A Very Naughty Christmas and it’s only missing Miss Libby Hendrie, the gorgeous blonde triple threat in all of the marketing collateral. Other than that, there’s not a single disappointment; it’s perfectly designed to become a (strictly adults only) Brisbane Christmas Tradition.

 

Apparently, The Second Coming is nothing like last year’s production. But I missed seeing it, so from what I can gather it’s either lacking its original raw, really naughty edge, or it’s even more titillating and entertaining than before! We’re going to assume that the latter is the more common response because box office records. Also, Woodward is one of our excellent new producers who learns from each experience rather than giving up, packing up and moving on to another, bigger, brighter city. The lights are getting brighter in Brisbane and it’s largely because the indies, like Understudy, persist and survive – very well it seems – alongside the mainstage offers. (It’s also because table service survives at many of Brisbane’s better haunts. C’mon, Sunshine Coast!). Woodward always assembles the best of the best, both onstage and off, which makes it easier to garner support for each new project, and also makes the next tickets on offer from this company, for next year’s production of Sweet Charity starring Naomi Price, a very attractive Christmas stocking filler indeed…

 

Dan Venz directs a fierce and fiercely talented, unafraid, flamboyant cast. Each is a bit of a star in their own right, and not a bit reticent about performing this style of comedy. There’s a great deal of the individual in each very personalised role. Let’s face it, we’ve never seen Santa’s Helpers quite like these! Unlike last year’s rough and ready reverie, this script was written by Emily Christopher and Matthew Semple. It’s super speedy, stupidly funny and yes, very naughty.

 

Emily Kristopher & Stephen Hirst. A Very Naughty Christmas.

 

The role of Santa comes, of course, to Stephen Hirst, the host with the most…well, let’s just say he’s the most indecent Santa we’ve seen on local stages. Leading a completely politically incorrect, drug addled, intoxicated and very sexy band of elves, it’s no surprise to see an Austin Powers’ nude number eliciting raucous laughter, and equal measures of delight and dismay, when sight lines outside of the main seating bank offer sneaky peaks at a little more than the punters thought they’d paid to see, especially for those sitting in the right (or the wrong?) seats. Hirst is well known for his easy manner and wicked humour, his ability to take an audience along for the ride with a wink and a knowing grin; all qualities that serve him well here, lowering the tone a little nearer to bawdy, but lifting the standard of the show into the realm of Club Cumming, rather than just another cabaret show; yes, high praise indeed!

 

There was never any doubt that raunchy Aurélie Roque could steal the show, but she resists (that) temptation and plays nice – real nice – with performers and unsuspecting audience members. With powerhouse vocals and legs up to her ears, Roque leaves an indelible impression as always.

 

Emily Kristopher, having had two other productions in the Wonderland program, lets her hair and her guard down in this one. A substantial amount of the writing has got to be hers, such is the clever, concise dialogue, breathing space and overall pace. A versatile performer, her character is ridiculously cute, her comic timing is perfect and her voice is sublime. Sofie Christofis finds her place in this cast, establishing herself as the one to watch. I suspect she is to Understudy Productions what Stef Caccamo is to The Little Red Company.

 

Austin Cornish and Elliot Baker round out this devilishly talented cast. Cornish, given the opportunity to do so,  dances rings around the other elves, and Baker relishes his comedic role as the newest elf on the shelf with a shameful secret and a crush on Christofis. Cornish and Baker are further testament – as if we needed any further evidence ever – that the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University (i.e. the Con) is training our next generation of triple threat superstars. Watch out, WAAPA. It’s a delight to hear each sing up a storm, in between their riotous workshop antics, and at times combining these elements to deliver, for example (and possibly, for a verse and a chorus too long), the viral Lonely Island number about a particular appendage in a boxMD Tnee Dyer (keys), Chris Evans (drums) and Elliot Parker (bass) appear to have just as much fun as we do. New arrangements of the most popular Christmas songs become fabulously dirty ditties with new lyrics; singalongs that you might not want to be caught on camera singing along with!

 

Understudy Productions had already gone to some lengths to fill the gap in the market, a chasm in fact, left by Oscar Theatre Co – now Oscar Production Co. A Very Naughty Christmas is potentially a neverending year-round series, like enough Club Cumming or Jim Caruso’s Cast Party, starring new and old talent, featuring new and favourite sketches and songs, and satiating new and returning audiences, as long as they’re over the age of eighteen. It’s a no-brainer to bring this show back to Brisbane Powerhouse each year at Christmas time (and in July!). If you missed the last two versions, you don’t want to be left out of a third.

 

Make sure you’re amongst the first to hear of another season. While you’re at it, you might want to book for the return season of The Little Red Company’s Christmas Actually and then let QPAC know that you’d like to take the whole family to A Christmas Carol. But keep any version of A Very Naughty Christmas for yourselves. It’s a lovely, filthy treat especially for the big kids. Talk about filling the gap in the market!

 

 

Austin Cornish. A Very Naughty Christmas.

10
Dec
18

A Christmas Carol

 

A Christmas Carol

QPAC and shake & stir theatre co

QPAC Playhouse

December 8 – 20 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.

– Charles Dickens

 

And in the end, light wins.

– Josh McIntosh

 

DON’T EVEN READ THIS. JUST BOOK THE TIX ALREADY.

 

Brisbane has seen three Christmas shows run simultaneously this year in a bid by leading companies to capture the Christmas market by encouraging us to establish new yuletide traditions. It’s a no-brainer, brilliant; everyone’s a winner. Give heart-warming, life-affirming, amazing experiences created especially for you by artists who stay employed right up until the end of the year in our venues that, by being filled to overflowing for every show, reinforces the case for our need for new venues so more humans get to enjoy live entertainment. This is what it’s all about. 

 

All three productions are of the highest quality, but it’s A Christmas Carol that exceeds expectations. It’s not only a compassionate take on the timeless tale, and performed with ease and extra sparkle by a stunning cast, but it’s truly visually spectacular. It’s not overstating the fact to say that the combination of visual elements surpasses anything we’ve seen before, with the exception of a flying carpet perhaps. You’ll get no spoilers from me, however; you’ll have to see the theatrical magic for yourself. 

 

shake & stir’s superb retelling of Charles Dickens’ classic novel, adapted for the stage by Nelle Lee and directed by Michael Futcher, might not appear to be for everyone; at first glance it looks dark, sombre and a little bit scary. But it’s also very funny and completely family friendly (QPAC and shake & stir recommend the family members be 8 years and older), and as set and costume designer, Josh McIntosh reminds us, in the end, light wins.

 

Josh Mcintosh has actually outdone himself with A Christmas Carol’s seamlessly shifting set design of Neo Victorian Gothic walls and windows and staircases and balconies, creating imposing movable pieces that come together like a jumbo 3D puzzle in a whirlwind of choreography, and in true Gothic style, create an additional character in its own right, of 1800s Victorian London. Somehow there are spaces that also seem cosy and reassuring, and this is helped by Jason Glenwright’s stunning lighting states, bringing daylight into the darkest corners of the world without losing the sense of the shadows we see at the edges.

 

In amongst the moments of Christmas cheer, the mood is eerie, foreboding, suspenseful; everything that the mega smash hit next door offered to deliver and didn’t. Unsurprisingly, because this company goes to such lengths or because the theatre ghosts kindly arranged it, air con colludes with creatives, chilling us to the bone so that a shiver runs down the spine even before we catch our first a glimpse of the Ghost of Christmas Past. And is it really the actor on stage? Or an apparition? It’s the magic of theatre, created by Craig Wilkinson of another Brisbane based creative company steadily taking over the world, optikal bloc.

 

Despite some highly physical characterisations, particularly in Eugene Gilfedder’s Scrooge, and in Bryan Probets’ Jacob Marley and the spirits of Christmas past, present and future (if it is indeed his elegant gesture inside the sleeve of the Elder-esque figure), there’s actually very little pageantry or pantomime involved. These heightened performances are delightful, and comparatively naturalistic when we remember perennial favourites, George’s Marvellous Medicine and Revolting Rhymes

 

The real secret to the success of this production lies in its magical alchemy behind the scenes, in the spaces between shake & stir’s founders and Artistic Directors, Nelle Lee, Nick Skubij and Ross Balbuziente, and the phenomenally talented creative team they assemble each time. Honestly, how we still have them in Brisbane is beyond me. Like those of The Little Red Company, shake & stir’s mainstage productions are truly world class, and they could choose to be based anywhere in the world. However, a beautiful producing and presenting partnership with QPAC and finding your work so brilliantly realised by the likes of director, Michael Futcher, and the design team would make anybody reluctant to leave the nest.

 

Original, whimsical musical arrangements performed live by wandering minstrel Salliana Campbell add festive spirit and fun to an often haunting soundscape. Campbell is a natural addition to the shake & stir family, fitting into every scene with her easy, relaxed manner and accomplished musicianship, and even brightly, unfalteringly, returning Scrooge’s Christmas morning greeting. The lovely Arnijka Larcombe-Weate is another new addition, however; we will need to wait for the next production to see her potential more fully realised.

 

 

Futcher is one of my favourite insightful directors, his light touch able to take on board the bleak tone of the original material and its central unlikeable character, but also dispel any dark power that it may hold over us by excavating the inherent beauty and kindness of human nature, and the nuances in each moment of joy, in this case, the simple message of peace and goodwill. So while this is a dark and sometimes terrifying story, the light really does win in the end. Some lovely, typically shake & stir comedy comes through, and this is also testament to Lee’s ability to adapt a complex classical text that on stage becomes suitable for almost all ages. I will mention that a particularly terrifying projected image stayed with Poppy throughout the rooftop party and lingered during the drive home, so that we had to hear Dear Evan Hansen twice more. This is not a terrible thing. The current detour due to roadworks takes us home via Forest Glen, an extra twenty minutes down the road, so the deluxe album, including deleted songs and Katy Perry’s curious rendition of Waving Through A Window, was perfect. And Poppy remembers a perfect evening out!

 

This company is well known for its founding artists’ ability to turn a hand to just about anything, and their performances don’t disappoint. Lee offers a gorgeous and gratitude filled, bubbling, bustling Mrs Cratchit, which is supported by the heartfelt, heart-warming performances of the boys (Skubij and Balbuzienti, two of the few amongst us who can convincingly play much younger than they are). And in his shake & stir debut, Lucas Stibbard is a particular Mr Cratchit, not dithering, not obsessive, not quite frightened rabbit…but there’s a sense of the downtrodden, the underdog, and he harnesses this energy beautifully to turn around each low point for the sake of his family and the youngest boy, the cripple, Tiny Tim. I won’t spoil it, but this character is a little bit of quiet genius, which may or may not make perfect sense to you, depending on your imagination and compassion. (And if you really want the spoilers, simply read the other reviews. What is it with this frantic, desperate need to reveal all?). 

 

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A Christmas Carol is the new next best beautiful annual tradition after The Nutcracker – many will say it’s their preferred option – if the presenting partners can make it work. If so, I’d like to see the ticket prices reflect the nature of the gift this show would be to so many families – and not only families – that would otherwise miss out.

 

There will always be artists and sets and spaces demanding payment (actually, the artists are usually the least demanding), and there will always be a demographic that can’t even entertain the possibility of taking themselves, let alone a family of four or five to a show, especially at Christmas time. So let’s find a way to make this brilliant, beautiful, uplifting, thrilling and life-affirming experience more accessible. Would you gift a ticket? Keep letting our companies and venues know that when you book your seats, you’d like to Pay It Forward rather than Pay A Booking Fee. 

08
Dec
18

Crunch Time

 

Crunch Time

Metro Arts & Counterpilot

TAFE South Brisbane Norman Price Theatre

December 5 – 15 2018

 

Reviewed by Shannon John Miller

 

 

In a dark chamber at the Norman Price Theatre, South Brisbane TAFE, seven diners including myself are seated at a table. The surface undulates with a virtual table cloth, projected from technology above. Waiters stand at attention against dark walls, and director Nathan Sibthorpe sits at a computer console nearby. Some diners have come together, however mostly we’re strangers, and we attempt awkward introductions and polite chit-chat as we wait.

 

The Good The Bad and The Ugly by Morricone underscores a sudden flurry of animated activity on the table. The pre-recorded voice of Lauren Jackson explains the rules of the game. We’re given tokens; a ‘tick in a box’ – a branded icon of Crunch Time created on a 3D printer. The projector throws selections upon the table, and we place our tokens on our respective choices, the system then calculating our consensus. We’re told the majority have voted for sparkling water. We then vote similarly on red wine, white wine, or beer.

 

Images of a commercial kitchen appear in virtual plates on the table, and we’re introduced to the guest, and self-confessed mediocre cook, Fiona Ward, a manager with Queensland Performing Arts Centre. She tells us that she’s eight metres away in a kitchen ready to prepare our meals. While charming and impromptu, she reads as if unrehearsed, from either cue cards or teleprompt off-camera. Her dialogue, deliberately scripted and superficial, as if to reference the banal discourse of Australian TV cooking shows such as Huey’s Cooking Adventures, and Good Chef Bad Chef.

 

We vote on the ingredients for a starter, ultimately settling on egg, rice paper rolls, corn, coriander and soy sauce. Ingredients are then submitted to the kitchen for a sort of mystery box test for Ward, (who has helpers) while, Jackson’s voice-over coldly asks us at random about our food experiences, expectations, favourite foods, and allergies. We’re then presented with our dishes, and dine on the creations of our democratic making. The structure is then repeated over five courses.

 

Uniquely immersive and as an interactive dining experience, this is a slick, digital confluence of a board game, a game show, and a reality cooking show. As a participant it’s not hard to imagine the concept’s possibilities if applied to broader domestic, and consumer products like a restaurant, or a home entertainment system.

 

Execution of the sound engineering and multi-media technology are of the highest order, extremely clever and genuinely exciting to engage with. Participants seemed to genuinely enjoy the evening. However, as there were no conventional narrative or dramatic elements, the content and strength of the show is reliant, in part, on the diner’s social skills and interactions to fill gaps. With Jackson’s pre-recorded voice over, and Ward’s teleprompter live-feed, diners turn inward to escape the game’s digital isolation and superficial, consumer cultural aspects.

 

Subsequent dishes, again democratically elected by us, included a pumpkin and coconut cream mash with paprika chickpeas and carrot, seasoned beef strips with rosemary and couscous, a deconstructed Hawaiian pizza, and a Kahlua, liquorice and ice cream thickshake. Meanwhile, we’re treated to a fantastic sound system of eclectic music: Jazz, Beethoven’s 9th, Chopin’s Waltz in C# Minor, Verdi’s’ Requiem.

 

The food is lacklustre, and no offence to Ward; we know she’s chosen for political reasons. The program blurb says each performance has nominated a particular individual from a sphere of political or artistic influence to play cook. However, for this reason she is underutilised, relegated to the kitchen, reading meaninglessly from cue cards, and preparing our meals without political contribution. Given the old maxim one should never discuss politics at the dinner table, I concede this was avoided at risk of being divisive and unfun. Nevertheless, here we are, at a show which purports to be premised on dining and the politics of modern democracy. Neither of which are boldly executed.   

 

The main character here is the technology, and Crunch Time feels like a pilot concept with the capability of sitting within a much greater dramatic idea. Rather than a conventional show, it’s more a vehicle showcasing the potential of the interactive technology, which was truly mesmerising. However, with some better plotting, and dramaturgy, the structure could be lifted from its monotonous and predictable repetition, in which participants are busied answering arbitrary questions about capsicum or dill.

 

Going over two hours, the experience could’ve been shorter with fewer courses, and with more activities that facilitated interaction and debate. While the show’s underpinning influences may have been political tribalism and the disillusion of democracy, those concepts were seemingly absent.

 

In his program note, Director, Nathan Sibthorpe describes the catalyst for Crunch Time, “…we saw general populations vote for Trump, Brexit and the return of One Nation. I was deeply shocked by all three. I couldn’t find anyone in my immediate community who supported these ideologies!”

 

At one point during the evening, a diner confessed to having a dairy intolerance, even sharing her medication as proof. Nevertheless, the group, unempathetic to her appeals, voted for cheddar. What does this say about democracy? About us? Sibthorpe opines, “…democracy demands that we listen to the people that we don’t know. It demands we cooperate. Try to understand. At the end of the day, we’re all eating at the same table and we all have to eat!”

 

While foreshadowing a change in the way we understand theatre, Crunch Time is a terrific concept show. While seemingly dishing up consumer friendly fluff, it poses a foreboding conundrum about the underpinning narcissism lurking behind the veil of democracy.

08
Dec
18

EDC’s New Artistic Director: Amy Hollingsworth

 

Brisbane’s Expressions Dance Company (EDC) has announced the appointment of Amy Hollingsworth as its new Artistic Director.

 

Marian Gibney, Chairman of EDC’s Board said, “We are delighted to welcome Amy Hollingsworth to the artistic leadership of EDC. Amy has presented the Board with an exciting vision for the future of the company as we look ahead to the 2020’s. Amy brings to the role her recognised talent, experience within the national and international dance sectors, and a commitment to both excellence in dance and in broadening the reach of the company, within our local community and beyond. ”

With over 20 years’ experience as a dancer, choreographer, director and industry advocate, as well as in film and dancer education, Amy is highly regarded for her passion and leadership within the Australian dance industry.

Taking up the position in January 2019, Amy will replace outgoing Artistic Director, Natalie Weir. Amy said she is honoured to assume the artistic leadership of one of Australia’s most respected contemporary dance companies. “I am deeply committed to building on the legacy created by Natalie and her predecessor, Maggie Sietsma,” she said.

“I cannot wait to step into this role with vigor and passion to deliver a bold fresh new vision. At the heart of my vision for EDC is to lean in to making incredible new work, showcasing the stunning dancers and delighting our audiences, but also to creating an environment for creativity to truly thrive. In this environment, our artists and collaborators will work as a collective, forming a creative tribe where conversations crackle with energy and ideas. We, with the help of our partners, supporters and stakeholders, will make a truly profound contribution to the landscape of dance and more broadly to our community.”

Amy will join EDC following three years as the Creative Associate and Ballet Mistress at Queensland Ballet where her talent as a curator and choreographer was particularly evident through the successful 2017 and 2018 Bespoke seasons.

 

Her vision for EDC includes furthering the company’s respected work in dance education and increasing collaboration opportunities with dancers and other artists to bring exceptional dance to existing audiences and the wider community.

 


Amy Hollingsworth is a multi award winning dancer and director, based in Brisbane and was described by the UK Observer as one of ‘the most compelling and intelligent dancers on the world stage’.

 

Born and raised in Australia and classically trained at The Australian Ballet School, she performed as a leading dancer in companies such as Rambert Dance Company, Royal New Zealand Ballet, Peter Schaufuss Balletten, Bonachela Dance Company, Michael Clark Company, Hofesh Shechter Company, George Piper Dancers and Sydney Dance Company.

With an impressive international performance and creative career spanning large-scale classical ballet to independent contemporary dance, film and pop music, Amy is a highly versatile director of dance with a strong, passionate, musical and emotionally resonant creative voice. Her work in direction and education draws from her background and breadth of experience and is as diverse as the companies that engage her to coach and mentor.

Her achievements outside of her career as a performer are many, but most notably she was a founding member of Bonachela Dance Company and Assistant Director. She then excelled in her roles as Dance Director for Sydney Dance Company and then Rehearsal Director for Expressions Dance Company before joining Queensland Ballet as Ballet Mistress and Creative Associate in 2016. Her skills in the development of choreographers, eye for detail and coaching excellence of dancers has been widely noted and critically acclaimed.

Amy has also choreographed numerous works, has been involved in the production of dance films and worked across commercial industries. In addition to her credits as a performer, coach, director and creative associate, Amy is a sought-after keynote speaker at dance industry events, and is currently the Chair of Brisbane’s Supercell Dance Festival.

05
Dec
18

North By Northwest

 

North By Northwest

QPAC & Kay McLean Productions

QPAC Lyric Theatre

November 29 – December 9 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

 

The world’s first slick stage adaptation of Hitchcock’s famous action suspense thriller is not my favourite show this year. I love the sensational design, and I totally get the sense of it; I get the style, I get the humour, I get the cleverness of it, but I don’t love it. BUT EVERYONE ELSE LOVES IT.

 

 

How to meticulously recreate a classic film on stage, anyway? With an eye for detail, a mega-budget and main stage venues from Melbourne to London, that’s how, and Simon Phillips (Director) and Carolyn Burns (Writer) have succeeded in doing so since 2015 with Hitchcock’s North By Northwest. But if you want to read the rave reviews READ EVERY OTHER REVIEW. On the same weekend, I was more engaged and entertained by a 60-minute, low-budget, cute, corny indie comedy that successfully strings together excerpts on stage from Tarantino’s cult films. It was charming, clever, ridiculous and hilarious. Whether or not its next incarnation is intended to more accurately represent the films to which it pays homage (there’s no need!), or simply continue to evolve as an irreverent, riotous tribute (there’s potential!), if that production had even half of a Kay Mclean (Andrew Kay & Liza McLean) or mainstage company budget, you might also have had the chance to consider its merits. But without the marketing slice of a bigger pie, you probably didn’t even know it was on.

 

 

 

 

If it’s what makes you happy, North By Northwest lives up to the hype in so many ways, but it lacks soul. Unlike Ladies In Black, which was so surprising and delightful, the play’s performers don’t dare venture beyond the most obvious role requirements, or make us feel anything. This is a shame for those wanting to be swept up in the romance and the espionage without the distraction of how things are achieved technically. And in saying that, in terms of style and in the interests of experimentation, not much heart or soul is needed to convince us that the substance of the 1959 film has been replicated on stage, and as it is, it’s a fun little ride, a real “comedy of suspense”. Just don’t expect actual suspense, you know, the type you don’t need to leave home for because Netflix.

 

 

 

 

North By Northwest is a smash hit; it’s enjoyed sold-out seasons all over the world and will continue to do so, so don’t believe a word I say, but look instead for the opportunity to find out for yourself, as to whether or not this production exceeds expectations. It’s certainly not just for the film’s fans, although it’s a faithful adaptation, losing none of its light, kitsch, cheekily melodramatic, suit-and-scotch-and-cigarettes Mad Men tone, which is attributed to the original writer, Ernie Lehman. It’s ingeniously designed and deliberately stylised, using the most deceptively simple theatrical devices and cinematic elements to cleverly and playfully reveal the landscape, the auction items and the cropduster in the most contemporary-classic way, on either side of the stage. It’s true. Oui. Tres amusement. The most commonly asked question in the foyer on opening night was, but how will they do the plane? 

 

Well, no spoilers here. It’s the same trick, a neat trick each time, involving the actors as stagehands/film crew and it takes most of Act 1 to accept it. Whether or not you accept Matt Day as George Kaplan darting and diving around on stage beneath it is another matter entirely. And as for the highly anticipated chase sequence across Mount Rushmore? You’ll either love it and laugh hysterically or…not. This is Phillips taking the ridiculous – due to restrictions around the use of actual Mount Rushmore imagery – to new heights. Pun intended.

 

 

 

 

So, despite the cinematic score and dark lighting throughout, the most famous scenes of the film have more a sense of utter silliness than any sort of suspense or fear of imminent death by cropduster. Each stylised sequence relies heavily on the carefully incorporated AV elements that are supposed to help us suspend disbelief…or are they? The distance we feel from the action is also intentional, and this is why I get the impression that Phillips has had some fun with this, without necessarily considering what this show is. And just like anything newish – the surge in the development of new musicals/song cycles is a good example – we’re reminded that perhaps a show does’t need to be any one thing. But it does need to be consistent in its delivery.

 

I love the cars, delightful surprises. This device, used for the taxi and the earliest chase sequence, is simple and clever and precise. The train carriage is also simply and effectively achieved. A row of telephone booths and the precision lighting of this scene elicits appreciative laughter. Flying, gliding, dividing set pieces create each location without question, and the seamless transitions between each. These are the elements, along with Amber McMahon’s styling and not-so-subtle femme fatale performance, that give this production class. See?

 

IT’S JUST AS THEY SAY: A PERFECTLY SLICK, STYLISH, SENSATIONAL ETC PRODUCTION. 

 

Some of the performances are superb.

 

The “cast of thousands”, featuring Amber McMahon, whom I adore, and Matt Day, whom others adore, also includes Brisbane’s Christen O’Leary and Leon Cain, almost unrecognisable in some roles, and even as extras scurrying across the stage beyond the main action in blatant disregard of any old fashioned notion that in the theatre, movement pulls focus. 

 

North By Northwest is to live theatre what Get Smart was to television, what Dick Tracy was to film, and what Avatar was to circus when we first experienced those departures from the way it was always done. North By Northwest is bold and tricky and new and a bit exciting, but it’s not my favourite.

 

 

02
Dec
18

Depthless

 

Depthless

The Farm

Judith Wright Centre

November 30 – December 1 2018

 

Reviewed by Shannon John Miller

 

 

Six lights pinned to the proscenium blanket the stage in a rich, dark purple hue. A drum kit sits to the right, where a mess of guitar effects pedals, and chords are strewn across the floor in the shape of a crescent moon ending in amplifiers upstage. But everything is side-on, and to the right as if we’re about to view a concert from the wings.

 

A man, Guy Webster, appears from the darkness gently playing a simple riff on an acoustic guitar, and channelling Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, adding poetry and lyrics. A light in the far corner swings like a lighthouse, bathing the audience in film noir. And behind that light a genderless form emerges, Harman, languishing upon the ground, as if being moulded from clay.

 

 

She then appears in a short gold, sequinned dress and deliberately toys with clichés of feminine beauty, fantasy and desire. Her movement is expressive and infantile, conjuring the tragic Hollywood princesses; Munroe, Lana del Rey, and Lolita.  However, these skins are abandoned and replaced by Denham and deeper more emergent cravings. And the electric guitar becomes a site of male power of which Harman seeks to possess and subvert. A rock battle ensues, with Harman and Webster’s dispute conveyed through a breathtaking pas de trois between them and the electric guitar.

 

Running just under an hour, we’re treated to a uniquely performative rock odyssey. Harman, fully embodies the defiant muse, desperate, through expressive movement, to break free of both artistic assumptions of her sex, and the confines of her musical creator, Webster. Harman’s choreographic process is seemingly limitless in her ability to communicate physically. She leaps exquisitely from a sumptuous, lilting naivety to a worldly, violent grace, while playing on the audience’s assumptions of women’s roles in art, sex and dance.

 

And she is a worthy adversary to Webster, a remarkable musician who pushes his acoustic and electric guitars past their limits, even if at times a little too loudly. He experiments with every conceivable part of the instrument from arpeggios, to plucking strings of the pegboard, and torturing it in distortion with his many implements. It’s as if the guitar is a third character in this two-hander. He draws from the guitar a soulful grotesqueness, then resolves dissonances with recourse to musical energy evocative of Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Hans Zimmer. At one point, he repeatedly launches the guitar across the stage, dragging it back by its chord like the god Sisyphus punished for all eternity to roll a boulder up a hill.

 

There is real conflict and tension here as one artist seeks to assert dominion over the other’s right to possess the guitar. Webster, trying to preserve a status quo as Harman remains unyielding in what is a beautifully engineered tug of war. We, the audience are in the crossfire, and it’s our expectations of what we suppose to be gendered artforms that are challenged, and at stake.

 

 

While the work is supreme, the structure could be tightened of unnecessary dramatic pauses. Yet even still at its zenith, the work explodes in a drum kit-fuelled frenzy of anger and joy; an ex-machina soothed only by a fragile reverie. But who will surface victorious?

 

Ballads by multi-ARIA award winning musician Ben Ely of Regurgitator, are beautiful and while seemingly unrelated, are perfunctory as is the dialogue to the play, because the central narrative is the politics of movement between Harman and Webster. This unique work is more than just showcasing two talented performers, but an important commentary on the state of the art, and audiences’ oppressive demands on what is entertainment.