17
Jun
19

TOSCA

 

Tosca

Opera Queensland

QPAC Lyric Theatre

June 13 – 22 2019

 

Reviewed by Shannon Miller

 

 

Last year within the walls of the historic Italian city of Lucca, I visited the birthplace of Tosca’s composer, Giacomo Puccini who was born in 1858. Once a wealthy apartment overlooking the Piazza Cittadella it is now a museum enshrined with his personal artefacts, costumes from his operas, personal letters and postcards, photographs, and an old baby grand piano said to have been used by the young composer before he departed for Milan where he would undergo his serious musical training. He would go on to eventually write the operas which he has now become so famous for including Tosca, the awe-inspiring production currently part of Opera Queensland’s 2019 season.

 

 

With its themes of police corruption, executive overreach, political terrorism and feminism, it’s not hard to see why Tosca continues to hold relevance for contemporary audiences, despite its first debut more than 100 years ago, in 1900. Program notes co-authored by artistic director, Patrick Nolan and executive director, Sandra Willis make mention of our media recently becoming the focus of the world’s attention due to the raids on our national broadcaster, calling into question the idea of free speech and the integrity of the media – concepts central to Tosca’s verismo melodrama.

 

Originally set against the Napoleonic invasion of Rome in the 1800s, director Nolan sets the scene during Italy’s ‘Years of Lead’: a dark period of great political terrorism and violence spanning the 1960s and 1980s. (*Lead allegedly denoting the shootings and bombings of the time.)

 

As we enter the Lyric Theatre the curtain is already up. We see a church with floors polished to a mirror’s gleam. There are candles to be lit, long minimalist pews, imposing linear structures, and cubic compartments framing the proscenium as if the set will attempt to contain in an orderly fashion what chaos and tragedy will seek to undo. The production design is boastful and foreboding, and the program notes explain that it is the work of Italian modernist architect Pier Luigi Nervi that influenced the design; a conflation of religious iconography and bureaucratic geometry – a tension upon which the plot of Tosca pivots.

 

Angelotti, sung by Sam Hartley, is an escaped political prisoner who takes refuge inside the church and hides as a Sacristan enters to prepare for the evening mass. Joining him is Cavaradossi, sung by Angus Wood, an artist employed to paint a portrait of the Mary Magdalene. The iconic motifs of the strings and woodwind herald the opening of the first main aria Recondita Armonia. Here, we get a real sense of Woods’ bold tenor voice; a resonant and youthful timbre which lilts boldly, but wraps sensitively with a controlled legato around the lyrical phrasing. With the climax of the aria’s closing note, we pinch ourselves as we come to realise, we are indeed listening to one of the world’s most beloved operas, and we’re in expert hands.

 

The Sacristan leaves, Angelotti re-emerges, and after promising to protect him, Angelotti hides as Cavaradossi’s girlfriend arrives, Floria Tosca a famous singer. The titular character, sung by Rachelle Durkin, channels Sophia Loren with wild sunglasses, high-waisted pants, a silk floral blouse and fur, no less. Tosca’s gumption, style and physicality are magnetic as Durkin commands respect, inhabiting the stage with a conspicuous nonchalance, her voice generously picking out the flowers in the music, while gorgeously navigating its churning ocean with a vibrant vocalism and vibrato that lashes but then reigns in to show off a deeper discipline and modesty. She jealously accuses Cavaradossi of cheating on her and also that the painting resembles another woman as the two engage in playful tête-à-têtes. They are in love and we cannot help but fall in love with them.

 

 

After they leave, the Sacristan returns with a congregation, but the celebrations are interrupted by chief of police, Baron Scarpia. Moustached and skivvied, he is followed by his police agents and henchmen hot on the trail of Angelotti. Scarpia, sung richly by baritone Jose Carbo, leads the chorus in the final number of the first act – a rousing Te Deum – which is a more structured piece speaking to the rigidity of the internal demons of process that drive Scarpia; very much in contrast to the musical language of our lovers. The chorus and orchestra fuse together, the melody twisting upward impossibly, divinely, and culminating with a palpable electricity still buzzing amongst the audience during intermission.

 

In act two, Scarpia, in an effort to discover the whereabouts of Angelotti, will manipulate the lovers by torturing and threatening to execute Cavaradossi unless Tosca yields to his sexual advances. In a final plea to God, she sings a heartbreaking Vissi d’arte, followed by Woods’ E lucevan le stelle – arguably Puccini’s best tenor aria outside of Turandot’s Nessun Dorma. Woods’ performance had me so star struck and fangirling that I was flung back to my bedroom floor at thirteen, singing along to a $5 bargain bin compact disc titled Puccini Favourites which I still have to this very day.

 

 

Show stealers maestro, Oliver Von Dohnanyi and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra bring this magnanimous score to life; a demanding musical work of extremist romantic dynamics, sensitivity and vociferous power. The orchestra were generous and rigorous in their efforts to produce the chocolate, velvet and violence necessary for Tosca to leave you breathless and yearning. Opera Queensland’s production of Tosca shouldn’t be missed. With its complex, modern sets and period costumes by Dale Ferguson, contemporary lighting concepts by Mark Howett, and masterful direction by Patrick Nolan, this is an extravaganza; a unique and successful revitalising of one of the world’s most sacrosanct cultural artefacts.

 

25
May
19

Boy Swallows Universe takes to the stage

 

 

Queensland Theatre and Brisbane Festival to produce the world premiere season of Trent Dalton’s breakout mega-hit novel

 

In a huge coup, Queensland Theatre has secured the rights for the world premiere of the stage version of Brisbane-born Australian author Trent Dalton’s breakout mega-hit novel, Boy Swallows Universe.

Queensland Theatre’s Artistic Director Sam Strong will direct an adaptation by Tim McGarry in a co-production between Queensland Theatre and Brisbane Festival. The stage version of Boy Swallows Universe will have its world premiere as part of Brisbane Festival in September 2020, in the 50th year of Queensland Theatre, Sam Strong’s final season as Artistic Director and Louise Bezzina’s first season as Artistic Director of Brisbane Festival.

The announcement comes on the back of a record-breaking four-prize win for Dalton at the Australian Book Industry Awards, with the novel officially becoming Australia’s number 1 book overall, and number 1 fiction book, as measured by Nielsen BookScan last week. On Wednesday Dalton was included in the 2019 longlist for the Miles Franklin Award, Australia’s most prestigious writing accolade.

“We’re thrilled to announce that in 2020, Queensland Theatre in partnership with Brisbane Festival will produce a theatrical version of Trent Dalton’s extraordinary novel, Boy Swallows Universe. The novel is the hottest property in Australian storytelling, deserving every ounce of the praise that has been lavished on it and all of the incredible success it has achieved,” said Strong.

“Moreover, Trent’s book is absolutely ripe for adapting to the stage: featuring larger-than-life characters, an effortless combination of magic realism and crime-thriller, unforgettable set pieces written with a cinematic visual flair, and dialogue that just leaps off the page.

“Boy Swallows Universe has captivated hundreds of thousands of Australians with its arresting portrait of growing up in 80s Brisbane. It has captured the hearts of us all through its story of love’s triumph over the darkest of circumstances. I am more excited about the theatrical version of Boy Swallows Universe than any of the 30 odd shows I have directed for the Australian mainstage. I cannot wait to direct this landmark Brisbane story on a Queensland Theatre stage.”

Trent Dalton said the announcement of Boy Swallows Universe coming to the Queensland Theatre stage was absolutely perfect.

“Everything about this production is perfect. It had to be staged here. This glorious, complex, sweltering city is in my blood and my blood is in that book. It was the people of Brisbane who took that wild, strange book and ran with it first and that book belongs to them now and this production will belong to them, too.”

He said never in a million years did he believe the story would go from the page, to the stage.

“My goal was a simple one: to see that story put into a hard copy book so I could hand just one copy to my mum, who still lives in the outer northern suburbs of Brisbane, and I could say, “This is why I love you so much”. Now I can take that early-60s warrior woman grandma to a play in the city and she can see some incredible performers under lights telling some of her story and I can lean over to her in the theatre and whisper, “This is why I love you so much.”

 

 

He said he saw the theatre as a magical, dark, wondrous place. “I love theatre so much and I love Queensland Theatre,” he said. “Sam Strong is a theatre genius and I’ve told him he has my blessing to go as big and as ambitious and as creative as his big brain can take him. I’ll be Matty Bowen to his Johnathan Thurston, supporting him all the way. But, like any good Queensland fullback, I’ll know exactly when to step out of the way,” he said.

He said he can imagine the opening night feeling already.

“Brisbane will be in full sunshine glory, purple jacarandas will be blowing in spring breezes, the Broncos will be in the finals and I’ll be somewhere in that beautiful theatre with a packet of barbecue Samboys saying, ‘How the hell did I ever get so lucky?’.

“Just to see these so often overlooked Brisbane places that are so dear and connected to me – Bracken Ridge, Darra, old Boggo Road Gaol – put up there on stage is deeply moving to me. There are countless people that I love, heart and soul, out there in those suburbs who might be able to come to that play and say, ‘Yeah, that’s my world, that’s my Brisbane’, and I’ll be right there beside them screaming, ‘Hell yes, ain’t it glorious’.

Sam Strong said adaptor Tim McGarry was the first playwright out of the blocks for the book based on his passion and affinity for the story.

“Tim McGarry brings his impressive experience with creating new Australian stories and especially adaptations of novels to the task of adapting Trent’s book. Tim has already written an incredible adaptation of Trent’s extraordinary novel and I can’t wait to work with them both to bring Boy Swallows Universe to life in the theatre.”

McGarry said he read the book in less than 24 hours while on holidays in far North Queensland.

Boy Swallows Universe is a captivating coming-of-age story set in Brisbane’s violent working-class suburban fringe, inspired by the real-life events of journalist Trent Dalton’s complicated youth. It tells the story of twelve-year-old Eli Bell, who finds comfort in his extraordinary imagination as a means of escaping from his challenging life with a mute brother, a mother in jail, a heroin dealer for a stepfather and a notorious crim for a babysitter. Surrounded by chaos and with very little moral guidance from the adults around him, Eli sets out on an ambitious suburban odyssey that sees him meet the father he doesn’t remember, break into Boggo Road Gaol to rescue his mum, come face to face with the criminals who tore his world apart, and fall in love with the girl of his dreams. At its core, Boy Swallows Universe is a story of brotherhood and the spark of young love; it’s also the unlikely true story of the formative friendship Dalton shared with Arthur ‘Slim’ Halliday, the greatest escape artist ever confined to Brisbane’s Boggo Road Gaol.

“I could barely put it down. There were times I could barely breathe. I was completely captivated by Eli Bell, his journey, his charisma, his desperation to try and better understand the dark world he inhabited. I was captivated by the magic and wisdom of August. I found the characters so richly rendered. The complex world Trent created just leapt off the page. Collaborating with Sam Strong and his team on this particular work is mind-blowingly exciting for me.”

Strong said Queensland Theatre was thrilled to be partnering with Brisbane Festival. “Artistic Director Louise Bezzina has a passion for Brisbane stories and working with Brisbane companies, so it makes perfect sense that our two organisations come together to co-produce the most exciting Brisbane story in decades.”

Louise Bezzina said Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe was the quintessential Brisbane story.

“I am thrilled that as part of my first Festival as Artistic Director we will co-present the stage adaptation of this enormously celebrated and popular book in partnership with Queensland Theatre. Brisbane Festival is deeply committed to telling the stories of our great City and this new production will be a wonderful centrepiece of the 2020 program,” she said.

Published in July 2018, Boy Swallows Universe has now sold over 160,000 copies in Australia across all formats and has been awarded several of Australia’s top literary awards, including Book of the Year at both the Australian Book Industry Awards and the Indie Book Awards, the NSW Premier’s Literary Award for New Writer and People’s Choice Award, and the MUD Literary Prize. Rights to Boy Swallows Universe have been sold to 34 English language and translation territories.

 

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21
May
19

Kill Climate Deniers

 

Kill Climate Deniers

Metro Arts and That Production Company

Metro Arts

May 15 – 25 2019

 

Reviewed by Shannon Miller

 

 

As I left David Finnigan’s play Kill Climate Deniers, I checked my phone and was struck by the news that Bob Hawke had died. My first reaction was of a selfish, mortal fear of having accomplished nothing in my life, and that death and annihilation were real even for leviathans. Some years before I was catching a taxi with a friend from the cab rank at the State Library of Queensland and I heard someone behind me shouting, Blanche! Blanche! in a voice unmistakably Bob Hawkes’. I turned to see the man himself standing behind me, unassuming, yet distinguished, and dressed in a brown-grey suit, quickly taking the hand of his beautiful companion. Together they vanished into the taxi they’d hailed. I was taken aback by his presence, immediately star struck and with a jealous pride, I thought to myself even then, how does someone carve out for themselves a life of meaningful contribution like Bob Hawke.

 

And now, following the result of the recent federal election, Metro Arts’ play Kill Climate Deniers couldn’t be more relevant with proponents of climate change reform waking with a severe election hangover to the realisation that their worst nightmares have in fact come to pass. That Australian voters have swung away from serious environmental policies in favour of more personally affecting economic imperatives.

 

‘Strange as it sounds, it is an enormous achievement of consciousness to recognise that, as a species, we face great problems which are of our own making and which, for the moment, we are unable to solve’. These words from Doug Cocks’ Global Overshoot: Contemplating the World’s Converging Problems are projected onto the stage as we take to our seats, and they will no doubt underpin the philosophy of this play which is unapologetically about the politics of climate change.

 

Out of some fractured abstract beginning scenes and angsty poetry readings, a traditional narrative emerges; a comedy about the besieging of Canberra’s Parliament House during a live performance of Fleetwood Mac by a troupe of eco-terrorists who ostensibly hold the audience hostage—the ransom of which is for the government to end global warming.  Holed up in the ladies’ bathroom, the Environment Minister played exuberantly by Jessica Veurman and her trusty social media manager, Charleen Marsters together navigate their way out of their predicament John-McClane-Die-Hard-style.

 

 

Veurman is perfectly cast as the glamourous Environment Minister, a puppet ruler who finds herself completely out of her depth and in the centre of a fierce protest between eco-propaganda, climate science and campaign fear mongering. She’s peddling the government’s solar radiation management policy to essentially blot out the sun and combat global warming and her social media advisor is deftly sculpting her a hip and unbiased public image. Veurman is forced to stand for her ideals and eventually goes full Kill Bill on her marauders while Martsers is charming, capturing her boss’s insta-stories and boosting her follower numbers.

 

 

The writing is clever and genuinely funny, metaphysically self-referencing and critiquing itself, and while at times the text delves too obviously into rant and political diatribe, it’s buoyed by the cast; all strong, energetic and contemporary women who work hard together to pull this off. With its costume-wig swapping and satirical lampooning, it’s similar to the sketch comedy and political strawmen of Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell characters. While there’s relevance to the politicisation of Peter Garret’s band Midnight Oil, references to the playwright’s 80s and 90’s pop music influences, although added for colour and to give the audience a break from the preaching, are filibuster, unnecessarily prolonging an already too long show. At over two hours with no interval, actors are fatigued by the end defaulting into campish ham with the text exhausted of witty commentary, giving over to silly fight scenes and farce. Nevertheless, the audience lap this up. It’s funny, silly stuff with some serious thought-provoking messages about climate change, the divisive nature of politics and the private sector agenda seeking to capitalise on the public’s fear, confusion and ignorance, with the true causality of inaction getting lost and forgotten in the message: the dwindling environment itself.

 

Caitlin Hill’s noteworthy performance as the narrator stood out as the show’s moral compass and the technical artists: Daniel Anderson’s lighting design, Wil Hughes’ sound design and Justin Harrison’s AV design are all impeccably schmick and visually arresting under the eye of Timothy Wynn’s expert direction.

 

15
May
19

Richard III

 

Richard III

QUT 2nd Year Actors

Creative Industries Precinct

May 7 – 11 2019

 

Reviewed by Shannon John Miller

 

 

Director, Travis Dowling’s program notes give us insight as to why QUT have ambitiously selected Shakespeare’s Richard III to showcase the bold talent of their Bachelor of Fine Arts 2nd year acting students. He opines that “we need only look at the recent history of our political system to see that the ambition and actions of these characters are still present in our world today.” It’s only fitting that Richard III’s lyrical prose, with its machinations akin to the revolving-door leadership of current Australian federal politics and its slaughterhouse cabinet reshuffles finds its mouth peace in the rising millennial voting body of its confident young cast.

 

The story follows the treacherous uprising and hubristic downfall of Richard III, the short-reigned last king of the House of York whose death marks the end of England’s middle ages. Motivated by an evil career demon within, it’s his charm and eloquent dance with language that allows him to perpetrate his atrocities and traverse the poisonous royal court to the top. “Now is the winter of our discontent,” our villain opines in his opening line played formidably by Rachel Nutchey whose dynamic repertoire effortlessly encompasses Richard’s many faces. From his vulgar tuning of the women in his midst to his raging threats of violence, Nutchey navigates the titular character’s demanding spectrum with ease, transforming herself physically to effect his malformations and psychologically as she swings to the audience, entreating us to delight in her puppet mastery with a spontaneous comic timing.

 

Half the battle in modernising Shakespeare is the suspension of disbelief actors must effect, which requires them to tap into workable anachronistic instincts, while orating convoluted and archaic dialogue without being clunky and disingenuous. But the women of the cast have got this one with strong performances from Isobel Grummels playing Queen Elizabeth, Imogen Trevillion’s Lady Anne, Lucy Heathcote as the Duchess of York, and Sidney Shorten as Queen Margaret. And it’s when they’re all playing together that the dramatic tension, like a tightening spiral, really collects and draws us in. We quickly forget ourselves and are consumed into their lyrical and tumultuous predicaments.

 

However, in an age where presentation is everything, it’s the costuming, hair and makeup that need attention. With a young and vibrant cast posited in contemporary grit and grunge, it would be prudent to have a finger on the fashion pulse and invest in good wardrobe design.

 

The stage, although minimal at first, is lit with a dull effervescent-purple floor, which resembles either a discothèque or the cold floor of a slaughterhouse. The walls are draped in translucent flaps of plastic which evokes Psycho’s famous shower scene or perhaps Dexter’s clinical killing room and this allows director, Dowling seemingly infinite possibilities when it comes to blocking his actors on and off stage. With entries and exits choreographed tightly against Sage Rizk’s punchy and grim soundscape, and Glenn Hughes’ gruesomely stark lighting design, action is effectively obscured beyond the plastic shrouds. There’s lots of blood too with director Dowling choosing thankfully to Macbethise some of the dispatchings.

 

There are also bold voices and noteworthy performances amongst the cast, especially Ethan Lwin’s Clarence, Angus Linklater’s Buckingham, Tate Hinchy as the affable Hastings and Ben Jackson. This is a confident production of enthusiastic young talent whom will no doubt pursue promising careers in the dramatic arts, and it’s their director who truly cares about them, who’s pushing them to exploit their talents and physicality, and whose success in grappling with the demanding text has resulted in a solid and visually engaging production.

 

15
May
19

The Dinner Party

 

The Dinner Party

Expressions Dance Company

QPAC Cremorne Theatre

May 10–18 2019

 

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

 

Expressions Dance Company

 

Power can be used in many ways and can be misused. I love the famous saying, ‘Power corrupts: absolute power corrupts absolutely’… I invite the audience to decide who really holds the power at this dinner party.

 

Natalie Weir, Choreographer

 

In its first mainstage season this year, Expressions Dance Company is performing The Dinner Party, choreographed by former Artistic Director Natalie Weir. New Artistic Director Amy Hollingsworth chose well with this piece, both for its intense theatricality and intricate, breathtaking choreography, and for its gracious tribute to Weir.

 

The Dinner Party is a reworking of Weir’s The Host, performed by EDC in 2015. (Before that, Weir created a version for the Queensland Ballet in 1998.) In the 2015 incarnation, the work had a cast of seven dancers, and four string players of the Southern Cross Soloists performed the music live. The Dinner Party has a cast of six, and the music is recorded.

 

Expressions Dance Company

 

Weir sees the dinner party as a setting for complex interactions between its six characters, involving power, manipulation, domination, submission, love, desire—and some love and consolation.

 

The octagonal black dinner table is the key element of the minimal set. In endlessly inventive choreography, the dancers perform on the table, fly over it in gigantic leaps, huddle under it, move it around, and hang off it tipped on its side.

 

As the central figure of the Host, Jake McLarnon is a towering and dominant presence, his long limbs covering impossible distances. His character is upper-class, wealthy and controlling, but he doesn’t have everything his own way.

 

At first, the Host manipulates the hapless drunk Wannabe (Jag Popham) like a puppet, in some of the more humorous moments of the work. Popham uses his strength and athleticism to create a character of spineless subservience.

 

The Rival (Bernhard Knauer) is a more serious threat. Knauer creates a sense of danger and malicious charm in this role. The struggle between the Host and the Rival is fierce and exciting, as they hurl each other into the air and wrestle, their formal clothing now dishevelled.

 

The callous Rival also toys with the Insecure Party Girl (Josephine Weise). She tentatively wields her sexual power, but is no match for him. Her movements alternate between expansive allure and protective wrapping of arms and legs around herself. With fearless acrobatic strength, contrasting with her fluffy, girly costume, Weise projects her character’s combination of fearfulness and youthful brashness.

 

Expressions Dance Company

 

The Host is involved with two women: the Lover (Isabella Hood) and the Hostess (guest artist Lizzie Vilmanis). The Lover seems to be the least troubled of the characters, although a languorous duo with the Host develops into a competitive trio with the Hostess.

 

The Hostess is a pivotal role, reappearing as a highlighted character throughout. She is a mature woman, obviously of high status, like the Host. This is made very obvious at the start, when she literally walks all over the dinner party guests. In an emotionally charged performance, Vilmanis combines arrogance with sober dignity and a feeling of sadness and regret.

 

The partnering in various duos and trios is thrilling to watch in its daring and control, as bodies wind around each other in unexpected ways, or are hurled through the air. Weir’s choreography is always inventive, and full of physical energy, yet with a sense of refinement rather than violence.

 

Expressions Dance Company

 

The music is appropriately intense and dramatic. The composers are not credited, but include Prokofiev.

The costumes by Brisbane fashion designer Gail Sorronda are various combinations of black and white, and perfect for the characters: formal suits for the men, with black tails for the Host and white for the Rival; elegant long black net and ruffles for the Hostess; a very short ruffled black outfit for the Party Girl; and sophisticated filmy white and black for the Lover.

 

Expressions Dance Company

 

The lighting by Ben Hughes is moody, suitable for a dinner party, with occasional piercing shafts of light illuminating key moments and characters.

Following the Brisbane season, regional audiences will have the chance to see The Dinner Party. It will tour for 6 weeks (from 28 May to 6 July) around Queensland and New South Wales, and to Darwin and Alice Springs.

 

Dinner Party – Trailer from Expressions Dance Company on Vimeo.

23
Apr
19

CLUEDO! The Interactive Game

 

CLUEDO! The Interactive Game

Brisbane Immersive Ensemble

Baedeker Wine Bar

April 17 – May 25 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

CLUEDO! The Interactive Game is the most fun you’ll have outside a theatre until Anywhere Festival takes over all the unlikely performance spaces in Brisbane and across the Sunshine Coast (May 9 – 26). Since its humble beginnings during the 2017 Anywhere Festival, with just two performances on board the Kookaburra Queen, the award winning interactive game / show CLUEDO has continued to attract capacity audiences, and also serves as an attractive corporate option, by special arrangement.

 

This Baedeker Wine Bar season is Brisbane Immersive Ensemble’s third, returning to delight audiences who come to collect clues and assist the iconic board game characters to solve a murder mystery by the end of the night. Ultimately, we don’t actually care who it was, or with what, or where; but others do and either way, the fun is in the chase. We follow our favourite suspects curiously, to see how well they hold up under interrogation. And by that I mean, who here has the sustained focus, and the rather unique skill set required for the successful navigation and manipulation of this style of entertainment and its audience? Not only that, do these performers have the energy and ability to genuinely connect with their audience in this close-up context? No pressure. 

 

CLUEDO is undoubtedly Brisbane’s best improvised immersive dinner theatre experience, encouraging dress ups, dancing and mingling – as much or as little as we like – as we hear from characters made famous by the classic board game (1949) and the film it inspired, starring Tim Curry, Madeleine Kahn, Eileen Brennan, Christopher Lloyd, Colleen Camp and Lesley Ann Warren (1985). A cast of thousands appears to be on hand for each season of the live show, and testament to the nature of the production and this far-reaching yet tight-knit ensemble, a number of past and present players attend on opening night just for fun, including Chris Kellett, Jonathan Hickey, Aurelie Roque (on alternate nights playing Madame Peacock), and Damien Campagnolo (credited with a variety of roles).

 

 

The current season sees the debonaire Colin Smith (Kelly, Nearer the Gods, An Octoroon), step into the role of Dr Black, perfectly suiting both the suave attire and high society demeanour as the host of a 1930s style cocktail party in the beautiful Baedeker building. 

 

The stock characters are variously informed by the experience and confidence of the performers. Most notably, Madame Peacock (Elizabeth Best) and Reverend Green (Tristan Teller) hold their own no matter what’s thrown at them by the punters. Best struts and postures, relishing the bold and brash Americanisms and eroticisms of the role, as well as the effect on guests of her towering headpiece. (Standing at almost 6ft tall even without this plumage, for Roque to don it on alternate nights must make her Madame Peacock the most imposing character of the night and possibly, with the exception of Joanne in RENT, of Roque’s repertoire to date). Best’s version of Madame Peacock has a sense of the Unsinkable Molly Brown about her, and she won’t be beaten. Likewise, Reverend Green has all the answers and when for an instant he almost appears not to, he conveniently and appropriately passes the buck to God. And in a neat casting trick of the Gods, we think that Teller, surely the most accomplished performer here, having previously been cast opposite Tom Hiddelston and Eddie Redmayne, and with a list of special skills too long to mention (I resist including his CV), could actually be Jude Law’s long lost brother, such is his precise and very lovely vocal work, distinct look, and with a devilish glint behind them, his distinct looks. For a man of the cloth, the shifts between pious and wicked are too deliciously easy, and if he can be kept in Brisbane, we can look forward to Teller’s next captivating performance, in a mainstage production, or a commissioned festival piece, or in a staged reading, just of some memes or something somewhere. Or just sitting, reading, silently. Or drinking coffee, or anything, actually. Seriously. Someone. Anyone. Give him work. Make him stay.

 

 

Professor Plum (Joel O’Brien) and Colonel Mustard (Zane C Webber) provide wonderful contrasts in their statures, mannerisms and banter, leaving Mrs White (Jessica Kate Ryan) and Miss Scarlett the least memorable guests on the list. Ordinarily, the latter role is in the hands of Geena Schwartz, however; due to unforeseen circumstances, was filled at the last minute by Director, Xanthe Jones. In her ill-fitting red satin, designed and made for Schwartz (and we love Kaylee Gannaway’s designs – remember, I own one – everything else here is perfection), the stand-in Miss Scarlet’s simpering, and her protestations to the accusations made against her, lack light and shade, and Jones misses many opportunities to keep us engaged with her story, however; there are others who remain entranced with her from start to finish. Perhaps they knew she had thrown herself into the mix, or perhaps they are granted eye contact, which we are not. She only looks up in passing to compliment me on my stole, which I would love to tell you is faux fur but it’s properly vintage so… Mrs White, a character informed neither by Madeleine Kahn nor Colleen Camp in this case, is not attuned to the offers from her fellow performers, and despite her efforts to cut through the noise of the crowd or the quiet intensity of a scene, Ryan fails to make an impact as Dr Black’s German hausfrau. However, had we seen her in a scene rather than in between scenes, we might gain a more complete picture of both the character and the actor. More on this later.

 

 

Patrick Aitken gallantly strides in to save the day – or at least, to facilitate and wrap up the investigation of the crime committed while we had enjoyed jazz and booze in the ballroom, driving a challenging scene that amounts to wrangling cats since most of the guests are by this time happily holding their third or fourth glass of wine. He is assisted by prettily named detectives, Carmine, Periwinkle, Dove, Moss, Cobalt and Honey (James Elliot, Johanna Lyon, Julia Pendrith, Tom Harris, Patrick Shearer and Matthew Butler).

 

Genevieve Tree and Samuel Valentine sing up a merry storm with the band led by MD Jye Burton (I would name the talented musicians if they were credited). This aspect of the evening is so enjoyable that if solving the crime doesn’t interest you, you’ll have a decent night out just sitting and listening, or dancing to the band! All the players can carry a tune and when I mention my surprise to Chris Kellett, because here we are with the Immersive Ensemble and not Oscar Production Company, he laughs and tells me, “Yes, it’s what we do!”.

 

Written by Xanthe Jones and directed by Jones and Ben Lynskey, CLUEDO makes the most of the superb Heritage listed space in which its staged. It relies on clearly drawn characters and mostly audible instructions to move punters through a range of interesting rooms, and a story full of intrigue and action, but therein lies the challenge. The construct itself is problematic, allowing us so much freedom during the evening that we miss vital scenes. Is it enough to get a version of events from other guests? I would like to have seen more for myself, particularly from Mrs White, and Miss Scarlett. Perhaps their scenes are more engaging than those moments in-between. A solution might lie in a ‘menu’ of appointments, a card in the style of the original game if you like, or iPads – so good for the company’s socials and data collection too but then, how would one hold one’s drink? – distributed to guests upon arrival to ensure they know where to be and when to be there, in order to witness each conversation or altercation in turn. Ensuring that everyone is an eye witness to everything will invariably lead to more efficient and more relevant lines of questioning. Some of the questions! Be patient with your friends, friends! Also, another point of conversation and certainly a more glamorous offer, befitting of the surrounds and the style of the party, would be a generous grazing table in the dining room, rather than the plates of food currently available, which you won’t feel the need to photograph. Anyway, after running such an event for two seasons, I know that I would start to want more control of the crowd (think of the Divergent trilogy; Poppy is obsessed with it!), but such solutions are less obvious from the inside. And drugs are bad. 

 

Despite a sense of chaos during the time allowed for questioning suspects, and a few loose ends here and there, what makes this immersive and quite sumptuous version of the much loved CLUEDO a winner is its perfect location and its cast, and their genuine interactions with members of the audience. If you’re prepared to interact, it can be a very personal theatrical experience, as if what you imagine to be true will make all the difference to the outcome! You might not feel quite as satisfied at any other show after this one, or quite as willing to sit still in the audience and stay mute. Go with a group and work together in a team or go rogue like we did, and investigate from the fringes to solve CLUEDO’s mystery – or not – and have a swellegant, elegant time of it. 

29
Mar
19

The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon

John Frost, Stuart Thompson & Important Musicals

QPAC Lyric Theatre

March 20 – May 31 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

 

One man’s blasphemy is another man’s scripture. Matt Stone

 

Religious stories are just stories. That’s enough. They don’t need to be more. Bobby Lopez

 

We grew up with Mormons, and their MO is to beat you by being kinder than you and higher than you. Trey Parker

 

 

Is the opening of this musical not the most iconic and adored since we first saw Maria running, twirling and singing across the tops of those hills? (You can’t miss the cheeky nod to her later). In keeping with the new curriculum – not that any school should feel the need to make a group booking; see note below – The Book of Mormon blows musical theatre apart. And raises suit standards for young male Mormons everywhere.

 

PARENTAL ADVISORY: If you’re a parent and you’re OK with your kids watching South Park, then use your own judgement about letting them see this. I would add to that, if you would consider that I’ve taken my child to just about everything, and that we talk about just about everything, now that she’s 12-going-on-32 we agree that this content is not what she needs in her life right now. It’s a little like choosing not to have the evening news on in our house. We know stuff is happening to people everywhere, and quite simply, we can better serve those near us. It’s not so much about being blissfully ignorant as it is about retaining our right to make conscious choices. Having skipped the songs marked explicit on the soundtrack for years, we discussed again recently that there is so much else for Poppy at the moment, and she can look forward to experiencing this show in its entirety another time. As an adult, you might decide the same thing. And then you’ll have to decide how you feel about that because when everyone else is seeing it and talking about it, there’s a real risk of FOMO! 

 

HELLO! Hilarious and irreverent beyond belief, and boasting a company of new and engaging triple threat male performers, The Book of Mormon must be the most eagerly awaited show to open at QPAC this year. And it returns next year! It doesn’t disappoint. If you’ve never even listened to the original Broadway cast album (apparently, there are still people who go in cold to a show) you’ll be thrilled to see that it’s been brought to life in the most outrageously musical theatre way imaginable. 

 

Directed by Trey Parker and Casey Nicholaw, with choreography by Nicholaw, and outstanding full orchestrations from a 9-piece band under MD David Young, The Book of Mormon, for those making a conscious choice, is a must-see. 

 

 

When Elder Price (the ridiculously talented and gorgeous, Guy Smiley channelling Blake Bowden) is paired with Elder Cunningham (his perfect foil and the best import ever, Canadian, Nyk Bielak) at the Mormon mission training centre and they’re assigned their mission destination, Africa is not exactly the place they had in mind. (Two By Two & You and Me). While their pals get to go to Norway and Japan, the mismatched pair are sent to war-ravaged, poverty-stricken, AIDS-infected, maggot-infested, fuck-you-God Uganda.

 

Disappointingly, it’s not a bit like The Lion King. (Hasa Diga Eebowai)

 

 

Despite their best efforts to deliver the word of the Heavenly Father and convert the sinners, the suit clad, little blue book bearing boys make little positive impact on the Ugandan people. In fact, they attract all the wrong sorts of attention, from cynics to local war lords, as well as complicating relationships with their Mormon missionary brothers (Turn It Off & I Am Here For You) and before long, having given preaching a red hot go (All-American Prophet, the first incredible showstopper, harking back to the all-singing, all-dancing, all-grinning numbers of the 1950s-ish Golden Era of all-American musicals), Elder Price walks away from his mission partner and his mission, with the intention of going to Orlando, with its clean streets and theme parks. Without his best little buddy by his side, the version of biblical events offered to the villagers by Elder Cunningham is mostly imagined, but the strange stories appear to make sense to the Africans, who all agree to be nice to people, and to be baptised as Latter Day Saints. (Man Up, Act 2 Prologue, Making Things Up Again). Bielak has so many fantastically funny moments that it’s impossible to pick just one. The secret to his performance, and to the rest of them, is that there’s nothing happening that’s actually outrageous. Everyone is completely genuine and responding just as they might in real life, within the world view created on stage, and therein lies the best kind of comedy and the most convincing kind of theatre, no matter how silly the premise might appear to be.

 

A proper South Park style scene, Spooky Mormon Hell Dream takes the ridiculous to new heights – or depths – as Elder Price laments his decision to leave, hearing from Lucifer, and a couple of Starbucks single-use styrofoam coffee cups, and infamous historical figures, including Ghengis Khan and Hitler. This is a dazzling musical theatre disco zombie showstopper; it’s superbly staged, very Fosse, riotously funny. The design team – Scott Pask (Set), Ann Roth (Costumes), Brian MacDevitt (Lighting) and Brian Ronan (Sound) – create worlds within worlds, keeping each chapter of the story within a proscenium of stained glass, complete with revolving heralding angel, against a backdrop of the entire universe. If you look closely, you’ll see that you have your own planet up there. 

 

The costume design, I would hope, is certainly conscious of what the show is saying about the world. Ann Roth

 

 

The high energy performances from every last member of this company means that there are no weak links. It’s virtually impossible to single out an ensemble member, but the Brisbane audience thrills in seeing our own Alex Woodward (a standout, though we don’t know when he’s had time to learn the show, having been busy recently staging so many of his own), Tom Davis and Billy Bouchier. Sydney’s Joel Granger is a perfectly over-enthusiastic McKinley, and Andrew Broadbent is a groovy and gallant Joseph Smith, among a number of other roles. The bedtime tap number, Turn It Off, is a properly polished and fabulous number, and includes a nifty costume trick to draw gasps and squeals of delight. A new graduate of APO and VCA with beautifully controlled vocals and a smile to brighten even the darkest Ugandan day is Tigist Strode, a light-filled Nabulungi. (Sal Tlay Ka Siti, Baptize Me)

 

 

We went to restaurants and we’d grab one of the wait staff and say, do you know any Mormons who went on missions? They’d say, yeah, me and all of our wait staff. And then we’d say, do you know anyone who was gay, and gay Mormons? And they were like, yeah, me and all of our wait staff. Bobby Lopez

 

 

Blake Bowden smashes the role of Elder Price, and I Believe serves as confirmation, in case we weren’t sure when we heard You and Me, that Bowden is a superstar. On the Sunshine Coast we already knew this, having hosted Bowden in Noosa over the last couple of years. But if you don’t get out much, or you subscribe to the myth that Broadway still boasts the best of musical theatre, it might be difficult to predict how good Bowden’s performance is. You simply have to experience it to believe.

 

 

…there are literally no jokes in that song; it’s just facts. It’s just funny ways to describe Mormon things that they believe in. It’s all directly from The Book of Mormon. Bobby Lopez.

 

 

Matt Stone, Trey Parker and Bobby Lopez use the darkest and most ludicrous comedy to highlight some truly horrific humanitarian issues, including religion, race, gender, power, privilege, politics, violence, sex, discrimination and indoctrination. And just like any issue highlighted or disrupted by an art form, what we do about it after the show, or not, is up to each of us. The Book of Mormon is the most irreverent, the most hilarious, the most surprisingly poignant in parts, and the most polished, energetic and entertaining show we’ll see in Brisbane this year. You better believe it.

 

 

According to its own merch and social media, The Book of Mormon is God’s favourite musical, and it might just be yours too. 

 

 

The Book Of Mormon is the winner of four Olivier Awards (West End, London) and nine Tony Awards (broadway, NYC), including Best Musical, Best Score (Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, Matt Stone), Best Book (Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, Matt Stone), Best Direction (Casey Nicholaw, Trey Parker), Best Featured Actress (Nikki M. James), Best Scenic Design (Scott Pask), Best Lighting Design (Brian MacDevitt), Best Sound Design (Brian Ronan) and Best Orchestrations (Larry Hochman, Stephen Oremus); the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical; five Drama Desk Awards including Best Musical, the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album; four Outer Critics Circle Awards, including Best Musical, and the Drama League Award for Best Musical.

 

The Australian production of The Book of Mormon is the winner of the coveted 2017 Helpmann Award for Best Musical. It has performed for over 500 packed houses since opening on January 17, 2017, and broke the house record for the highest selling on-sale period of any production in the 159-year history of Melbourne’s Princess Theatre.