Author Archive for Xanthe Coward

22
Feb
17

The Flick

The Flick

Queensland Theatre

QPAC & Red Stitch Actors

QPAC Cremorne

February 10 – March 5 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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One of the last old movie houses in America to use 35mm film, The Flick in Massachusetts, becomes a microcosm of the world when three young people show up to their shifts in their dead-end jobs. And that’s really all they’re doing; showing up and showing each other who they think they are and who/what/where they want to be when they “grow up”. We’re struck by their humanity, and the simple intimacies revealed in Annie Baker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning writing.

…she writes in a way there doesn’t seem to be one defining moment where that transition takes place. It’s more like you watch the play and you feel really moved, something shifts inside but you can’t pinpoint when it happens, really powerful, that’s more like life.

– Ngaire Dawn Faire

The Flick is acclaimed Director, Nadia Tass, honing in on the delicacy and vulnerability of the human condition, moving her actors through the space as if they belong there, as if they are really there and we are not. This is what theatre can be, and what fourth-wall theatre is supposed to be, but very often is not.

The run-down, down-and-out aesthetic is expertly, lovingly created by Shaun Gurton (set), David Parker (lighting), Russell Goldsmith (sound) and Daniel Nixon (sound & AV).

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Featuring the exquisite talent and insight of Kevin Hofbauer (Avery), Ben Prendergast (Sam) and Ngaire Dawn Faire (Rose), with appearances by Dion Mills (Skylar / Dreaming Man), Tass’s production of The Flick was always going to be one of the most highly anticipated and richly rewarding plays in QT’s 2017 season. It exceeds expectations. 

AN EXQUISITELY OBSERVED MEDITATION ON LOVE AND CHANGE

When Rose appears in the golden light of the projection box I see her dark hair and her pointed chin and her pale skin and she’s my brother’s wife…ex-wife. But not. But hot tears stream down my cheeks anyway because I forgave her so long ago and never told her. And we loved her so much. Still, we love her. From across an ocean and right in the middle of all our lives, as humans do. And I take a breath, and when she reappears it’s through the old red swinging doors and onto the stage and into the brighter white ugly lights of the cinema between the seats, and she says something, which is funny, and we laugh, and the conversation and the scene continues, and she’s just, beautifully, Rose. It’s theatre. It finds a way to reach right into your heart and not let go if you let it.

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In this way, incrementally, The Flick lures us in and holds us in space and time, a continuum that stretches across hours – 3 hours – and we don’t notice how long we’ve been sitting there, in the darkness, on the other side of the movie screen. The closing credits of each old film flicker above us, projected onto the ceiling of the Cremorne, each time indicating the break between sessions, during which the employees sweep the floor and take out the trash. It’s so ordinary and lovely and hopeful and silently , secretly devastating, and for me, a gentle reminder to value the people in our circles for whatever it is they have to offer. And what do we offer them? What value do we add to the lives of the people around us?

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Avery joins the small circle of friends as a new employee, is shown the ropes by Sam, and they too become friends, picking up discarded popcorn together, discussing favourite films and marvelling over the projectionist, Rose. They play a neat game, citing the degrees of separation between two actors at a time. They quote Ezekiel 25:17 as per Pulp Fiction. They resell movie tickets to make their dinner money. When a love triangle develops, things get complicated, and when Sam has a weekend off to attend his brother’s wedding, things get more complicated. When Sam returns, the final outcome seems very simple and regrettable, and real. It’s fascinating, the way alliances form and dissolve, isn’t it? And I can’t imagine a more satisfying and disturbing ending to bring the message home. 

This is exceptional theatre, keeping us mesmerised on the edge of nothing other than the comedy and tragedy of the very ordinary, and leaving us with our own ordinary extraordinary lives and relationships to consider.

17
Feb
17

Single Asian Female

 

Single Asian Female

La Boite Theatre Company

La Boite Roundhouse Theatre

February 11 – March 4 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

things have to change…

Single Asian Female gives a voice to the voiceless and talks about race and gender in ways we often don’t.

– Director, Claire Christian

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Single. Asian. Female. It’s a joke because, remember the film? But it’s no joke that the truths shared in Michelle Law’s searingly honest and delightfully funny debut are instantly, regrettably, familiar to us. Of course, a lifetime of being on the receiving end means the racial slurs and assumptions to which this piece gives voice and context, are more familiar to some than others. It’s a timely, nicely conceived work, bold and furious and funny, and while it can do with a more discerning dramaturgical touch, on its first outing Single Asian Female wins the open hearts and minds of audiences and artists. Like Future D. Fidel’s unforgettable Prize Fighter, Law’s contemporary timeless story, inspired by aspects of her own, will rightly take its place in this country’s canon of works; it’s not only highly entertaining and moving, but also, another opportunity to open up our performance spaces and school curriculum to people of colour.

La Boite is employing all the colours, telling all the stories. 

I read something about someone wanting to get rid of a particular story. But why would anyone feel the need to do that? Acts of destruction waste so much energy. Challenging and questioning the dominant myth may be useful, but losing it from the conversation altogether? Not so much. It’s true that some stories are lost along the way, but they’re eventually uncovered, or remembered, or replaced by another version that has the same substance and soul message. This is why we persist with telling them, writing them down, putting them on the stage and screen… Isn’t it vital to keep the stories, to share them and not destroy them or discard them just because someone suddenly decides they don’t appear to be relevant to a particular group of people? The stories are another group’s stories. It doesn’t mean they have no value for you, and it certainly doesn’t mean they were created with an intent to offend or to bury any other stories past, present or future, it simply means they’ve come from someone else in another place at a particular time and you have the choice, always, to recognise any value in them from your unique personal and cultural perspective. And to continue to contribute your own version of events. Go on, get creating rather than destroying.

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Let’s keep all the stories and concentrate our efforts on contributing more stories. Stories are for sharing. So we hold space for all of them. There is enough space.

This production, this story, is another hammer, which La Boite rightly prides itself on wielding (this company too, sans hashtag, is all about leading from Queensland) and it will go a long way in continuing to shape our shared reality. 

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These are the stories that are with us and amongst us.

– La Boite Theatre Company Artistic Director, Todd MacDonald

There’s nothing to fault in the wonderful, easeful performances of the three leading ladies, each a fiercely “strong woman”, firm in her resolve to thrive, and funny in her unapologetically wry take on so many situations, which we find equally appalling and amusing. Director, Claire Christian, gives each situation to us straight, trusting the source and allowing her actors to play with the material, resulting in some of the sharpest, most original comedy of the year.

Lana: WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR EYES? THEY LOOK HUGE.

Mei: OH … THANK YOU.

In a complex and appropriately cluttered and homely, surprisingly functional multi-level space designed by Moe Assad and lit by Keith Clark, the women revolve around each other and their Golden Phoenix Chinese Restaurant (amusingly, for long-term Sunshine Coast residents, located in Nambour, but it could be anywhere), which will bring about either fortune or disaster in the end. La Boite feels as festive as ever, with Chinese lanterns hanging in the foyer and the red carpet rolled out for opening night. There’s even cabaret style restaurant seating available inside the theatre so some audience members really get to feel a part of the action, a clever, inclusive design element. We delight in picking up our tickets (for the tiered section) encased in a shiny red and gold embossed envelope before the show, and cracking open our fortune cookies after it. 

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The Wong family women are real to me because they were inspired by people I know: generous, assertive, resilient women who hold the world on their shoulders.

– Writer, Michelle Law

Alex Lee’s Zoe is a superb realisation of the eldest daughter, harnessing the extreme emotions of a young, talented, ambitious creative soul suffering from anxiety, having yet to secure a place in the world outside of her mother’s realm and representing not just Asian young adults but every young woman everywhere. I’d love to see Lee’s solo show sometime – how could I not? It’s called I’m Eating Peanut Butter In The Shower Because I’m Sad And You’e Not The Boss of Me. Lee is a delight.

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Courtney Stewart’s Mei is the younger, impressionable and eternally frustrated, just-wanna-finish-school-and-go-to-the-formal eye rolling second child, on the verge of finding out for herself the truth about her father’s character and her own. (Interestingly, this dad is unseen and painted as the devil, having selfishly, callously caused every problem faced by the family). Stewart was an inspired inclusion in last year’s developmental showing of Soi Cowboy, a commissioned Brisbane Powerhouse production, which we’re sure to hear more about this year. 

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Hsiao-Ling Tang is an ideal Pearl with her frantic gestures juxtaposed against complete stillness (a sense of the sacred self knowledge coming up against the contemporary overculture’s unachievable expectations), her stubborn use of Chinglish and her insistence that shoes be taken off inside the house (and that Chinese snacks be available to friends during study group – how embarrassing – hilarious). Her tiger mother bouts of intense frustration and raw anger at something unseen prompt us to sit up in surprise and sadness and awe before settling back into a place between laughter and tears (of recognition, sympathy, empathy), when she finally reveals the secret that could be the family’s undoing… Tang will appear later in the year in the world premiere of Michele Lee’s Rice, the winner of the Queensland Premier’s 2016 Drama Award, another must-see.

These women, as if they’d been working together for some time already, convey genuine affection and concern for each other. The connections are real, making their stories completely relatable, regardless of our cultural background, a fly-on-the-wall shared experience. Such a magical thing, live theatre…

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Emily Burton is perhaps the most endearing performer I’ve seen on a Brisbane stage (Dash Kruck and Tom Oliver up there also). I adore her, and much more so when she’s perfectly cast, as she is here, as Mei’s lanky, daggy, wannabe Asian misfit friend, Katie. She’s got a bohemian willowy geeky tomboy cosplay comical sad panda thing going on and it works superbly as a foil to mean girl Lana’s constant digs, and Mei’s reluctant rebelliousness and her insecurities about who she thinks she wants to be. A scene in which we see Mei trapped between Katie’s longstanding friendship and Lana’s passive aggressive popularity test is so uncomfortable to watch; it’s probably stingingly familiar to most of us if we’re honest, as is Mei’s choice in the moment and Katie’s reaction. Like similar moments, it could be overplayed but Burton finds a balance between the truth of the character and the tragicomedy of the situation.

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Patrick Jhanur is just gorgeous as Paul. His gentleness though, his subtleties (and some of his words), are at risk of becoming lost in the noise and pace of the women’s world. This is quite probably a deliberate thing and will be more astutely balanced/managed as the season continues. The self conscious banter between he and Zoe is delightful, making us squirm and giggle and smile, and hope that everything will work out for these two. But is this character just the token male, included as a woman might be, to fit that space in a play populated with men, penned by a man? I don’t think so. As we see during a discussion about the chance to have a child, with vulnerability and a tenderness not always afforded a male character, Jhanur steps up for this role, and perhaps there is simply, gradually, a little more flesh to be added to its bones. 

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Emily Vascotto has vibrant, wicked, gleeful Isla Fischer/Lizzie Moore energy and if you don’t know our Lizzie Moore, you really ought to get out…more. A real-life red-headed Bratz Doll, Vascotto embodies the type I’d warn my daughter about, as in, keep your friends close and keep that one closer. With less experience on stage than the other girls but with no less sass, Vascotto walks a fine comical line between being immediately recognisable and so much larger than life that we lose sight of who Lana really is. I think she’ll settle into this role during the season and certainly, will do so without the vignettes involving her character losing any momentum. At least, let’s hope not, with some momentum lacking on opening night. (I think we accept that this is typical of an opening night performance and later, we’re unsurprised by reports of a cracking pace). The occasional lag seems due to The Family Law style episodic structure, each chapter landing with an unapologetically political or moral thud. Like, BOOM. It’s never too much but it’s almost too much at once; it’s almost overwhelming, but then, the reality is that life IS overwhelming. There IS this much blatant racism to deal with in this country, every day. We have ALL of these issues to consider, and more. 

One has to write what one sees, what one feels, truthfully, sincerely.

– Anton Chekhov

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To finish with Tina Arena’s Chains is such a great gimmick (and these girls can really sing it!), but it’s not my favourite closing number. I feel we should be singing along with something…upbeat. Karaoke is gold and if you promise it you need to deliver on it, just as the slinky has its moment on the stairs. (Gun. Bang. Etcetera.)

In the spirit of the current trend to make a short show a good show, it’s worth noting that a discerning dramaturg might take a red pen to the text, make more efficient use of the more stylised moments (a raw, real look at online dating and the daughters’ stories being taken into account by the end), and make it a 90-minute no-interval knockout…but think about that. Would we have quite as much to digest or to discuss? Would we feel as deeply about any of the characters without the time to meander through their world with them? The rich texture of this tale is in its detail and while I’d often prefer to get home earlier (but I know, it’s so interesting to stay for speeches too, so I usually do), by the same token I’d love to see the full length production, as it stands, return with yum cha at interval and actual karaoke afterwards. In fact, let’s make the food together. It’s perfect festival fare.

In the meantime, don’t miss seeing Michelle Law’s personal-universal play just the way it is, at La Boite’s Roundhouse. Don’t miss the opportunity to take part in our nation’s most pressing conversation. Don’t miss being part of the cultural change, the global shift; the impetus behind powerful art and empowered people.

 

Single Asian Female is the baton being passed on. Don’t drop it or decline to take it. Don’t be a dickhead. Don’t be that (white) guy.

 

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27
Jan
17

A Night at the Musicals

 

A Night At The Musicals

Brisbane Powerhouse and Strut & Fret Production House

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

January 25 – 29 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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MELT Festival exploded onto the Brisbane scene this week with its iconic pastel inflatable icy poles, brightly coloured cocktails, stilettos galore, a glitter cannon and a wall of 100 naked men.

 

Joel Devereux’s FOODP*RN is a photographic exhibition of perfectly plated portions of nude males, all thoroughly enjoying an array of condiments and special treats. What I can only imagine was a series of very messy shoots, smothered in chocolate sauce, covered in milk and cream and popcorn, dripping with glistening syrup, shaking toffee apple maraccas, balancing buns on top of buns and grasping bananas as if their love lives depended on it. If you’ve been following this project on Instagram, you will have seen the admiration Devereux has for each of his subjects, and the care with which he has approached each shoot as a unique show-within-a-show, something that comes through in the final result. The figures, even those in repose, leap out of a whirl of colour with the energy of the unconcerned, completely comfortable with the brief and clearly proud to be a part of such a magnificent celebration of so much deliciousness. There’s a sense of mischief about the piece as a whole and in its parts is so much variety – something for everyone – and so much delight that I can’t imagine anyone standing in front (or above) the work without a smile on their face.

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MELT celebrates queer art and culture, and not only those who identify as LGBT but those who support them. It’s Brisbane’s most diverse and original festival, flamboyant and genuinely friendly. I was proud to be a part of the program last year, appearing in Dean Bryant’s GAYBIES directed by Kris Stewart, with the likes of Bec Mac, Margi Brown Ash, Barb Lowing, David Berthold, Brad Rush, Christopher Wayne, Kurt Phelan and Lizzie Moore. You’ll see Moore (with Brad Rush on keys) return to the Powerhouse during MELT with her hilarious cabaret, On A Night Like This: The Erin Minogue Experience and Phelan in Kris Stewart’s exquisite Boys of Sondheim. Other MELT highlights this year include RENT, Hedwig 15, An Evening With Amanda Palmer and A Night at the Musicals. Cake Face, Queer Comics, Virtual Drag and the MELT Portrait Prize round out the visual arts component of the festival.

I wanted to get into musical theatre…so I became a drag queen.

– Jonny Woo

 

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Jonny Woo and Le Gateaux Chocolat raise the bar with their cabaret show, A Night at the Musicals, a self-effacing, funny look at a few of their favourite musical theatre things. Given the extraordinary talent of its stars, this show has the potential to evolve into a much slicker and more sophisticated something, but perhaps this is not the intention – ever – within the world of drag. Is it? I don’t know. I just love Trevor Ashley’s new-found class, which he brings to his latest show Liza’s Back (is broken), and the precision and artistry of impersonators such as Simply Barbra / Steven Brinberg, as opposed to the original misogyny of ugly “tacky drag”.

Drag is for everybody.

– Jonny Woo

 

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Perhaps it was RuPaul’s Drag Race or Priscilla, Queen of the Desert on stage, or Slide or the Butterfly Club, or Trashley’s latest work that’s helped to change the face (or the sound) of the drag scene here, but I had long been under the impression that even the most popular drag acts were lip syncs rather than singers and for me, no matter how good the lip synching, it’s not as satisfying as hearing a great voice live. Jonny Woo and Le Gateaux Chocolat have great voices, and when Woo indulges in some old-school lip synching, it’s highly effective. In the first instance we hear the ensemble of Les Miserables while he contorts his face and posture to mimic every single character actor in At the End of the Day and later, we hear Liza Minelli singing Mein Herr as Woo dons giant jazz hands and dances around and over an audience member seated in a cabaret chair centre stage. There’s nothing “ragged” about it, Woo is cheeky and carries out the original choreography with precision. It’s extreme clowning, the grotesque in a good way, and the statuesque Woo makes it both alarming and completely charming to watch.

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Le Gateux Chocolat’s indulgence is different, giving us a shamelessly Star Wars inspired Phantom of the Opera and then a quick rundown on how Fantine comes to chop her hair off before he sings superbly, I Dreamed A Dream. In what becomes a running joke for the rest of the night, he runs the opening words together (no one ever really knows the intro, do they?) before getting to the bits that really matter. And let’s not neglect to mention a glorioius rendition of Let It Go, with Woo’s budget conscious SFX, absolutely hilarious. His voice is rich, sonorous, just beautiful, but whenever we begin to take him too seriously, he breaks the slightly more sombre mood and breaks into a fantastic scat or free dance until we have tears of laughter streaming down our cheeks. 

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Before the night is over we’re invited to offer suggestions and sing along to Summer Nights. There is no Funny Girl, despite hearing something from the soundtrack as we take our seats before the show. There is no Chicago or South Pacific orThe King and I or Singin’ In the Rain. No West Side Story or Oklahoma or Avenue Q. There is no Into the Woods or The Book of Mormon. No Aladdin. If you’re a serious musical theatre fan you might take the opportunity to shout our your suggestions during the requests segment of the show. You’ll be rewarded with an acapella excerpt of your preferred musical numbers. A Chorus Line complete with high kicks and The Lion King are the highlights for us.

In true, trusted Strut & Fret style, A Night at the Musicals offers a riotous evening in an intimate space, which we could easily enjoy again. If you haven’t yet come across Le Gateaux Chocolat or Jonny Woo – I just adore them both – this is your chance to discover a whole new beautiful world of quality high class camp entertainment. 

16
Jan
17

Rumour Has It

Rumour Has It

The Little Red Company

Brisbane Powerhouse Theatre

January 13 – 14 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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If you were around a few years ago, you might recall a random little cabaret space above a Swedish restaurant in Albion named Stockholm Syndrome. Sadly, the venue disappeared, but The Little Red Company’s Rumour Has It: Sixty Minutes Inside Adele has continued to evolve since its short stint there, in front of sixty people per night during Queensland Cabaret Festival, leaping from stage to stage, and reaching a loyal band of followers as well as bringing brand new audiences to Cabaret, and to the world of sassy superstar singer-songwriter, Adele.

Created by Adam Brunes and Naomi Price on a patio one night over a bottle of gin, as all the best works are, the multi-award winning Rumour Has It was immediately a brilliant and poignant, hilarious and highly entertaining show. Each reincarnation has proved hugely satisfying and in its current form, the most impressive yet, Rumour Has It is more sophisticated and more memorable than ever. It’s ready to tour the world…but first, a national tour, beginning with the highly anticipated three-shows-only season at THE HOUSE OF POWER.

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For the first time, by popular demand, Little Red offered an all-ages version of Rumour Has It. Based on the success of their recent sell-out season in Kuala Lumpur – no (swearing) and thank you please, Madam – giving the youth a chance to see for themselves what all the fuss is about, however; it wasn’t the show Poppy and I wanted to see. My ten-going-on-thirty-year-old had patiently waited for her father to give up his +1 status and accepted there’d be a fuckload of swearing on Friday night, which was “in the context of the show”.

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In role as Adele, frocked up again in Leigh Buchanan’s sensational original designs (and delightedly, barefoot before the final number), Price shares delicious home truths about growing up in Tottenham, surviving/thriving after break-ups and gives us her cheeky, self-satisfied account of her meteoric rise to fame. The story segments, political references and razor sharp responses to audience input are fast, fresh and funny. Price is more adept in front of a live audience than most, the old patter landing as squarely as when we first heard it in 2012 and the new material testament to the bold wit of this writing duo, who have wisely updated the set list too, to include Adele’s latest hits. Hello is a stirring finish before the final encore, and the Adele Megamix 3000 created especially to give credit to the amazing musicians and vocalists with whom Price shares the stage.

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For the first time, the Camerata, Brisbane’s chamber orchestra, are featured throughout, adding depth to a Spice Girls medley (who would’ve thought!?), and rich layers to Adele’s catalogue of songs. The original string arrangements by Andrew Johnson are most notable after Interval (Sound by Jamie Taylor), taking Skyfall into the stratosphere while silver confetti rains down onto the stage. At the other end of the spectrum, during the acoustic Daydreamer, we’re not so much surrounded by bubbles (visually spectacular in a previous season), as witness to a gentle reminder that this is a show so good it insists on returning to us time and time again despite the challenges faced by Australian artists generally, i.e. coming up with dollars for special effects and spaces…

The band, comprising Michael Manikus (keys), Jason McGregor (guitar), Scotty French (bass) and Mik Easterman (drums) is the slickest, and if you’ve supported the artists by taking home a CD of the show, recorded live at the Judith Wright Centre, you’ll also hear Brett Fowler on keys and Andrew Johnson on bass as well as Tom Oliver singing vocals (he’s currently touring in Velvet). On vocals this time, the incomparable Luke Kennedy returns to join sensational husband and wife team, Lai Utovou and Rachel Everett-Jones. Until you’ve seen this trio perform, you ain’t seen or heard backing vocals. They’re dynamic and disciplined, and they each shine, Price rightly giving them a moment in the spotlight before the night is over. (Previously, we’ve seen them in brighter light from the start and I’d love to see more of them again next time, rather than straining to see them against the black tabs. The same can be said of Manikus, disappearing at times into the shadows on the opposite side of the stage). I’ve always adored Jason Glenwright’s design featuring vintage lampshades and in THE HOUSE OF POWER the warm, glowing effect is not lost. Even in this spacious venue, we feel warmth and intimacy (and splintering pain during Someone Like You), and the genuine affection Price feels for her Brisbane audience, even those from Woodridge…

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The sound is heavenly (largely due to Price bravely investing as much of her personal story in the songs as her reading of Adele’s; it’s there in the intimacy and connection she creates with her audience with a superb voice, stronger than ever, and a great big open heart). Not to be discounted or taken for granted, it’s incredibly rare to get the same level of energy and commitment at the same time from such a large number of performers on stage (it’s what’s often missing from so many sold-out smash-hit mega musicals and why we come away from them satisfied but without minds blown), but this company radiates joy; it’s impossible to leave the show feeling anything less than rapture. Really. (Let’s add to the Little Red Must Write List, a Blondie show).

Rumour Has It has come of age; it’s the best it’s ever been. With all the pieces in place, this Rumour Has It is ready for Royal Albert Hall. Naomi Price is as good as Adele – better, because she’s ours – and this production is surely the country’s most accomplished showcase of the sort of humble, sensational Australian talent that’s consistently wowing overseas presenters and punters. And all this from a little Queensland company that could.

This is not the end. Rumour Has It is coming to a venue near you

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04
Jan
17

Fawlty Towers Live

Fawlty Towers Live

Michael Coppel and Phil McIntyre in association with Louise Withers

QPAC Playhouse

December 28 2016 – January 22 2017

 

Reviewed by Michelle Widdicombe

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When I stepped inside QPAC’s Playhouse and saw the transformation of the stage into that little seaside hotel at Torquay, I knew I was in for a trip down memory lane. And it was a nostalgic trip, which didn’t disappoint.

Fawlty Towers Live took me right back to Summer nights watching the much-loved 1970s British sitcom on the TV with Dad, only this experience wasn’t in front of a small box, but live and large, close enough to almost catch the drips of sweat from the forehead of a frustrated Basil Fawlty and feel the heat escape from a jaw-clenching Sybil.

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John Cleese’s own adaptation blends plot lines and scenes from several episodes – The Hotel Inspectors, Communication Problems, and The Germans – into a two-hour show. It leaves you wanting more; more laughs, more of Basil’s over-the-top reactions, Manuel’s confusion, Sybil’s annoyance and her throaty laugh, and more of Polly Shearman, who you’d swear was the young Connie Booth on stage.

The set is almost the same as we remember seeing in the television show. Everything is retro, reflecting the original Fawlty Towers hotel. There is even an upstairs bedroom on stage, built above the reception/dining area. The characters move seamlessly from reception to dining to kitchen to bedroom, never missing a beat between scenes. Liz Ascroft (set and costume design) is to be applauded for recreating a stage which mirrors the landscape of the original Fawlty Towers.

Steven Hall as Basil Fawlty strikes the perfect balance between the original character and his own interpretation of it. Physically, he’s just as tall but not as lean and his gestures are almost identical. When Syd Brisbane first appeared on stage as waiter, Manuel, I thought for a second Andrew Sachs was before me on the small screen. Brisbane’s faultless execution of Manuel’s utter confusion and limited grasp of the English language kept the rumble of laughter going throughout the audience. His ‘I know nothing’ line is such a familiar and popular scene that some of us say it with him. Brisbane dedicated his performance to Sachs, who recently passed away.

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Deborah Kennedy, cast as the selectively deaf Mrs Richards, is absolutely brilliant. She commands the stage, delivering a performance which reflects her 40 plus years in the industry.

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The script for Fawlty Towers Live is the original, with a few tweaks: a celebration of the genius work of John Cleese and Connie Booth. As a Fawlty Towers tragic, I absolutely loved the show but wondered if it had more appeal because I had grown up watching the British sitcom over and over again? Certainly the young woman in front of me (probably aged in her early 20s) seemed more interested in nibbling on her partner’s ear than watching what was happening on stage. It’s fair to say most of the audience inside QPAC’s Playhouse were of an age that would have watched the original Fawlty Towers over and over again. I guess we all wanted to relive some of the happiest moments from our past, and going by the roar and the applause that came at the end of the show there were no unsatisfied customers.

Thank you John Cleese for believing that Australia would be the “perfect fit” to mount your world first stage production, with an all Australian lineup. In Basil’s own words, “Thank you so much, goodbye”.

16
Dec
16

Smooth Criminals: The Songs of Michael Jackson

Smooth Criminals: The Songs of Michael Jackson

Brisbane Powerhouse & Christopher Wayne

Brisbane Powerhouse Theatre

December 4 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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It’s the music of Michael Jackson but not as we know it.

The odd couple of the entertainment industry, Joel Turner (world champion beat boxer and platinum selling hip hop artist) and Luke Kennedy (The Voice & The Ten Tenors), make a perfect pair on stage in a celebration of the music and the memory of the King of Pop. Who would have thought this unlikely combination would bring any sort of success? Producer, Chris Wayne, that’s who, and together with Turner and Kennedy, his gamble paid off with a single sold-out show at Brisbane Powerhouse during Wonderland, and subsequent talks to take this universally appealing show on the road.

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The magic of Smooth Criminals – n.b. there’s no nakedness or actual magic tricks – is a unique take on Michael Jackson’s discography, taking us on a journey through his unenviable life, from boy to man to immortal. It’s not a succession of greatest hits but rather, a poignant and personal account, seen mainly through Kennedy’s eyes, as he shares his encounters with the man’s music, reimagined and thrillingly remixed in collaboration with Turner and talented musos, Michael Manikus and Scotty French.

Smooth Criminals offers to a new generation a truly original take on MJ’s classic pop sound, but it caters to the die-hard fans first.

 

732a0363Kennedy, front and centre, demands our full attention. He’s as relaxed as we’ve ever seen him, gracious and respectful to the living memory of Michael Jackson, and confident, cute and actually flirtatious, inviting one guest to join him on the edge of the stage as he serenades her. This is a perfectly orchestrated crowd pleasing moment – we might think it’s a gimmick (she’s surely a plant!) – but Kennedy retains an ease that’s impossible to fake. We believe. He has us in the palm of his hand. AND he has this gorgeous Heath Ledger thing going on, as if he’s ready to bound through the tiered seating, singing……

 

You’re singing it now, aren’t you?

 

Kennedy emits the same sort of abandon, irresistible. Despite his protestations, he retains a crooner core, but Kennedy boasts a much broader vocal range and emotional spectrum than most, and he has the technical precision to sing just about anything. If you were privy to his Gethsemane several years ago (or anything since, really, let’s face it, even his National Anthem is nothing less than spectacular), you can imagine the power and control rendered behind even the simplest pop song. Yet, he remains humble and grateful.

Ben is a bittersweet treat, and Kennedy brings to it a sense of such simplicity and purity that we might imagine it’s the first time we’ve ever heard it, and for the very youngest audience members, it might be so. How lucky are they?! The Girl is Mine bounces beautifully between the artists, demonstrating an easy camaraderie and a great sense of cheeky comedy.

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Smooth Criminal and Dirty Diana delve a little deeper and darker, although not once is there anything that goes into shadowy controversy, nor does there need to be. The crowd is on side from the outset (Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, Remember the Time) and we need no reminders of anything other than the genius and the music of the man. The genius of these new arrangements is in Turner’s work, providing depth and soul beneath Kennedy’s vocal line, and on the odd occasion, the perfect harmony as well. The guy can sing. 

The collective energy is palpable during an earth medley, linking Heal the World, We Are the World and Man in the Mirror. (When was the last time you heard these numbers straight up, unparodied, with feeling?). It’s almost an anti-climax to hear the sensitive Gone Too Soon. A bigger, bolder finish would leave this show at Man in the Mirror, and make an encore of Billie Jean, bringing Turner out front too, with both amazing artists wearing one white glove. It seems remiss to keep Turner behind his mixing table, sans iconic symbol. Perhaps that’s as he wished. Let’s hope he wishes for more of the spotlight next time.

With Kennedy’s talent and a natural flair for performance, and Turner’s uncanny vocal and technical ability making each number an exciting and unique immersive musical experience for all ages, these two are not as unlikely a pair as they first appear to be.

Smooth Criminals is a sure hit, a thrilling tribute to Michael Jackson – the man and his music – and if you missed it in 2016 I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before you’ll see it at a venue near you.

Remember The Time from Chris Wayne on Vimeo.

10
Dec
16

Phelan Groovy

Phelan Groovy

Brisbane Powerhouse & Kurt Phelan

Brisbane Powerhouse Turbine Studio

December 1 – 3 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

– Kurt Phelan

Kurt Phelan is one of those hard-working, long-time-coming “overnight” success stories. You may have heard of him. He’s been in such shows as Kiss Me Kate, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Singin’ In the Rain, Saturday Night Fever and Dirty Dancing. Phelan hails from Townsville and his cabaret show, the fantastically funny Phelan Groovy, is both a tribute and a tongue-in-cheek exposé of what it’s like to come from the tropics and conquer the world of musical theatre.

A natural performer, warm and genuinely welcoming, Phelan demonstrates from the outset perfect comic timing, a flair for rewriting our favourite musical theatre songs and a knack for nailing the sort of impersonations usually left to the drag queens. His delivery of Memory in (broken) Debra Byrne style, with her permission, of course, and complete with enormous dark sunglasses, an oversized martini glass and what could be a wrap or the green room rug thrown across his shoulders, is sidesplittingly funny and painfully accurate. Byrne is just one of the celebs Phelan dishes the dirt on during the show. When the balance is struck between a little bit nasty and a little bit naughty, these moments will land with greater aplomb.

A re-worked Dream A Little Dream paints the picture of Phelan’s birth on the laundry steps of his parents’ house up north. I Dreamed A Dream describes his heartbreak upon seeing the woeful film version of Les Miserables. And I’ve Had the Time of My Life is dedicated to the women who groped him during the touring production of Dirty Dancing (during the show!). Whether the entirety of this story – or any story – is truth or fiction we’ll never know, but the question doesn’t keep me from laughing until mascara tears stream down my cheeks.

When Phelan leaves the stage momentarily to slip into “something more comfortable” it’s to lose his dress shoes to flip flops. Only in Australia. And later, we’re certain only Peter Allen could be as comfortable as Phelan appears to be in a garish tropical shorts and shirt combo. Phelan wears it proudly. He’s a gorgeous performer with a cheeky grin that lets him get away with saying the most outrageous things in the most outrageous dress ups. Bare-chested and bold before conceding defeat in the face of Disney, he shares the infuriating discomfort of all the dads whose children are still singing/screeching Frozen’s Let It Go.

The show takes a serious turn when Phelan reflects on the too-soon deaths of some industry friends (Vanessa Carlton’s A Thousand Miles, stunning in its unadorned delivery) and again, as he shares JRB’s superb song, Someone to Fall Back On. It’s an incredibly difficult number to do, vocally demanding and emotionally complex, but Phelan sells it with a stirring, stinging honesty, just as he did during a masterclass with the composer.

There’s no ceremony about Phelan; he’s the real deal, as frank and honest, and as heartwarming and entertaining as any cabaret performer can ever hope to be. 

Joined by Luke Volker on keys for this Brisbane Wonderland season, Phelan shows us what it is to be human and fallible and funny and loveable and laughable, in that typically Australian, incredibly ironic sense. While the show in its current state is clearly meant for our audiences, and probably the more theatrically inclined among them, with a few tweaks it could travel, and it should. Phelan’s appeal is universal, and talent such as his in this context deserves a larger, broader audience.




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