Author Archive for Xanthe Coward




heartBeast Theatre

Spring Hill Reservoirs

October 7 – 22 2016

Reviewed by Katy Cotter


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

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


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


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

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


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


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




Brisbane Powerhouse & Oscar Theatre Co

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

September 23 – October 15 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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


Tequila Mockingbird

Tequila Mockingbird

QPAC & shake & stir

QPAC Cremorne Theatre

October 5 – 15 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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

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




Continue the conversation with these talking points –



Faking it and fitting in

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

Accepting responsibility

Recognising vulnerability

Responding to those in need

Recognising the lens through which we view the world

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


Singin’ In The Rain

Singin’ In The Rain

Dainty Entertainment Group

QPAC Lyric Theatre

September 22 – October 30 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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



Chekhov’s First Play

Chekhov’s First Play

Brisbane Festival & Dead Centre

Brisbane Powerhouse Powerhouse Theatre

September 21 – 23 2016


Reviewed by Meredith Walker




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




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

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




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




Rainbow Vomit

Rainbow Vomit

Brisbane Festival, Channel Nine & Dancenorth

Judith Wright Centre Performance Space

September 21–24 2016

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway


We … set out to create a low-fi phantasmagoria – a world in which dream, fantasy, illusion and play were funnelled through unreality …

Kyle Page and Amber Haines

Dancenorth’s Rainbow Vomit was created to appeal to a young audience, but also to people of all ages. With its sense of fun and play, its colour and ingenuity in design, and unfettered naturalistic movement, it engages everyone. On opening night of its Brisbane Festival season at the Judith Wright Centre, it was lovely to hear the reactions of children in the audience, laughing and showing their surprise, delight and curiosity.

The title of this piece, directed and choreographed by Artistic Director Kyle Page and Artistic Assistant/Rehearsal Director Amber Haines, is intriguing. Does it refer to the overload of information and entertainment from electronic media? Or the gushing forth of creative ideas? Or creativity unleashed in the medium of dance, away from the realm of the iPad, the smartphone and the computer?

Rainbow Vomit starts off quietly in black and white, and through various scenes, builds to a frenzy of colour, sound, imagination and movement. Lighting and set designer Govin Ruben, costume designer Andrew Treloar, and composer Alisdair Macindoe have created an incredible rainbow world, full of surreal creatures, with a soundtrack combining voice, sound effects (such as watery slurping and gurgling), clapping, drumming, bells, and simple, repeated tunes.

At first, the dancers (Harrison Hall, Mason Kelly, Jenni Large, Ashley McLellan and Georgia Rudd) are plainly dressed in black and white pyjama-style tops and pants, and sitting on clear, colourless plastic exercise balls.

They at first appear to be watching TV, their synchronised reactions and exclamations showing the contrast between the excitement of what must be on the invisible screen, and their own relatively passive state. Then they move to gazing down and swiping at invisible iPads, while the soundtrack plays children’s voices, electronically blurred, describing how they feel when using these devices.

The exercise balls become objects to play with instead of sitting on. The dancers fall on them, bounce on them, tumble over and around them, and dribble them. It is exhilarating and fun to watch, and you feel yourself wishing you could do that too.

The style of movement is established in this segment. It is at the same time very natural-seeming, yet athletic; relaxed and flexible, yet powerful.

The dancers move fluidly and through every plane without pause, apparently effortlessly. Their energy, expressiveness and prowess are phenomenal.

A large exercise ball morphs gradually into a pingpong ball for the next segment, provoking shrieks of joy from the younger audience members. The dancers now appear to be robots, with pingpong balls in their mouths, like some alien kind of teeth. They blow the balls out of their mouths at the audience and each other.

Next, in multicoloured costumes, and with their long hair flung forwards over their faces, Jenni Large and Georgia Rudd form a segmented creature, moving as one. In ‘plank’ position, with their heads pressed together, they form a bridge, and then entwine, roll and jump together. Harrison Hall flies through a solo in this scene, leaping with abandon.

A silver virtual reality helmet is the focus of the next scene. The electronic flashing, buzzing and crackling emitted when a dancer puts on the helmet contrast with the twittering of birds and joyful expressions of the other dancers when the helmet is removed.

Ashley McLellan’s character is fascinated by the helmet, and while wearing it she is manipulated by a dancer behind her, waving her arms and body like a sea creature moved by underwater currents. The changing colour of the light – red, green and purple – leads into the colour extravaganza of the final scenes.

For these scenes, the audience (and the dancers at first) don ‘fireworks glasses’ made of holographic diffraction film. These multiply images and refract light into myriads of rainbows. The green rims glow in the ultraviolet light, creating an eerily comic effect when the dancers move in a close group (multiplied many-fold by our glasses).

The psychedelic wonder is cranked up even further when, on a darkened stage, the dancers each hold two small lights. As they move the lights, we see an explosion of moving rainbows in very intense colours in an almost out-of-body experience.

When the main lights come on again for the final scene, there is a riot of colour. At first just hanging between columns at the side, and then filling more and more spaces across the stage, are multicoloured strands of UV-reactive rope (7.6 kilometres of it altogether). The colours glow in the UV light, as do drifts of coloured pingpong balls on the floor.


The final incarnation of the dancers is in the form of surreal imaginary creatures, including two unicorns (with flexible over-head masks and glowing lips), while the dancer wearing the magic helmet is on a swing, swooping through it all.

This show is a joyous and uplifting experience, full of wonderful dance and magical effects.

And you get to keep the glasses! To prolong the magic, if you are NOT driving (!) try them out after an evening performance. The smallest intersection with traffic lights becomes a wonderland, while travelling along a six-lane road is mindblowing!


Snow White

Snow White

La Boite, Opera Queensland & Brisbane Festival

The Roundhouse

September 3 – 24 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


My mother just spent more than 50 days in hospital – two hospitals actually, between two ICUs – and she continues to recover at home from complications following surgery, all due to a bug that travelled with her from one of the 5 Stans. I’ve also been sick since Brisbane Festival opening night and have stubbornly attended as much as possible, in Brisbane and on the Sunshine Coast, where people forget I’m based, without managing to keep up with the follow up, i.e. writing about what I’ve seen. I have, however, perhaps as some sort of procrastination, insisted on (mostly successfully although the place could be tidier) running a household with two extra people in it, getting to some social engagements, camping at North Shore despite coughing up a bigger storm than the one to hit us on the day we came home, and before that, finishing a 5-week teaching contract because unlike reviewing Brisbane theatre, teaching pays. An exhausting term, physically and emotionally. I’ve missed yoga and coffee dates and drinks and events. Everything online needs an overhaul, the garden needs love, and I’ve been postponing the spring cleaning since this time last year. I need new writers, I need new clothes and I need a new focus. But more on that later.

Luckily, most of the shows I see stay with me. And let’s quietly appreciate the archival value of even a late response. Here’s the first in a succession of catch ups, well overdue. Sorry about that.


We enter The Roundhouse to a Disney soundtrack and chirping birdsong, eliciting an eerie sense of foreboding and at the same time, a false sense of security. This is a grim tale, much more so than the Grimm tale.

For the record, Disney’s classic animated Snow White unnerves me to this day.

The forest is inside, on the ceiling. The darkness is broken by fairy lights. Mirrors, the autumn leaves, the branches, a blood stained timber floor, musical instruments and kitchen chairs hanging from the forest canopy. Later, rose petals, sparkles… A tree house, the stairs running up the middle of it, musicians beneath it (the evocative space designed by Sarah Winter & striking lighting designed by Ben Hughes). I recognise Kanen Breen, like a lithe, glittering, corseted Cabaret Emcee, swanning around with his glass of red until it’s drained and settling next to a member of the audience for an intimate chat. He grins like The Cheshire Cat and moves on to the next victim, seated in front of us. I love Breen’s sparkling red nails and mouth, the essence of the infamous red apple, a reminder of the inherent evil and glamorous violence of this fairytale. He’s The Mirror. Of course he is.


The Queen (Silvia Colloca) epitomises everything we love to loathe and fear and admire about the evil stepmother stereotype / ancient mother archetype. She’s sophisticated and sexy, intimidating, alluring…actually, she’s intoxicating. Colloca’s voice is a fallen angel’s, her lower register particularly rich and warm. Scintillating in black and red lace like a Spanish lady of the night, she’s exquisite, a Diva, seducing us effortlessly. As per the original version, without differentiation between biological mother and stepmother, she is one, she is all. Mother. Woman. Crone. Queen. Her tango with The Mirror is a luscious, almost lascivious affair. Choreographed by Rosetta Cook and Gavin Webber it’s the perfect vehicle to set these two up early as the stars of the show.

Zulya Kamalova’s compositions – enchanted swirling, pulsing, living, breathing things – take us out of ourselves and into this dark, dangerously glistening, shifting world of elegance, innocence and broken trust. A waltz spells out the mother-daughter relationship more clearly and succinctly than a few shouted lines of dialogue can do. We feel for them both. None of us actually want to grow old and weary and weathered, after all. Suzie Miller’s libretto succeeds in capturing varying perspectives on the power and fragility of women and the way we can examine our potential, our power, our perceived limitations, our ambitions, and what it is we’re prepared to do to be “happy” when we dare to look at ourselves in the mirror.


This Little Lolita Snow White, the fairest of them all, is an innocent princess turned teen seductress. An innate talent, an inevitability; the product of her environment, perhaps… In her last desperate attempt to escape the clutches, and the axe, of The Hunter (Michael Tuahine), this Snow White becomes every mother’s worst nightclubbing, shame-walking nightmare. Steph Pickett gets the mix just right – she’s ingenue and expert, and sings like Fiona Apple/Jesska Hoop/Katie Noonan (and I see Katie in the bank of seats opposite us but miss her later to say hello to). It’s Act 1’s most contemporary piece, reminding me of the first 16 bars of Katzenjammer’s Hey Ho On the Devil’s Back in both its shape and tone. This is the moment the little girl becomes a woman, beautifully, frighteningly, authentically captured. The most amazing, game-changing piece of the show though is The Queen’s lament, truly exemplary vocal work, which must be heard to be believed. Colloca’s wailing resonates with us no matter how great or small our individual losses, and becomes a cry of utter despair for all mothers everywhere, for all humanity. She wails and groans her immense grief, singing over the unmoving body of her daughter. Singing over the bones. Lost. Empty. Willing her flesh and blood, her little Snow White, to come back to life, even when it will bring about her own undoing. This extended moment in time holds us in collective stillness, breathlessness, until the final haunting note fades. It’s the greatest Medea moment we’ve seen yet. This is an indescribable ache, which I’ll retain from this show for years yet. 


The production continues past its perfect end though, redundantly taking us ten years into the future, when Snow White is with child and we see the pattern repeating. The story goes on… I would love to have left the story to go on unseen, leaving us hanging, after the devastating look that is exchanged between the two once the girl has realised her mother has tried multiple times to kill her. The rest amounts to the beginning of a poor sequel and undoes a little bit of the brilliance that is this new extraordinary work, so funny and lovely, and witty and gritty and gory.

I also enjoyed less than others may have, the opening of Act 2 involving Colloca-as-performer-as-The Queen, wrapped in her iconic cape, gliding down the stairs and moving through the audience to offer an apple to bemused audience members – “It’s not poisonous” – and sitting on stage to share a story from between the pages of Grimm’s Fairytales before morphing back into The Queen proper to go on with the tale. A gimmick that seems unnecessary in a work of such quality but one that must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Think about it. Do audiences need these breaks from the narrative to connect, to relate, to remember they’ve come here to experience another world? To help them recognise their world? Despite my questions, I see the opening night audience embrace every element of the production and so I muse, again, who am I to find fault with any tiny thing? Snow White is truly a work of art and I hope we see the original cast recording soon, if not a beautifully filmed version of the show at some stage.

Masterfully directed in this space by Lindy Hume, Snow White is an important, potent new work that reflects our enduring obsession with beauty, power, the mystical feminine and the wonder and majesty, the vital lessons of storytelling. An accomplished piece for a world premiere and perfect festival fare, Snow White is destined for lands far, far away. I hope you saw it here at least once. 

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Follow on Bloglovin

Follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook