Author Archive for Xanthe Coward

08
Feb
16

CATS

 

CATS

Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, David Atkins & Base Entertainment Asia

in association with The Really Useful Group

QPAC Lyric Theatre

January 29 – February 14 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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WHEN CATS ARE MADDENED BY THE MIDNIGHT DANCE

(Or: When audiences and critics are baffled by a show’s long-running runaway success).

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS is one of the most successful musicals ever, and probably one of the the most loathed. If you’ve never seen it before there’s probably still a lot to love but for audiences who have seen one or more earlier productions, this is not the one that surpasses them.

My earliest memories of CATS echo the delights of the children seeing this latest touring production, which comes to us from London Palladium. I think the harshest critics, especially those of us who have had to sit through this show more than once, forget that everything is always new to somebody. I grew up on a steady diet of Lloyd Webber, Rogers & Hammerstein and Sondheim so I’m not actually one of the harshest critics. Nostalgia always counts for something, doesn’t it? When I first saw CATS (I was still in primary school) I was full of wonder and curiousity, intrigued by the ramshackle junkyard setting and the feline beauty of the performers in their costumes and makeup to suit each unique character. We got to traverse the stage during Interval and relived moments from the show for years afterwards. I adored the sass of Mr Macavity, the magic of Mr Mistoffolees, and the abject despair that gives way to a tiny glimmer of hope in Memory. And I loved the dancing. It’s a dance show after all; a dancer’s show.

I remember, as the lights dimmed, the thrill of hearing the first synthesised strains of the music, which we knew from wearing out the double cassette tape of the original London production soundtrack, and sensing before seeing them, cats of all colours and traits slinking through the audience, over seats and over people, purring and snuggling up to us as they made their way to the stage for the opening number. It was fantastic. We saw CATS return to Brisbane in 2010 – Poppy was four years old – and she loved it! I was underwhelmed. This time? We were both underwhelmed. Rather than write about it right away, I took off and did a show at Brisbane Powerhouse for the week before I could even think about assembling any thoughts about this production of CATS.

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CATS remains one of the most rigorous shows in which a performer can be involved, and for dedicated dancers it’s great work if you can get it. (This ensemble is terrific, clear characters, solid dance and vocal parts on point). But for many of us it’s a show that’s become lost in glossy global marketing genius and the popular belief that such a long-running show must be good. This is what’s good about CATS –

  • if you’re a cat-lover it’s about cats
  • the dancing and random acrobatic feats are still impressive, despite the distinct Rock Eisteddfod feel to ensemble numbers
  • the music, despite being more Flashdance than contemporary dance, is still memorable
  • the individual cats are all unique creatures and if the lack of plot bothers you a good comparative study can be made from carefully observing the behaviour (and costume and makeup) of each
  • the same can be said of the lights. Lots of lights to count…
  • the set is still interesting, spilling out into the audience space.

This is what’s (still) diabolically bad about CATS –

  • if you’re not a cat-lover it’s about cats
  • there is a distinct Rock Eisteddfod feel to ensemble numbers
  • there is not much of a plot andThe Awful Battle of The Pekes and The Pollicles is still…awful
  • the clunky mechanics of the UFO-looking platform that ascends with Grizabella would be better placed in a high school production. When it grows up this piece of equipment might be seen in a Katy Perry or Pink concert.
  • this time there is no Coca-Cola can in the set. Does anyone else miss the Coca-Cola can? I miss the Coca-Cola can.
  • star casting, complete with contemporary pop voice does not a Grizabella make
  • by far the greatest creative crime, Rum Tum Tugger has been slaughtered and hung out to dry like a crow, warning other ambitious all-singing, all-dancing boys to stay away from this role in this production.

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Delta Goodrum is an elegant, once decadently languorous, now legendary Grizabella, shunned by all, and her Memory, although beautifully, powerfully delivered, is marred by her ceaseless distracting wandering and preceded by an interpretative dance that has, unfortunately, missed the kind strike of the red pen. I love Delta (my goodness, she’s so lovely on stage, that smile!), but her Grizabella not so much.

And as hard as Daniel Assetta tries to sell his Rastafarian rapping Rum Tum Tugger, my guess is that it will never win over Australian audiences. Did it wow the West End? I wonder. How could anyone possibly imagine that anything would top the sultry, sexy-as-fuck rock star we remember so, er, fondly, from previous productions??? I can’t wait to see Assetta in a role he can get his teeth and…never mind what else…into.

Christopher Favaloro shines as the leaping, twirling Mister Mistoffelees, but somebody has maybe been a little over zealous with the fire pots???

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Matt McFarlane – what a gorgeous voice and a commanding presence – does a fine job of narrating the non-existent narrative as Munkastrap (Oh yes, I know, sure, for the sake of the argument, there is a synopsis, which makes vague sense as long as you’re paying attention and bearing in mind the entire concept came from a collection of poems). Josh Piterman is our other standout, in the multiple roles of Bustopher Jones, Gus & Growltiger. As Gus the theatre cat, Piterman offers a beautifully measured, nuanced performance in the tradition of the great storytellers of the British stage. I actually want to give him a hug and find his slippers for him and settle at his feet to hear more. Later, as Growltiger he sells a dramatic Italian moment, one of the highlights of the night.

Despite the few attempts to update the production, CATS stubbornly remains deeply entrenched in an awkward late seventies-early eighties time warp and if you hated it before you’ll be more than a little bemused by this production. But maybe, just maybe, THINK OF THE CHILDREN. Bite your tongue, take the kids and be prepared to suffer a little in your lycra and leg warmers.

As an exercise in suspended disbelief, this show has always been for advanced theatre-goers (or the perfectly naive), but it’s not the worst musical in the world and as a little family outing, CATS is still a bit of fun.   

07
Feb
16

Dangerous Liasons

Dangerous Liasons

Brisbane Powerhouse & Little Ones Theatre

Brisbane Powerhouse Theatre

February 3 – 5 2015

 

Reviewed by Rhumer Diball

 

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Deliciously decadent in all things revenge and ravishment related, Dangerous Liaisons bursts into the Brisbane Powerhouse MELT Queer Festival.

With an ostentatious design, gender reversed characters, a meticulous musical score and performances that are every bit as challenging as they are comedic, Little Ones Theatre brings a devilish spin to Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ classic text.
The aristocratic ensemble present issues of class, reputation, and trust, with director Stephen Nicolazzo exploiting the tragi-comedy’s eroticism, farcical nature, and underlying camp possibilities. Valmont (Janine Watson) and Mertuil (Alexandra Aldrich) drive the story’s lessons in the pleasures of revenge and sex, the politics of marriage and infidelity, and the overall importance of one’s weaknesses when in love. Aldrich shines as the conniving leading woman who seeks out revenge through the help of her ex-lover Valmont. Watson does well to maintain a subtle yet crucial masculinity to the alpha-male character Valmont, particularly when sharing scenes with Danceney played by Tom Dent, the lone male actor in the ensemble. As a pair, the two lead actresses hold their poise, power, and piercing personality when scheming for their own revenge which trickles down to influence the entire cast in one dangerous way or another. An honourable mention also goes to Amanda McGregor’s portrayal of the flowering teenage Cecile with a burning excitement for her development into womanhood before her wedding day and karaoke style performances of songs with a dazzling gold microphone.
Despite Catherine Davies’ effortless performance as both Azolan (Valmont’s energetic page) and the carnivorous courtesan Emilie, a subtle costume change, or rather, a stripping of costume down to a pair of pink underwear, worked against the differences between the two characters and blended the actress’ performance into one erotic tease for Valmont. While the ambiguity of this layering of characters was later amended through the script’s reveal of the courtesan, other choices seemed singular or too subtle, and were not used to their full effectiveness. A wiping away of makeup on both the endearingly defiant Tourvel (Brigid Gallagher) and her suitor Valmont displayed vulnerability just in time for tears to fall on naturally flushed skin. Other examples include an inconsistent use of female performers stripping down to reveal their bare breasts, a device which may have worked well if it were only used on the male characters they had been playing. Once again Emilie the Courtesan presented an ambiguity which came with confusing contradictions to the otherwise purposeful costume and gender reversed characterisation. If this very ambiguity was intentional, as if to portray a fluidity of gender, it would then join the other direction choices that were not applied to their full potential.
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Despite a few inconsistencies in their use, when paired with the direction, the design team Eugyeene Teh and Tessa Pitt brought a rich contrast of matching gold curtains, tables, lounges and props as decadent as the Ferrero Rochers eaten live on stage, with powerful pink costumes which were as historically accurate as they were playful. Daniel Nixon and Russell Goldsmith’s sound design was equally as captivating, with a mixture of harpsichord period music and modern electronic, rock and roll, and disco hits being played, sung and danced to during scene transitions, movement sequences and strip teases.

Little Ones Theatre take a melodramatic period piece to create a fluidity of genders and sexuality and an orgy of sexual innuendos, breasts set free, and cheeky games of connect four.

Dangerous Liaisons from Little Ones Theatre on Vimeo.

04
Feb
16

Flamenco Fire’s Viva Sevilla

 

Flamenco Fire’s Viva Sevilla – The Golden Age of Flamenco

QPAC & Red Chair

QPAC Cremorne

January 28 – February 6 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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Flamenco Fire is our only national Flamenco company, celebrating seventeen years in 2016. We love seeing them every year at Woodford Folk Festival, where the crowd goes crazy for the Spanish rhythms and passionate storytelling.

At first this production feels as if we’ve been invited to the fantastic late-night backyard party in Baz Luhrman’s Strictly Ballroom (it didn’t translate to the stage with quite the same ferocious passion and excitement, did it?). We’re transported to nowhere in particular in 19th century Spain seen through a contemporary Australian lens. The design is sparse and slickly metallic, with just a black-covered chair for each musician and a hat stand of flowers and troublesome fringed (guaranteed-to-get-caught-every-time) scarves for each dancer. We’re welcomed to an era of brash confidence and newly public flamboyant flamenco dance (1850 – 1920), which became known as the Golden Age of Flamenco.

Many challenges that exist in Australian society today were present in 19th century Spain. The concepts of nationhood, sovereign territory, the balancing of political and religious powers, cultural tolerance, the influences and difficulties in balancing the growth and decline of industries, the impact of migration on farming, mining and urban communities. Using the aesthetic of traditional flamenco combined with contemporary dance choreography, original composition and supporting visual and staging design, Viva Sevilla examines these cultural challenges within the Spanish historical cultural context and connects them to the contemporary Australian experience.

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Without the explicit historical or political context cited in promotional materials and our gorgeous glossy program, we’re very simply presented with a series of traditional Spanish dances, performed superbly by Francesca Grima and Simone Pope. Grima, all at once stern, passionate and mischievous, comes direct from Spain, along with vocalist Olayo Jimena and sensational, sexy percussionist Andrej Vujicic. They are joined on stage by Australian musicians Andrew Veivers, Kieran Ray, Shenton Gregory and singer, Clara Domingo. The newest member of the group, Domingo sings best during the curtain call and less confidently before that. She’s lovely on stage and her full voice is beautiful, and I wish we’d heard more of it. Instead, much of her vocal work is quiet, gentle, suiting the lilting tones of the guitars but barely audible at times, lost in the music and beneath the commanding voice of Jimena. An extraordinary storyteller, on opening night Jimena elicits much laughter with his exaggerated gestures and facial expressions conveying his adoration and then angst at the hands of the women in his life-on-stage. The tales are long with many verses and others obviously enjoy his indulgent storytelling style, clapping and cheering loudly at the end of each verse. It’s wonderful drama!

Vujicic provides additional traditional vocal support and percussion throughout, and one of the evening’s highlights breathes vivid life into a lagging Act 1 when he sits with Grima to perform an exhilarating body percussion piece (Ritmos Flamencos). Later, he forms a trio with Grima and Pope to perform a tightly choreographed wooden walking stick number (Bastones Flemencos). Another highlight of the night is Veivers, his classical guitar solos (Maestro Patane & Treinta) demonstrating his mastery and sensitivity in this style. As a director, it appears as though Veivers has his focus squarely on the composition of his original pieces and on his performance, with little sense of storytelling outside of the music and dance. And this is fine – it’s a sell-out show, sensational in its separate elements and it can be argued that the history and evolution of the dance styles are revealed through the dance itself – but smoother transitions and a semblance of story to link each dance would give non-Spanish speakers another hook into the performance.

If you appreciate authentic Flamenco with its palmas, swirling skirts and Spanish song, you’ll love the music and dance and fiery energy of Flamenco Fire’s Viva Sevilla

Tour details here

Workshop details here

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25
Jan
16

Carrie The Musical

 

Carrie the Musical

Brisbane Powerhouse & Wax Lyrical Productions

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

January 22 – 30 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

“Carrie” opened on Broadway on May 12, 1988, and closed three days later, losing a record-breaking seven million dollars.

Michael Schulman. The New Yorker

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You ain’t seen nothing yet. It’s gonna’ be a night we’ll never forget.

Carrie White’s teen angst bullshit bodycount trumps Veronica Sawyer’s doesn’t it?!

Stephen King almost didn’t write Carrie. After he threw out the first three pages of the first draft, his wife found the pages, smoothed them out, read them and demanded to know the rest of the story. Carrie was his fourth novel; his first to be published (1964). Since then we’ve seen two famous film versions and the musical, infamous, earmarked by critics as one of the worst musicals of all time.

Zoe Tuffin’s production brings compassionate storytelling and mostly relatable characters to a stage that is strewn with prom night confetti from the outset and soaked in symbolic blood by the end. Tuffin’s production is uniquely imagined, deftly handled and boasts the very best of Brisbane talent, both onstage and off. The company comprises mostly Griffith University Queensland Conservatorium graduates, testament once again to the extraordinary amount of talent in this state, and to the quality of Paul Sabey’s Musical Theatre course content and high calibre of his teaching team. These graduates have rehearsed Carrie in between callbacks for the next round of Australian professional touring productions. No surprises there. The real surprise is the uniformity of triple-threat talent on stage, and the commitment of the cast to bring such deeply flawed, complex characters to life in such an authentic way, despite the flaky writing. The only over-acting comes from Tori Bailey as Chris the total bitch and Thomas Davis as her boyfriend, Billy, but others in the audience adore them. I might have enjoyed Bailey’s performance more if I could discern the words during her cute little rock pop solo, which is certainly energetically executed. Usually the Visy is spot on with the sound but the mix was an issue on opening night, just as it was recently in QPAC’s Playhouse (right up until closing night!), giving Sound Designer Ben Murray a few things to think about this week.

Dominic Woodhead leads a fantastic sounding band (we can’t see them through the haze in the dark out the back) but I’d love to hear them again in this space sans so much crashing percussion. In 1999 we built a soundproof room for the band and multi-cored to the PA for a warehouse production of Jesus Christ Superstar and I’m thinking Brisbane could do with some similarly innovative solutions, or a new breed of designer/engineer or something because the frequent problems with the mix in a couple of our top venues are old news and still unforgivable.

Most of the cast are as real as the mean girls and boys you might remember (or might have tried to forget) from your own high school days and nights, and it’s this focus, on the horror of high school that holds the original supernatural horror of the story at arm’s length until Act 2.

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Sophie Perkins makes the title role one to remember. An uninformed, misunderstood social misfit on the brink of womanhood, betrayed by her mother’s mismanagement, Carrie doesn’t like being “tricked” and she finds her power in the darkest revenge. (Remember, it’s not a happy ending!). Perkins has a powerhouse voice and a fantastic palette of emotions. I’d love to see how her nuance translates to the screen.

As Carrie’s mother, the formidable, fanatical Margaret White, Jacqui Devereux dishes out the vocal power and imposing physical presence to knock the poor girl to her knees without any contact at all and I’d like to have seen this dynamic explored, although the shock of seeing her push and pull her daughter across the stage certainly has the desired effect, making her a monster in our eyes. The role is generous – the show could almost be Mother’s story – and in it Devereux offers her most credible performance to date, never less so than in Act 2’s moving When There’s No One. 

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Georgina Hopson, a joy to behold and this time in a slightly less saccharine role than usual, manages even so to encompass the sweetness of Carrie’s unlikely friend, Sue, as well as her strength. Hopson’s vocal mastery, superior in every aspect, reveals the best aspect of a skill set akin to our current leading ladies of musical theatre. She’s a stand-out on stage – there must be local performers who wish they could discover the secret to Hopson’s easy presence – and she holds her own right up until the final tragic moment.

Alex Woodward as the jock boyfriend, Tommy, sings beautifully and brings sensitivity to the role, leaving no doubt in our minds that he genuinely adores Sue and for reasons he can’t quite fathom either, wants the best for her freaky friend.

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Chloe-Rose Taylor and Stephen Hirst resist the temptation to present us with cardboard cutouts of boring caring teachers and offer naturally confident, competent performances. Hirst makes the most of his little moment in yet another underwritten role and Taylor takes her time to establish the maternal connection that Carrie misses out on at home. In this supporting role she shines, connecting beautifully, believably with Perkins’ Carrie. Surprisingly, the song that least fits the show, Unsuspecting Hearts, is lovely, providing much needed relief from the heavy themes throughout.

Tuffin’s success lies in her pragmatic approach, her acknowledgment of the limitations of the theatre and her determination to create magic with so little. Set & Costume Designer, Patrick James Howe employs imaginative design solutions to fit perfectly into the intimate space and bring us disturbingly close to the action. Jason Glenwright’s cellar style lighting features a dramatically spare par can wall, which successfully shocks us into submission with its blinding white light before fading and making way for a special on Sue, centrestage, with her version of the story. This image bookends the show, the narration being one of the revisions after the monumental flop of the original production and it works well here. Importantly, the wall of light also serves to separate the “backstage” space from the stage, key to the shape and flow of the show. Unfortunately, its lights also flash unnecessarily to indicate Carrie’s telekinesis. It’s a bit kitsch when Tuffin has managed to avoid this sort of 80s’ mark elsewhere.

While there is very little telekinesis on display what we see is convincing enough so it’s clearly a matter of quality over quantity.

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Prom night is the ultimate test of our willingness to suspend disbelief, not only in terms of the massacre that must follow but in terms of its orchestration. Wisely avoiding the problem of not-enough-blood, Tuffin has Carrie kill in another dramatic way (no spoilers here but has Dan Venz choreographed the sequence?). This is undoubtedly more effective for those seeing the show without any knowledge of the previous versions of the story’s grisly end. Satisfyingly, the pig’s blood bucket hits its mark and covers Perkins from head to toe in real, really disgusting, dripping red something-that-will-have-to-be-washed-outta-that-little-white-frock-every-night. I mean, c’mon! There are globules slipping slowly down her skirt! No wonder she freaks out and wreaks havoc on the town.

In less capable hands, Carrie the Musical would be a dreary disaster, but Tuffin has successfully resurrected a show that many believed would stay dead and buried.

With greater attention given to some secondary characters (twice as many in the ensemble would be terrific and also, should the question of diversity not be applied here too?) and costume design, which is woeful with not a “prom” dress in sight, Howe clearly having concentrated on the look of the space and not on the way those who fill it would look, this Carrie could live again. How about a bigger budget and a sneaky return season in a bigger space? Can you imagine the bucket of blood tipping from a much greater height with litres and litres of the sticky substance spilling and pooling all over the Powerhouse stage?! With the appropriate resources at Tuffin’s disposal is that the Carrie this company might offer? 

Wax Lyrical Productions is the most interesting company to come along since Emily Gilhome’s Oscar, and certainly deserve a bigger audience for this production, the Queensland premiere of Carrie the Muscial.

Particularly if you go in clean, without too much prior knowledge, you’ll love coming out of Carrie a little bit dirty. And if you’ve seen it or read it, regardless of how much time has passed, you’ll enjoy this ambitious reimagining and the vibrant discussion that’s sure to follow. Until January 30 at Brisbane Powerhouse.

Production pics by Joel Devereux

16
Jan
16

The Tiger Who Came to Tea

 

The Tiger Who Came to Tea

QPAC & Andrew Kay in association with Nick Brooke & Kenny Wax

QPAC Playhouse

January 14 – 17 2015

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

Boy: Look! It looks like real life. Why is it real life?

Mum: That’s what theatre is. It’s real life, it’s not film or TV.

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It seemed appropriate to precede The Tiger Who Came to Tea with High Tea. We visited a pretty, pretty old haunt of mine, Brisbane Arcade’s Room With Roses

High Tea was nice, though not the nicest. (Next time we’ll try the option closest to QPAC it’s my preferred overnight accommodation – check out the Showstopper Package – at Bacchus at Rydges). We consider ourselves High Tea connoisseurs and have decided it’s high time we start reviewing some of our dining and sipping experiences too.

After reading our tea leaves – there is dancing and a ship in the future – we made our way on foot via Victoria Bridge to QPAC. On a cooler day this is a fine walk but the day was hot!

Sometimes we suffer for our art, and sometimes we suffer for another’s.

Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea is a well-loved children’s picture book. Poppy and I know it well and even before watching the trailer for this production I had my suspicions that it would be most suitable for much younger children. My suspicions were proved correct.

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Having enjoyed more live shows by the age of nine than many adults have done, Poppy is the most genuine, generous, wildly enthusiastic audience member anybody could hope to have in a theatre. And her enthusiasm is contagious. With the opening minutes of The Tiger Who Came to Tea involving a welcome-to-our-theatre song and a naming-and-stepping-into-our-roles moment, I whispered to Poppy, “I think we were right. I think they’ve made the show for little ones.” She smiled and shrugged, and got involved in the bright and brassy storytelling, and singing and dancing anyway. Poppy is the perfect +1!

We had read the book again and I noticed Sophie wears Mary Janes so I thought it was the perfect opportunity to wear my new Mary Jane school shoes and my Ted Baker dress.

The tiger doing his little dance and bowing was funny. I liked the set up of the house. It was all neat and tidy until the tiger came.

 While the overall tone is slightly condescending, even for very little ones, I think my aversion to the particular theatrical style comes from being spoilt rotten when it comes to Australian made theatre for young people. Even when we see a “traditional” pantomime it’s often performed with a knowing wink, rather than something more self-indulgent and apparently “British” (whatever that actually means. I’ve never seen British theatre in Great Britain). But when the latter is the first or more frequent experience in a young person’s life I fear that their theatre-going may be short lived! Luckily, in Poppy’s lifetime, she has already experienced traditional pantomime as well as the humble wonder and pure magic of more than one production from Wolfe Bowart and Cirque du Soleil, and from our very own Dead Puppet Society, Company 2, Circa, Flipside and shake & stir. 

I adore the tiger in his ruffled fur; he’s life-sized, just gorgeous, with a gentleman’s fine manners (well, apart from turning up uninvited to tea!). But I wish he would speak, as he does in the book. To score bonus points with the mums he might have a Rum Tum Tugger type voice to complement his slinky walk and surprisingly poised dance moves. Despite some dreadful lyrics (yummy scrummy sausages, anyone?), the songs are upbeat and very catchy, the dance moves are fun for the under eights and the kitchen magic doesn’t disappoint. One of my favourite tricks though, features Daddy twirling centre stage to get into his jacket and catching toast in his briefcase as he races out the door, late to work.

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It takes a long time to get to tea at 4 o’clock! First we must sit through breakfast, elevenses and lunch (Sophie and her mummy appear to do nothing but eat delicious treats in the kitchen all day!), as well as visits from the postman and milkman. 

The milkman was funny with all his treats on offer and the only thing they needed was the milk, which he carried on his back but had forgotten about. It was funny when he turned around to reveal the milk after they’d said eighty times they needed milk.

(Strange, in an era of helicopter paranoid parenting that each time the doorbell rings Mummy is the one who insists they had better open the door to see who it can be and the third time, with her hands full, insists Sophie answer the door to an unexpected visitor all by herself).

Each visitor is silly and clownish, as Daddy is, making the girls – unfairly I think – the smart, together characters. With the exception of the tiger, who is strangely simultaneously sly and sweet, they are all wide-eyed and completely OTT. Also, the names of the actors do not appear anywhere (no program, no foyer board). It seems a contradiction, given their efforts to establish that they are indeed actors telling the story from the book. 

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The Tiger Who Came to Tea is an Olivier Award nominated adaptation (Writer and Director David Wood OBE) and it’s come to us following a smash hit season on London’s West End, but I think it’s missed something in the move from story to stage, at least for non-English audiences. With an intelligently talking tiger, a less condescending tone and truer treatment of the material, this production might enjoy much broader appeal. Despite my reservations, of course Poppy enjoyed every minute of it so by all means, take the older siblings of your little one. 

Any live show is an opportunity to take care dressing for the occasion, and to visit the theatre, practice a little patience and polite conversation with family, friends and FOH staff, get lost for a little while in the storytelling, and talk for hours afterwards about what we’ve experienced there.

I liked the costumes. The singalong songs were fun. The disco ball was funny, creating stars for everyone as they walked to the cafe. I didn’t understand why they had to keep doing the “tick tock tick tock” to show the passing of time. I guess it was like one big long scene without blackouts.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea has basically received a mini panto makeover and it’s packaged beautifully for an Early Childhood audience. It comes complete with a copy of the picture book and a plush tiger toy, each sold separately in the foyer. Just TRY walking away without either. This production is perfect fare for under eights and anybody generous and patient enough to take them to see it (final performances tomorrow at 10am & 12pm), but I challenge you, especially if your kids are 6+ to look twice at what’s being offered at our premier performing arts precinct (and at your local council venues) and make an effort just as often to choose a home-grown production.

QPAC’s Out of the Box Festival for children 8 years and under returns 21 to 28 June 2016. Join the waitlist here.

15
Jan
16

George’s Marvellous Medicine

 

George’s Marvellous Medicine

shake & stir theatre co.

QPAC & shake & stir

QPAC Cremorne

January 6 – 23 2015

Reviewed by Poppy Eponine

Don’t get up to mischief!

George’s Marvellous Medicine is so funny, it’s the funniest show these school holidays, and I’m lucky enough to have seen them all. Sometimes it was scary but it was always going to be a happy ending, although NOT for Grandma. I won’t tell you what happens to her…

Adapted by shake & stir, it’s like the book by Roald Dahl but it’s shaken and stirred, and fun for all ages, including grandmas and grandpas. Even grandmas and grandpas know the story. Don’t they?

On a good day, George can’t stand his Grandma. She complains all the time, she’s mean and she smells funny. On this particular day, Grandma is much more annoying than usual and George has had enough. “George – make me a cup of tea! George – rub my feet! George – stop growing!” Ugh. Wanting to teach her a lesson and to put an end to her constant nagging, George concocts a special medicine, greater than any medicine in the history of medicines. What he doesn’t expect is that this medicine may actually work – just not in the way he thinks it will…

You must have the RIGHT amount of the RIGHT ingredients!

When they were putting in the ingredients Nugget the chicken pulls out a bottle of Dom Perignon and George’s mother exclaims, “Not that! That’s my special medicine!”. That made the audience laugh. My mum applauded.

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With all of those messy ingredients, the Stage Manager (Yanni Dubler) has a big job after each show, refilling bottles and pots and jars and resetting them on the stage with the exact same amount of stuff so the actors know they can make the medicine all over again for the next audience. The set is a clever combination of shelves and open doors and windows that are pushed from side to side and back and forth by the actors to create every setting in the show. They are pushed away to reveal Grandma sitting in her chair. She’s in the light of a spotlight so you literally cannot look at anything else. When the chair is turned around Grandma looks and sounds so scary. She is mean to George and sweet as pie when his parents are nearby. She fakes being grateful and treats George badly when they are not looking. She demands her medicine be ready at eleven o’clock so George has a time limit to make it. This builds tension and makes us expect that something bad will happen. Unless of course you’ve read the book, in which case you’ll know that everything will be fine…except for Grandma.

You can tell that the second and third time the medicine is made that it isn’t going to work out because they make it really obvious that something is left out. It’s very funny sometimes to expect things to go wrong. 

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Josh McIntosh and Jason Glenwright always design the set and lighting for shake & stir shows because they are an excellent team. Mum says the look and feel of each show is largely dependent on what they bring to the table. She loved their design for Dracula but I didn’t see it because it wasn’t for kids.

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I love all of the music and all of the effects that are so gorgeous, used sometimes more than once yet not used so many times that they become boring. This means Ross Balbuziente has done a good job directing. He has made it a fun and interesting show with lots of tricks and magic. We always notice if the actors are having fun because then we have fun too, and Ross has made sure everyone has a lot of fun.

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It is good casting, which is really important. Each actor makes their character seem real when really we know they are just the actors in a show. But thank goodness mean old Grandma isn’t real! Leon Cain is hilarious as Grandma. He has curlers in his real hair and his voice sounds like an old lady’s. And Tim Dashwood will be just as good in this role, just different. Nick Skubij is George, very naughty, and Johnny Balbuziente is a very funny chicken. He jumps around a lot and Mum says he is a welcome addition to the mainstage professional company. Nelle Lee is George’s gossipy mother and she wears a very cool, very funny cow hide skirt. It could be the latest and greatest fashion. Mum loves the phone calls she makes, her shoe scene and her love for her chicken. Bryan Probets is her husband, George’s dad, and he is very funny too. They are not really like the parents in the book but the mother is up to date wearing the latest and greatest everything and the father is even crazier than in the book. Mum has seen Bryan in a LOT of shows and he is ALWAYS good.

I love all of shake & stir’s kids’ productions and Mum loves all the adult shows. We are lucky to have shows for kids like this because sometimes companies from other countries make the shows and tour them and they’re not as funny or as entertaining as shake & stir’s shows. 

Our life is anything but normal, in fact it’s quite shaken and stirred! I see a LOT of shows but shake & stir’s shows are aways some of my favourite shows. They are always funny and entertaining. They always make me smile. The actors are excellent and the story on stage brings each book to life so even if you haven’t read George’s Marvellous Medicine you can enjoy the show. That’s IF you can get a ticket and if you can’t you know for next time to book your tickets as soon as possible or YOU WILL MISS OUT.

12
Jan
16

Heathers: The Musical

 

Heathers: The Musical

QPAC & Showwork Productions

QPAC Playhouse

January 9 – 17 2015

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

We’re all damaged, we’re all frightened, we’re all freaks but that’s alright.

Eat or be eaten.

Based on the cult film (1988) starring Winona Rider and Christian Slater, Heathers – The Musical received its sold-out developmental premiere in Los Angeles in 2013 after years of development following a concert reading at Joe’s Pub (NYC) in 2010.

Well, fuck me gently with a chainsaw! Heathers: The Musical is outstanding, it’s such a fantastic, timely surprise! After last year’s movies-to-musicals Dirty Dancing and Strictly Ballroom failed to exceed expectations, Trevor Ashley’s Heathers: The Musical succeeds mightily on all levels. Book online and be quick about it because this gorgeous, talented company are only here until January 17.

Whether or not you’ve seen the cult film that inspired the Off-Broadway hit, this show demands your attention. With book, music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe (Legally Blonde) and Kevin Murphy (Reefer Madness), Heathers: The Musical brings the microcosm of nauseating, alienating high school life to the stage. Nominated for nine Sydney Theatre Awards, this production originated at Hayes Theatre thanks to a golden ticket from Hayes Theatre Co. (Let’s hope Hayes sends some more world class product our way). It sees cabaret and musical theatre performer Trevor Ashley in the director’s chair for the first time and from the look and feel of this stellar effort it won’t be his last. In fact, Ashley may have found his new calling – this wicked show allows him to flex his creative muscles and really play, stretching to the limit the devilish humour he loves so much. 

A1 production values, cheeky comic interpretation and some exceptional Australian talent means Ashley’s production surpasses the original minimalist attempt at New World Stages. See for yourself.

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The book is fast paced and nicely condensed for the stage, more entertaining than horrifying, not a bad thing in musical theatre. The music is fantastic, easily passing the whistle test, much of it memorable days later. Immediately we hear the same chirpiness and witty extrapolation of Legally Blonde, and the punchy yet haunting sound and style of Next To Normal. It’s a neat blend of pop and rock, basic enough to be broadly accessible, that is, if you’re over the age of 14 and can’t be offended by strong language, intense adult themes and references to alcohol, drugs and guns. That’s right. Don’t know the story? Don’t take the kids. Strangely, Heathers: The Musical doesn’t come with a trigger warning. No pun intended. The story stays true to the original film.

In order to get out of the snobby clique that is destroying her good-girl reputation, an intelligent teen teams up with a dark sociopath in a plot to kill the cool kids.

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Kirby Burgess is Heather #1 – the Almighty Heather Chandler (until the show goes to Melbourne in May, when Lucy Maunder returns to the role), and straight from playing the naive Baby in Dirty Dancing, Burgess effortlessly morphs into the wealthiest, wickedest, cutest bitch from hell…er, high school.

Joined by Libby Asciak (Heather Duke) and Erin Clare (Heather McNamara) the three mean girls appear to be impenetrable. Their slick and sassy Candy Store perfectly introduces them and intimidates…everyone else. But beneath their perfectly preened eighties’ exteriors even the Heathers are damaged, and the real story of how tough high school can be comes through in a surprisingly genuine way, not least within the layers of Clare’s standout Lifeboat, stinging long after the final note fades.

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The phenomenal Jaz Flowers embodies social misfit Veronica Sawyer without needing to channel Winona Ryder or Barrett Wilbert Weed, bringing her unique brand of sass to the role, reminding us (in case you needed reminding) that she’s one of our brightest musical theatre stars. Her renditions of Beautiful, Fight For Me and Dead Girl Walking are powerful, informed, lingering things. Flowers’ energy and careful attention to detail, not to mention her powerhouse vocals, drive the show. Paired with the super tall, super talented Stephen Madsen as the trench coat clad sexy sociopath, the richly textured duets (Our Love Is God, Meant To Be Yours and Seventeen) provide the stuff of a love story so believable that the lines between right and wrong become blurred for us too. 

I just want my high school to be a nice place.

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Of course, our investment in the relationship is largely due to Madsen looking just enough like Slater on stage to win us over even before uttering a word. Freeze Your Brain is silly and funny and seductively sung. Where has this guy been?! Next, he’ll be seen as Richard Loeb in Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story.

Our love is God. Let’s go get a slushie.

Lauren McKenna shines as Martha – her spotlit solo Kindergarten Boyfriend is tragically, hilariously poignant – but also as Ms Fleming, stealing the show with her all-singing, all-dancing whole school healing session. We’ll see McKenna next in HR’s Hairspray Arena Spectacular in the role that made Flowers famous.

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Vincent Hooper (Ram Sweeney) and Jakob Ambrose (Kurt Kelly) play to the hilt those horny footballers, earning plenty of laughs and little gasps because, well, they’re cute too. N.B. No cows are tipped during this production.

MD Bev Kennedy leads a sensational sounding band (a pity about the opening night mix) and the ensemble shines in The Me Inside of Me, a surprise reprise of the boys’ hilarious number Blue and an even more surprising gospel number, Dead Gay Son. Cameron Mitchell’s choreography throughout is first class. With a beat change and a break up,Yo Girl successfully builds the tension needed during a tricky, speedy denouement. It’s a tough ending to pull off and this production almost succeeds in creating the same level of horror and humour in the original movie scenes before its upbeat Broadway-worthy finale and extended curtain call. Emma Vine’s inspired set design, Gavan Swift’s lighting and Angela White’s cute costumes contribute vivid colour and distinct style.

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I don’t know how Trevor Ashley made this show happen whilst playing Master of the House Thenadier in Les Mis but he’s done it and he’s done it in the same masterful way. If you miss Heathers here you’ll have to catch it in Melbourne in May, and if you miss it there you should see what you can do to help get it to Broadway. It would be a shame to see Fickman’s underwhelming production go there before Ashley’s does. The red scrunchie should go to Trevor Ashley next. This show wins everything.




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What a beautiful tribute tonight to this amazing woman, such a bright light in our industry. She is so loved and will be missed by many. Thank you to all who shared incredible stories and lovely memories of the one and only Carol Burns #valecarolburns #qldtheatre #actors #acting @atqpac

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