Author Archive for Xanthe Coward


Into the Woods


Into the Woods

Harvest Rain

QPAC Concert Hall

October 1 – 4 2015


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 




I met my husband during a production of Into the Woods. Have I told you this story? Probably. Poppy delights in the delivery, repeating it with a straight face precisely the way Sam tells it, and telling it proudly on Harvest Rain’s opening night to a random woman pre-show. “Daddy was the handsome prince and mummy was the witch and apparently, he says, nothing’s changed.” (You’ll have to wait to read the rest of the story. It’s not all Poppy-appropriate).


Harvest Rain uses the tagline, “You’ve seen the film, now experience the magic live on stage” to promote their production of the Sondheim-Lapine favourite. I was one of the eighties children to whom Michael Schulman referred in The New Yorker last year (although I was never too good for Lloyd Webber!), who felt excited and scared about the release of Disney’s movie version of Into the Woods, and then felt disappointed after finally seeing it. HR’s production, produced and directed by Tim O’Connor, doesn’t stray too far from the original Broadway version, which you can still find online. This is a good thing. When I was growing up we wore out a VHS tape of the first television broadcast of this brilliant PBS American Playhouse performance.


In 1989, from Thursday, May 23 to Saturday, May 25 the full original Broadway cast (with the exception of Cindy Robinson as Snow White instead of Jean Kelly) reunited for only three performances for the taping of the musical in its entirety for the Season 10 premiere episode of PBS’s American Playhouse and first aired on March 15, 1991. The show was filmed professionally with seven cameras on the set of the Martin Beck Theater in front of an audience with the with certain elements changed from its original nightly counterpart only slightly for the recording in order to better fit the screen rather than the stage such as the lighting, minor costume differences, and others. There were also pick up shots not filmed in front of an audience for various purposes. This video has since been released on Tape and DVD and on occasion, remastered and re-released. This video is considered to be the original Into The Woods. 


In defiance of previous, more lavish productions though, O’Connor makes a point of doing a couple of things very differently, depending largely on our imaginations and the skill of the actors, particularly in terms of the props used. Into the Woods is still one of the most challenging musicals to get right, with a complex score and a deeply nuanced book full of familiar fairytale characters making not-so-familiar decisions and changing the course of those well-known tales forever.




In a masterstroke (and a great improvement on the use of the same milling and seething and dressing device used in Jesus Christ Superstar), O’Connor establishes old-school storytelling in the style of Shakespeare’s mechanicals and retains, in the tradition of Pippin’s Leading Player, the use of the Narrator (the likeable Dean Vince) not only as storyteller, but also as a sort of master of ceremonies, seeking and presenting props, and gently persuading characters to act within the narrative bounds. He never leaves the stage…until he is pushed. The Baker (Eddie Perfect) and the Baker’s Wife (Rachael Beck) respond to the detail of his tale as he introduces it, Jack (Tom Oliver) takes from him a bicycle for a cow, Little Red Riding Hood (Kimberley Hodgson) loads him up with armfuls of bread, and Cinderella (Georgina Hopson) looks to him for reassurance as she goes to the tree in which her mother’s spirit resides (Natalie Greer). Vince is integral; he’s the golden thread weaving all characters together and should he find a little more Ben Vereen-ness by the end of the season (it’s a short one – one weekend!), he’ll serve as the perfect anchor too.


I wonder when we’ll see HR’s Pippin? I’d love to see that!



There is more movement than necessary in this production (not least during the Witch’s lament – somebody tell those stepsisters to stay perfectly still! #focus101), however; it’s without the usual impressive choreography from Callum Mansfield. This can almost be forgiven for there’s very little space on stage, in fact, barely enough for the happy couples at the end of Act 1 to gallop across it. Josh McIntosh’s multi-level design forces the action downstage, with several steps leading to an upper level (above an underutilised cavern partially concealed by a hessian curtain) taking centre stage and claiming much of the space. The only characters that use the steps to good effect (and without inducing barely audible gasps of the “don’t fall!” variety) are The Baker, Cinderella and Cinderella’s Prince (Steve Hirst). With the orchestra hidden behind “the woods” (though we barely glimpse them they sound sensational under the competent hand of Jason Barry-Smith), ultimately the darker subtext of the setting is lost, as all are pushed forward into Andrew Meadows’ brighter, whiter lights.




Obviously I’m partial to the Handsome Prince archetype – I married one after all – but it’s not only this bias (and a slight resemblance to Russell Crowe in one of his better roles, in Master and Commander – must be the wig) that makes Hirst memorable. He nails it, and does a decent job of the Wolf as well, losing none of the original dark intent of this role, a flicker of the other, particularly in the physicality, and presenting a fine match for Hodgson’s spunky Little Red. Hirst’s sonorous vocals and confidant comedy (tongue placed firmly in cheek) are reminiscent of his Sir Galahad, of course, and are perfectly suited here. Despite being glossed over (for the sake of the children, just as Jack’s song seems to be?), his moment in the woods with Beck is delightful, and predictable in every arrogant male conquest sense of the word (insert eye roll here). By making a little a lot more of his princely entrances and exits he might have an award nom worthy body of work. Just saying.




It’s true that Hodgson has the plum role and in it she too is a stand out, absolutely gorgeous and genuinely hilarious, landing on every one-liner, providing much of Sondheim’s carefully placed light relief and witty wickedness in the only truly original take on a character in this production. Hodgson brings the moral tale intact but it’s repackaged for a new audience, fresh and funny and poignant. A graduate in 2013, Hodgson represents the bright talent and intuitive approach to performance that the Queensland Conservatorium of Music is nurturing under the guidance of Paul Sabey and co.




Another Qld Con grad (2014) and a finalist for this year’s Rob Guest Endowment Award, the disarmingly lovely Hopson effortlessly carries the Cinderella story and gives us one of the most insightful and mature readings ever of On the Steps of the Palace, which is no mean feat! Hopson, both vocally and emotionally, handles one of Sondheim’s greater musical challenges with care and consideration for this character’s decision making process. As well as some sweet moments between she and Beck (A Very Nice Prince), Hopson sets up Cinderella’s part in the relationship with the Prince, preparing us nicely for their inevitable (agreeable) decision to go their separate ways, as some of us must.




Eddie Perfect, Rachael Beck (these two really are lovely together), Penny Farrow and Tom Oliver also work just beyond stereotypes to bring us the reality of being childless and penniless, although Oliver would do well to drop the accent and give us the Australian voiced adult version of Giants In the Sky, which might give us a greater arc between the initial wonder and final realisation (and satisfaction) of Jack…and a valid reason to view him as Dash Kruck’s only real competition for the title role if there were to be a professional production of Pippin in the future. JUST SAYING.




Now, will we talk about the tall, leggy, sparkly elephant in the room? I love Rhonda Burchmore, but not in this role. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time of casting, but perhaps more through misdirection than any of her own choices (who ever really knows?), a commedia-esque mask in Act 1 (concealing desperately needed complex emotions) and too-too-too-high heels in Act 2 (making a comedy of each entrance and exit) make it difficult for Burchmore to really sell the nuances of this role. So many moments fall flat and there is no wide-eyed, amazed applause after her part in the Prologue or Last Midnight, which should retain an element of surprise, just as the transformation should, regardless of the number of times we’ve seen the show. Despite Natalie Greer’s work as Rapunzel, even Stay With Me somehow misses the mark. The role, rather than being approached as an extension or manifestation of some aspect of the performer, is treated as a star vehicle and the show is the poorer for it.


A friend commented after the show about Into the Woods being such a great ensemble piece, and with so many on stage there’s not really one who shines…but the Witch should shine and her presence should be felt even after she’s gone. We should be moved beyond words, horrified and full of feeling for the woman who fails so miserably at motherhood. Burchmore has the hardness but not the vulnerability or tenderness that even the wickedest witches among us must feel. Perhaps this Witch would have felt more comfortable on stage – and on those steps – in her Camilla kaftan and flat gold sandals, which were donned for the after party.




Outside of some of the performances, there’s little magic in Harvest Rain’s production, though the “simple and rudimentary” approach to the storytelling is a far cry from explaining it. After the light and breezy feel of Act 1 we’re left with the darker aspects of the story – of life – but not in any real, raw sense. When it comes to Harvest Rain I can never quite put my finger on what’s missing but here’s another example. The Mysterious Man (Ron Kelly) employs an inexplicable nasal tone throughout (and sports a blanket?! I can’t even…) until he reveals who he really is, a moment that becomes a missed opportunity between father and son while they are separated by physical distance, destroying any chance of a tangible connection for us to tap into (No More). Similar proximity between Jack and The Baker separates them at the very moment they need to be drawn together, as Cinderella and Little Red are (No One Is Alone). These are the inconsistencies now commonplace in O’Connor’s productions. For some unknown reason, he continues to miss vital moments in storytelling and relationships, as if the intimacy is too much. And yet, once again, this is an entertaining, enjoyable show, boasting considerable talent and perfectly suitable for the whole family. Who am I to question odd staging decisions?


There’s no denying the awesome effort that has gone into building the company, from its humble church hall beginnings to its current status as a formidable professional presenting brand, incredibly, without government assistance (though not for much longer, I’m sure), but let’s see casting challenges met and the bar continue to be raised. Cheers and here’s to the upcoming (Spectacular Spectacular) Hairspray!


Two midnights gone! And just 4 more shows – today at 2pm & 7:30pm and tomorrow at 1pm & 6:30pm.



Queensland Theatre Company Welcomes New Artistic Director, Sam Strong


QTC Welcomes New Artistic Director, Sam Strong




A week after unveiling a much anticipated Season 2016 anchored by an important world premiere and a mainstage program featuring tales of change, Queensland Theatre Company (QTC) has announced their new Artistic Director will be one of Australia’s leading theatre directors and arts leaders, Sam Strong.


Sam has been the Associate Artistic Director of Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) since 2013 and is also currently Chair of Brisbane-based Circa. At MTC, Sam has directed multiple sold-out productions, reached a paid audience of over 145,000 people and directed the mainstage theatrical debuts of visual artist Callum Morton and screen comedy legends Working Dog. To say the team at QTC is excited is an understatement.


“After a national search we are absolutely delighted to be welcoming Sam Strong to lead this company artistically,” said QTC Executive Director, Sue Donnelly.  “Sam has carved out a stellar career in Sydney and Melbourne, making critically and commercially successful theatre as a director, and growing the audiences at Griffin Theatre company as artistic director,” Ms Donnelly said.


QTC Chair Richard Fotheringham said audiences were set for a rich adventure ahead. “On the back of launching our Season 2016 program last week which stars 10 powerful productions as well as another incredibly strong touring program nationally, we can now celebrate the appointment of Sam Strong; what a wonderful future QTC audiences can look forward to,”Mr Fotheringham said.


Ms Donnelly paid tribute to outgoing Artistic Director Wesley Enoch who departs to take up the baton at Sydney Festival. “Wesley Enoch introduced a new era of passion to QTC; a champion of local and Indigenous productions.  He has launched world and Australian premieres and shone the light on important actors, directors and causes. His work with Black Diggers was inspirational, and he was pivotal in bringing Michael Attenborough to Australia to direct Macbeth 18 months ago. The importance of his legacy at QTC cannot be quantified and we look forward to many collaborations with him in the future,” Ms Donnelly said.


On his appointment, Sam Strong said: “I’m delighted to be taking on the challenge of Artistic Director of the Queensland Theatre Company. Wesley Enoch is an artist and a cultural leader I admire and it’s a rare gift to inherit a company in as great a shape – artistically and operationally – as QTC.”


“I’m excited about working with Sue Donnelly and the team to take the company to even greater heights. QTC is already a national leader in touring, Indigenous programming and working with young people. I want to grow this reputation and make QTC a national leader in everything it does,” Mr Strong said.


On moving to Queensland, Strong said Queensland represented a wealth of creative talent, one which he was thrilled to be working with. “My time with Circa has whetted my appetite to work in Queensland and with Queensland artists and I can’t wait to plunge myself into the Brisbane scene. I’m looking forward to teaming up with Queensland artists to take our theatre around the state, around the nation and around the world,” Mr Strong  said.


Prior to MTC, Sam was Artistic Director of Australia’s new writing theatre, Griffin Theatre Company. At Griffin, Sam tripled subscribers, expanded the program to include the revival of Australian classics, and directed the highest selling show in the company’s 35-year history. Prior to Griffin, he was the Literary Associate at Company B Belvoir, and the dramaturg in residence at Red Stitch Actors Theatre, where he co-founded Red Stitch Writers.


Sam won Best Direction of a Mainstage Production for The Floating World at the 2013 Sydney Theatre Awards, and has received multiple nominations for Best Direction at the Sydney Theatre Awards, the Greenroom Awards, and the Helpmann Awards.


He has directed many of Australia’s leading actors including Justine Clarke, Lucy Durack, Colin Friels, Noni Hazlehurst, Asher Keddie, Lachy Hulme, Robyn Nevin, Josh McConville, Luke Mullins, Pamela Rabe, Kat Stewart, Erik Thomson, Hugo Weaving, and David Wenham.


Sam’s directing credits include: Masquerade (Sydney Festival/Griffin/STSA/Melbourne Festival); The Weir, Endgame, The Sublime, The Speechmaker, Private Lives, The Crucible, Other Desert Cities and Madagascar (Melbourne Theatre Company); Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Sydney Theatre Company); The Boys (Sydney Festival/Griffin); The Floating World,  Between Two Waves, And No More Shall We Part and Speaking in Tongues (Griffin); The Power of Yes (Company B Belvoir); Red Sky Morning, Faces in the Crowd (Red Stitch) and Thom Pain (based on nothing) (B Sharp).


Sam joins QTC from November this year.





Sam Strong & Sam Coward 2008




The Theory of Everything




The Theory of Everything

Brisbane Festival & Nuala Furtado

La Boite Studio

September 15 – 19 2015


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


Ants have had a bad wrap in this show.




I’ve been listening to Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators, a fascinating account of some of the greatest minds of our pre-digital age. This has everything and nothing to do with the show I saw on Friday night.


It is destined to be the standard history of the digital revolution and an indispensable guide to how innovation really happens. What were the talents that allowed certain inventors and entrepreneurs to turn their visionary ideas into disruptive realities? What led to their creative leaps? Why did some succeed and others fail?


I raced down to Brisbane Festival’s Theatre Republic on Friday evening to see the sold-out The Theory of Everything instead of staying at school to see a student’s debut cabaret production that night. I was seeing The Theory of Everything instead of sending another writer to review it because the show’s creators wanted to be considered for Matilda Award selection. Originally, I’d planned to see it on the Wednesday night but it clashed with another consideration, ACPA’s SOUL cabaret at The Coffee Club in West End. (To clarify, student productions are ineligible for the Matilda Awards but we are looking at entertainment options for the Awards evening in March). So I went and enjoyed some great company and a relaxed evening of soul music, a mixed bag of performances, directed by their groovy tutor and Music HOD, Nathaniel Andrew, and ended up at The Theory of Everything on Friday night.




Thomas Quirk’s The Theory of Everything sold out before it opened and on the strength of the artists involved, and due to its inclusion in the Brisbane Festival program, I had high expectations. Others may not be quite as disappointed but I feel this production misses the mark. I also feel really, really old in saying so because younger people will likely love this show and say I’m on crack. I know the artists involved love this show because it comes through without exception in their delightful, vibrant performances and that, at least, is something. This collective represents the next wave of talented and hardworking performing artists in Brisbane. They’re honest and bold and brilliantly ambitious, but despite their individual and collective readiness to bring us something new and amazing, the show falls well below expectations.


It’s enjoyed a development phase already and this season is perhaps necessarily its second. At worst, it’s prime material for a culminating event at a senior drama workshop and at best, an interesting theatrical experiment. That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable, it just isn’t mind blowing.




Staged in the intimate surrounds of La Boite’s rehearsal studio within the partial timber framework of an unknown structure, the performers mill around as the audience enters, stretching, preparing, and shredding what appears to be the pages of the script…


We’re actors. Standing in a line.


Actors standing in a line in an array of Mix Apparel style pastels (Yvette Turnbull). Um… Anyway, in a Horrible Histories/Epic Rap Battles of History segment, we hear from famous historical figures including Aristotle, Einstein, Freud, Warhol and Hitler about their theories on life and the universe. In what I thought was sure to be a segment inspired by the opening number in I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, we get a painstaking re-telling of Cain and Abel, which would be unbearable if it were not for the comical request from one of the actors to stop, clarify, and repeat the entire scene from the start! N.B. no singing happens during this segment. This reminded me of the absurd nature of Sunday school tasks, having to learn the books of the Bible in the correct order. There were stickers and bookmarks and other prizes up for grabs. I don’t remember winning them or not.



Can we just go back? Back to the beginning?!


The most memorable moments of the show come from Katy Cotter, during an eloquently penned and delivered monologue contemplating language (this is one of the more accomplished of the written pieces), and later, a light-hearted and yet deeply soulful dialogue with Chris Farrell, sitting on the floor in near darkness discussing the speed of light and eternal happiness. These moments carry more weight than the earlier extrapolation on any theory in particular, and are genuinely affecting.


The use of sound (Wil Hughes) and light particularly (Daniel Anderson) is simple and effective. Anderson’s design uses caged light bulbs manipulated by the actors, and headlamps worn by the actors in an otherwise dark space. Outer space has never been so simply created, with the employment of slow motion lifts and a well choreographed sequence of headlamps flicking on and off to shift focus. Again, an interruption, and the consideration and verbalisation of the theatrical devices in use – the meta-chat – incorporated to make us feel…something.


The Theory of Everything certainly works on some levels and it’s an excellent example of a near pitch-perfect ensemble but it was probably a mistake to make sure Matilda Award judges got to this version of it. It’s so important that we support new, experimental theatre, but it’s not essential that we award it or rave about it. When the raves come unwarranted it can do more harm than good. The Theory of Everything will have divided audiences and there’s nothing wrong with that. For me, it was an appropriate end to a week of student theatre, which included yr10 theatresports, yr12 absurdist assessment and SOUL. There’s another week of Brisbane Festival events to come but I presume my experience this year has finished with Quirk’s undercooked production.




There is always such a fuss over Brisbane Festival tickets. The venues, companies and individual presenters all year round are very accommodating; everyone appreciates a timely and thoughtful review. But the Brisbane performing arts scene becomes a vastly different landscape each September when one publicity agency holds all the cards and deals them indiscriminately.


I don’t begrudge the interstate writers being accommodated – of course their voices are a vital part of the broader landscape and a bigger conversation, hopefully attracting further interest in the program and greater numbers of attendees from outside Queensland. But for the past three years, despite a number of shows professing to be “sold out”, we’ve seen many empty seats in venues rather than reviewers or Matilda Award judges filling those seats. It’s astounding. Considering the amazing publicity the same company does to promote the festival there should at least be some truth to their “sold out” claims. It just doesn’t make sense to have empty seats.


The Theory of Everything genuinely, actually SOLD OUT. If it comes around again, better book early and let me know what you think.



Hot Brown Honey




Hot Brown Honey

Brisbane Festival & Briefs Factory

In Association with Judith Wright Centre

Judith Wright Centre Performance Space

September 16 – 26 2015


Reviewed by Amanda Murrell




After paying tribute to the traditional custodians of country, and deeply honouring ancestors and the great women who have come before us to light the path, the Honeys deliver radical anti-racist entertainment that smashes the alabaster pedestal of privilege and would have made old Aunty Judy Wright, whose namesake is the theatre in which they perform, very proud.




The show treats the crowd to the full effect of “Honey posse”, with more costume tear-aways than Ru Paul’s Drag Race and equal amounts of pride. From hip hop garb to cultural dress to work outfits, showcasing a dozen different flavours of glamour and varying degrees of undress, this production is a visual feast. But more than that, it’s a call for respect; from the first number, which incorporates the graceful shedding of the Union Jack to the Honeys’ final cavort through an appreciative audience.




Highlights include an ensemble dance number to a soundscape that uses excerpts from the savvy and insightful Unpacking the Knapsack of Privilege (Can I get a “hell yeah!?”), the full-tilt boogie Don’t Touch My Hair, Darwin’s Indigenous drag diva’s perfect impersonation of Peter Garret’s dance moves, beatbox songs of hope, and a chilling rope performance prefaced by a recording of a domestic violence call to emergency services.




The Honeys pull no punches in creating a strong, proud, perfectly executed performance that celebrates brown girl strength and breaks down ignorance.

As hard hitting as the show’s message is, the blows are soothed by humour, humility and the performers’ vulnerability. If you don’t catch their next shows, you’re too white for words.




HOT BROWN HONEY BURLESQUE taster from polytoxic on Vimeo.



Queensland Theatre Company’s Season 2016


tales of change – 10 powerful productions – the best Australian writing – top Australian talent





Queensland Theatre Company (QTC) has revealed its highly anticipated Season 2016 featuring 10 powerful productions, including the world premiere of The Wider Earth, a groundbreaking collaboration between QTC and Dead Puppet Society. From Molière and Shakespeare, to local stories from around the corner, international masterpieces and the best Australian writing, QTC is set to celebrate ambition and achievement.


In unveiling his final season before he departs for Sydney Festival, QTC Artistic Director Wesley Enoch said 2016 would engage and challenge on the need for bravery and moral fortitude in shifting times, providing a forum for debate, diversity and the driving of change.


Art is nothing if it doesn’t make you feel.




Season 2016 opens in January at the Playhouse with the devilishly funny comedy that journeys into old age, Quartet. Writer Ronald Harwood takes on retirement with tenderness, grace and hope – but no self-pity – in this moving and all too truthful tale of the frustrations and fears of getting old. Andrea Moor, fresh from directing the smash hits Grounded and Venus in Fur pulls the stage strings while actors Christine Amor, Andrew McFarlane, Trevor Stuart and Kate Wilson thoroughly enjoy themselves in this bawdy romp through the golden years. The show will then go on to tour regional Queensland.


He saw the smoke from the nearby ridge. He knew what it meant. Someone was coming.




Based on the award-winning novel by Kate Grenville, the acclaimed The Secret River, winner of six Helpmann Awards including Best Play, Best Direction and Best New Australian Work, is a powerful story of the bloody beginnings of colonial Australia, when pardoned convicts clashed with the traditional owners of the land they settled. The Sydney Theatre Company production brings together celebrated Australian director Neil Armfield and adaptor Andrew Bovell, with actors Nathaniel Dean, Trevor Jamieson, Matthew Sunderland and Ningali Lawford-Wolf to tell the deeply moving tale of two families divided by culture and land in this showstopping Queensland premiere.



Here’s an interesting read before you go Googling those Sydney reviews…and this, which I thought I’d remembered reading at the time; an excellent piece from James Waites. In this case, I recommend reading the comments as well…


Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps!




In April, QTC presents Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Jason Klarwein, with Ellen Bailey and Tama Matheson as the young starry-eyed couple, leading an all-star cast featuring Christen O’Leary, Hugh Parker and Bryan Probets. This romantic sparring is the tale of two pairs of very different sweethearts starring some of the best acting talent in the country.


Love is what interests me. And love is indivisible from murder.




In May, QTC leaves the Playhouse until October, making its home in the Bille Brown Studio (BBS). From award- winning Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith comes Switzerland, a stunning new two-hander starring Andrea Moor, in an effortless move from director to on-stage lead. This is a theatrical thriller with famed author Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley) centre stage, having to pen one last devastatingly brilliant book.


Send a trained naturalist into the field and every new discovery will reassure him of what he already thinks he knows. Send a young man who knows nothing, and there’s no telling what he might find.


It’s just a simple thing, but it might just explain the whole world.




In July, QTC and Dead Puppet Society, in another ground-breaking collaboration, will stage the world premiere of The Wider Earth, a coming-of-age story about science and faith that recounts the tale of a younger Charles Darwin’s voyage on the HMS Beagle.


The Wider Earth will be a piece of visual theatre, placing strong emphasis on the staging and use of theatrical devices to paint our own vision of Darwin’s world. That means puppets – a lot of them. More than we’ve ever made before. At the moment, our plans for the production include more than 30. From tiny beetles to southern right whales, to the iconic Galapagos turtles. We’re excited that this work will bring human performers and our trademark puppet characters together in a meaningful way that isn’t often seen in mainstream theatre,” said David Morton from Dead Puppet Society, who penned The Wider Earth and will also direct and design.


Our story is one of breaking down barriers. Of inclusion, not exclusion……Because what you do is more important than what you believe.




St Mary’s in Exile opens at the Bille Brown Studio on August 27 and is a tale that would be beyond belief if it wasn’t true. Gripping and inspirational, the play strikes close to home, telling the story of beloved priest, Father Peter Kennedy, excommunicated from St Mary’s in South Brisbane for preaching acceptance and equality. Written by acclaimed Brisbane playwright David Burton, the show will shock and inspire, with a star-studded cast that includes Chenoa Deemal and Caroline Kennison, under director Jason Klarwein, also moving from actor to director seamlessly in Season 2016.


It comes from you. Islam has no monopoly on fundamentalism. It doesn’t come from a text.




Novelist and screen writer Ayad Akhtar’s dynamite theatrical debut, Disgraced, comes to the Playhouse from Melbourne Theatre Company in October. The Pulitzer Prize-winning drama is a stirring tale that poses challenging questions about identity, tribalism and the fragility of friendships and will be directed by Nadia Tass, and includes the wonderful Mitchell Butel.


True, it is something altogether scandalous. A stranger in the house with no idea how to handle us; He arrives with no shoes, his clothes not worth a cracker. No sooner in the door, than he starts to wag his tail.




Proving that centuries old tales still have the power to resonate with audiences, Tartuffe is a bawdy play about power, hypocrisy and gullibility, pillorying religious fanaticism and moral weakness. Adapted by Justin Fleming from French playwright Moliere’s sinfully brilliant 17th century comedy, it demonstrates that perhaps modern attitudes haven’t changed as much as we think. Ribald and riotously irreverent, Tartuffe is a co-production with Perth’s Black Swan Theatre Company and features stage darlings Darren Gilshenan, Hugh Parker, Rose Reilly, Steve Turner, Alison Van Reeken and Alex Williams.


The Territory’s like a bastard child. Everyone’s got an opinion on how it should be brought up, but no one wants to stick around long enough to do it.




A little newer to Australian theatre is Bastard Territory, a confessional human drama about identity. This new Australian play from Brisbane-based writer Stephen Carleton, Bastard Territory mixes wry humour, raw insight and a killer 60s and 70s soundtrack, along with the talents of Benhur Helwend, Suellen Maunder and Peter Norton, for a powerful and affecting tale, directed by Ian Lawson.


When we left Russia, we didn’t look backwards. We held each other’s hands and we jumped, trusting we’d land safely.




The finale for the 2016 Season is an elegant and sophisticated work. Based on fact, the epic and intimate Motherland is from Brisbane-based writer Katherine Lyall-Watson, and was recognised as a Patrick White Playwright’s Award Finalist. A tapestry of displacement and identity, it explores the casualties of love, ambition and politics.



Artistic Director Wesley Enoch said 2016 season was a collection of love letters to artists and audiences.


“There are shows that represent the plethora of conversations we have been having over the past four years and the wonderful rapport that we have been developing,” he said. “Theatre is a sacred place where opposing ideas are argued out to create drama, a place where audiences continue the discussion outside the theatre and where those ideas can take root in social movements. We all have examples of drama that changed our opinions, informed our positions or frustrated us. That is the joy of theatre; one of the last places where we can openly debate, be engaged and entertained.”


Now in its 45th year, QTC has a long history of performances that have engaged, entertained and sparked debate, and Season 2016 promises to celebrate diverse ideas.


The season announced today leads a full program of touring, education, children’s shows and more.








Brisbane Festival & The Courier-Mail

The Courier-Mail Piazza

September 11 – 25 2015


Pirates of the Carabina (UK)


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


We all wanted to run away with the circus, but these are the kids who ran away with the circus and then ran away again to join the Pirates of the Carabina, a special bunch from the UK, positioning themselves far away from the establishment, and bringing a new circus sub-culture to Oz. Can we keep them???




FLOWN is an entirely new take on an eternally popular, reinvigorated form, which celebrates high above our heads, human daring and awe-inspiring achievement. The only slightly irreverent stuff that comes close is Circa (their youth performances particularly) and Chelsea McGuffin’s Company 2 (Scotch & Soda returns to the Judy in November… Don’t miss it!).


FLOWN is unique in terms of its approach to the traditional conventions, its chaotic energy, and its hipster vibe juxtaposed against surprising elegance.


Where other companies have tried and failed to pull off something so expertly nonchalant, these piratical acrobats proudly retain a sense of themselves as individuals as well as coming together as a tight-knit rebel band, literally, of multi-talented performers who know their strengths and play to them. We witness behind-the-scenes catastrophe and terrific comedy in the on-stage shenanigans, and these elements have the audience in stitches as well as gasping in horror/mock horror – was something supposed to fall or not?!


The circus acts form the basis of a loose narrative: the company makes a concerted effort to put on a show, despite frequent disaster. Monologues delivered by cast members break up the acts by putting voice to random thoughts and memories about the circus. (The whole premise of talking to us has already been established by a woman dressed in theatre blacks, who offers in the tradition of Hamlet to the Players in Act 3 Scene 2, her “Director’s Notes” before the show starts).


It’s an exercise in neatly conceived contrast. The delight inspired by a miniature horse drawn chariot, which appears for no particular reason, plays sharply against the surreal beauty of a mischievous flying floor lamp, or a length of white fabric amassed before a robust tissu act is performed. For some reason the cascading tissu elicits an emotional response that catches me off guard. Is it the music? The imagery? This is not the only moment of beauty to creep up and take me by surprise…




Shaena Brandel’s counterweighted aerial hoop duet with Barnz Munn, the most extraordinarily captivating aerial rigger ever, amazes, not least because it involves an ironing board, which has previously been played and ironed upon. She makes me think of Essie Davis as Miss Fisher and Lizzie Moore as herself, her loveliness made all the more alluring in the crescent of her swinging, spinning, silvery full moon and a sweet moment stolen by Munn.



Performed by the petite Laura Moy (and Munn), a counterweighted flying pole act is beyond beautiful; serene and overflowing with the sensation of flying, even for us, transfixed in our seats. Another more traditional pole act becomes a thrilling, gravity defying pas de deux.



A high wire act featuring the too-cool-for-school Ellis Grover showcases not only his perfect balance but also his knack for casually playing harmonica and chatting away about life-changing childhood experiences from a great height. He quips, “This is as hard as it looks!” Not only that, but he’s the drummer in the band! A class act, this guy proves that playing around and swinging on chairs in the classroom can pay off!




Tia Kalmaru seduces and stuns old-school Tori (faery) Amos / Jesca Hoop style, with her vocal and instrumental versatility, fitting in and standing out like a pin-up storyteller rock star. Her monologue is delivered in her native Welsh – pure magic – and she too flies for the finale, looking completely at home playing electric guitar mid-air.




The entire show feels like it was created at Woodford Folk Festival over several years, in between Circadia gigs, Pineapple Bar drinks and post-show recovery brekky antics on the Village Green just for fun and then, one day, magically, funding allowed it to fly free and travel the world! (#everyartistsdream)!


The soundtrack is sensational – you can purchase the CD and relive the experience at home. Or, if you miss it, imagine it and wish you’d seen it for yourself. But it’s not too late, you can still catch it…this festival run won’t finish until Saturday 25! Book online.


FLOWN is a joyous, momentous circus event. It will delight, surprise and inspire the whole family. If only I had time in my life to see it again…often.




Prize Fighter




Prize Fighter

Brisbane Festival & La Boite

Roundhouse Theatre

September 5 – 26 2015


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


These are the shows we don’t get to see… We don’t get to see these shows on the Australian stage.

Future. D. Fidel


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

Todd Macdonald



September sees Brisbane immersed in the most incredible, inspiring and life-affirming stories, with a Brisbane Festival prelude brought to us by Brisbane Writers Festival, which I’ve enjoyed for the last three years, thanks to Cinnamon Watson Publicity (#tweetingit #xsneverstops). One of the highlights of this year’s Brisbane Writers Festival was hearing Somalian refugee, Abdi Aden, speak about his incredible journey from Mogadishu to Kenya and back to Mogadishu before escaping the horrors of his home country and travelling to Australia via Romania and Germany without family, friends, money or any knowledge of the English language. Abdi not only survived, he thrived. You can read his inspiring story in Shining The Story of a Lucky Man. Like Abdi, La Boite’s Artist-in-Residence, Future D. Fidel, has come from the most frightening of circumstances to settle in Australia and succeed in creating a new life in a safe haven.


His story is one of resilience, endurance, ambition and humble gratitude.


When you come into the theater, you have to be willing to say, “We’re all here to undergo a communion, to find out what is going on in this world.” If you’re not willing to say that, what you get is entertainment instead of art, and poor entertainment at that.

― David Mamet Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama




Prize Fighter is powerful beyond measure, affecting each of us differently and challenging us to consider the stories that are the newest strands of the cultural weave of our community. This is a “mythical” story tense with the knowingness of the past, and the anticipation of what might happen in the future. It’s not a call to action or a cry for sympathy, but more a long, low sigh of personal pain and regret. It’s heavily weighted with themes of ambition, redemption and forgiveness but it’s not all miserable. It’s about recognising our starting and finishing points and doing the best we can in between. It’s about the choices we make and the paths our choices put us on.


On opening night the show starts late, a little later than usual in fact (you can usually count on a 6-8 minute delay getting into the Roundhouse), but bearing in mind we’ve enjoyed drinks and canapés for the last hour in Brisbane Festival’s funky Theatre Republic precinct, everyone is relaxed and chatty on their way in. The beautiful up-cycled space (designed by Sarah Winter) has proven difficult to leave – the vibe is fresh and fun with plenty of food and drink and friends, and live music and inspiring conversations. There are other shows opening nearby tonight too because BRISBANE FESTIVAL.




The action has already started as we file in to take our seats, and for fifteen minutes we sit in awe of the intense focus and physical activity at our feet. It’s actually mesmerising. In the front row of the Roundhouse, ringside, we see the first drops of sweat start to catch the light on well-toned black backs as the company warms up with an informal circuit session supervised by trainers from Brisbane Boxing. These guys have been an integral part of the rehearsal process but when they suddenly disappear we know the show is about to start.


A talented young boxer, Isa, is preparing for the biggest fight of his career. On the line is the national title and the promise of fame and riches beyond his wildest dreams. What unfolds is a modern-day fable of a Congolese boy orphaned by war and forced to become a child soldier by the very people who killed his family. His powerful left hook offers a new life in Australia, but his greatest obstacle is not his opponent – it’s his past.




Prize Fighter is loud and bold, with video projected onto a seamless in–the-round canvas surrounding the raised boxing ring (design by Bill Haycock & video design by optikal bloc. Sound design & original compositions by Felix Cross and lighting design by David Walters). We strain to see the images from where we are but they must be at eye level for the upper rows of the Roundhouse. From the very top rows the experience might be akin to watching ancient gladiatorial combat, the original popular art/entertainment. Movement & Fight Director, Nigel Poulton, has had his work cut out for him on this production and he doesn’t disappoint. Even without being a fan of boxing the fight sequences are exhilarating.


The final match features a live HD camera feed, as well as a logo and a hashtag. Throughout the show bright white light exposes the desire to win and the dedication to training, and a much darker state employing a red wash takes us back to Africa, when our prize fighter is just ten years old, learning to kill or be killed.




The development of the text has enjoyed support from Dramaturg, Chris Kohn, as well as other stakeholders including Michael Futcher. The structure of the work allows us to gain insight into both time frames, with the fights stopping to allow flashbacks utilising the same versatile actors in multiple roles. The technical precision from the box allowing this magic to happen is impressive and without it (and Stage Manager, Heather O’Keefe) I doubt the show, in terms of its storytelling, would work as well.


But the joy and pathos of this production is ultimately in its beautifully gauged performances (the acting is strong – it’s real, raw and honest), tenderly crafted by Director, Todd Macdonald. We know Pacharo Mzembe from The Mountaintop (also directed by Macdonald), and it’s a pleasure to see him in this role, literally flexing his muscles to play a prize fighter who doesn’t necessarily feel the need to be a champion, unlike his coach, Luke. Margi Brown Ash glows with motherly/trainerly pride (there’s nothing typically male about her apart from the name), and she grimaces for only half a moment, before compassion takes over, when overwhelming fear, guilt and the grisly past gets in between her own ambition and Isa’s success in the ring.


The tough love is real and the moments of understanding between them, the nuances of the relationship, are a joy to witness.




The ensemble is a good lesson in casting with Gideon Mzembe (yes, the just-as-gorgeous and super talented brother of Pacharo), Thuso Lekwape (a standout with that rare star quality; there is such intensity and brilliant energy in his performance), and the beautiful, soulful Sophia Emberson-Bain (she sings superbly too and presents on a silver platter some of the sweetest and cheekiest comical moments of the show). They contribute enormously to the storytelling, switching between roles at a rate of knots and taking care to show us sufficient contrast between characters. Kenneth Ransom shines as an old “Aunty” particularly, offering a perfectly timed and nicely shaped momentary breath of comedy where it’s needed to break up tragic events. There are times when the actors’ words are not as clear as they should be, but the voices are so beautiful I have to forgive them their accents (talk about authentic), and stick to absorbing the story, its melody, and the impact of what, by the end of it, is left unsaid.




In Prize Fighter, we experience one man’s personal struggles and the horror of a war affecting so many, but one which we continue to hear little about. It’s a terribly tragic and shocking story, to which most of us can’t possibly relate, but that’s why it’s vital. Prize Fighter is full of heart. It’s a story that can be appreciated for its authenticity and contemporary relevance. It might even help us to welcome other prize fighters into our communities rather than shrug our shoulders and be content to do nothing at all when they have nowhere else to go. We’re not yet so desensitised that we can walk away and forget about this one. And that makes it not just interesting festival programming or great entertainment, but life-affecting art.


…in a very real way this story is now our own.

David Berthold





And there are plays – and books and songs and poems and dances – that are perhaps upsetting or intricate or unusual, that leave you unsure, but which you think about perhaps the next day, and perhaps for a week, and perhaps for the rest of your life.


Because they aren’t clean, they aren’t neat, but there’s something in them that comes from the heart, and, so, goes to the heart.


― David Mamet Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama





Production pics by Dylan Evans Photography

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Ignoring my own advice and watching my next Danish crime thriller AFTER DARK #thekilling #forbrydelson #afterdark #netflix


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