Author Archive for Xanthe Coward

24
Mar
17

Odd Man Out

Odd Man Out

Noosa Long Weekend

In Association With Ensemble Theatre

The J Theatre, Noosa

March 23 – 25 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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David Williamson’s Odd Man Out sold out in Sydney over an eight-week season. Secure in the knowledge that it would be another smash hit for Williamson and Ensemble Theatre, Noosa Long Weekend invited the company to bring the production to The J for an exclusive pre-festival fundraising weekend (4 performances only), launching the rebrand of the festival only weeks prior.

Noosa Long Weekend Festival is now Noosa Alive! presenting an exciting program of world class events over 10 days in July.

Williamson’s success is unparalleled in this country. His work not only reflects the many aspects of our individual lives and the broader societal values to which we subscribe but also, it brings to light the little details of our relationships, our connections with other humans. Always funny, always touching, always extremely intelligent, examining all the things we think we should be getting right and all the things we know are not right with the world, Williamson is a master of making misfortune a gift. We see his characters expand and grow in the advent of disaster rather than be defeated by life’s difficulties.

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While Anna Gardiner’s design (lit by Christopher Page) is contemporary and suitably symbolic, at times it feels almost too sterile, which is perhaps the point: it suits every scene and our focus remains on the performers. Alistair Wallace’s soundscape adds an interesting dimension, most effectively incorporated into the second act to up the pace and underpin the absurd comedy act required of Ryan in each new social situation. 

When a production is mediocre we don’t take much away from it (except perhaps a thought that we’ll not see that company again for a while, just while they work themselves out!). But when the actors excel in bringing a terrific, insightful script to life, we experience a degree of what the characters on stage are going through. This shared empathy is part of what makes live theatre so special, so vital, and how it’s possible to invest so much emotionally in what’s essentially a cute little love story. In the case of Odd Man Out, the story is much larger, and we feel more deeply than we expected to for Ryan, a high-functioning autistic physicist, and for Alice, a physiotherapist with a ticking biological clock; we quickly became complicit in her attempts to change Ryan, in a frustrating journey through life and love.

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In creating Alice, Lisa Gormley has discovered something beautifully gentle and natural, and building on it gradually, layer by layer, she develops incredible strength and purpose so that we understand completely by the end of the play, her unfailing love for Ryan and her determination to support him, in spite of the challenges he continuously throws at her. We see her undergoing the kind of transformation that can only come from a place of whole-hearted love and unwavering kindness. This role might be wasted on anyone else but Gormley gives Alice the necessary warmth and depth, and good natured sense of humour to enable us to believe in her crazy pursuit of happily ever after with a guy who seems incapable of understanding her needs, or communicating his own.

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Williamson has said to me that Justin Stewart Cotta (Dream Homes’s memorable “Lion of Lebanon”) is one of our finest stage actors – high praise indeed; I’d seen the proof of it during our brief rehearsal period and limited run of that production, directed by the playwright, for Noosa Long Weekend Festival 2015 – and in Odd Man Out we see once again, Cotta’s knack for nailing a challenging character, bringing to this complex role a heartbreaking vulnerability that might remind you of Noah Taylor and/or Geoffrey Rush in Shine, and well-studied idiosyncrasies, which are likened in the play to Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond in Rainman. And in this moment, Williamson very succinctly makes a point about our lack of references in the mainstream, since the release of Rainman, to Autism Spectrum Disorder. In recent years we’ve seen a bit of a run on bipolar and depression and dementia in the movies, however; unlike sitting in a cinema and feeling somewhat removed from the situation, when we’re just metres away from the humans having to find a way to live with a mental illness or developmental condition in a world that doesn’t offer much assistance, we can’t help but feel for them, and wonder how, given the same set of circumstances, we might behave.

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Ryan is hyper-intelligent but emotionally stunted and socially anxious, and innocently offends everyone with whom he comes into contact, including Alice, his sharp wit and honest observations providing the play’s funniest and most uncomfortable moments. An awkward and highly entertaining scene involving good friends and wine (or is that friends and good wine?) puts the approach to the test with hilarious results. But without support from her parents or friends (that gorgeous Rachel Gordon as best friend Carla, let’s face it, is far more bitch than BFF), Alice has had to find a way to teach Ryan a new way to present himself to the world. The consequences are disastrous, giving us a mother of a monologue from Cotta, just in case we weren’t already convinced of his utter conviction in the role. These two bare their souls and connect with such genuine honesty and intimacy that we can’t help but be moved. A friend told me after the show that for him, in Ryan and Alice he saw his parents’ relationship, Autism included. And he could see he was the child, whom Ryan and Alice can’t quite agree to have…until we find ourselves at the neat, optimistic ending (there’s no spoiler there if you’re familiar with Williamson’s unashamedly, cleverly crowd-pleasing style). Look, there may have been a few tears shed.

Gordon, Gael Ballantyne, Bill Young, and Matt Minto beautifully flesh out the secondary characters, but this show rightly belongs to the effervescent Gormley, and to Cotta, in his most honest, detailed and nuanced work to date.

A Williamson play is always such a gift to actors and audiences, and this one, his best yet, so sensitively directed by Ensemble’s Artistic Director, Mark Kilmurry, offers greater insight than ever into the way humans behave and successfully – or not at all – relate to one another. 

21
Mar
17

My Fair Lady

My Fair Lady

Opera Australia & John Frost

QPAC Lyric Theatre

March 19 – April 30 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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How long has it been since you saw a show that left you singing its divine melodies and dancing on air for days afterwards? Dame Julie Andrews’ production of Lerner and Lowe’s much-loved classic musical, My Fair Lady, is that show; it’s flawless. Beautifully realised to commemorate and celebrate the original incarnation of the “perfect musical”, this is a superb production, “deliriously joyous”, and the most visually stunning piece we’re likely to see on QPAC’s Lyric stage this year.

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In reimagining the original design concepts and colour palettes by Cecil Beaton (costumes), Oliver Smith (set) and Abe Feder (lighting), this world class creative team have surpassed anything we’ve seen yet in a revival on an Australian stage. Richard Pilbrow’s lighting states take us from the dim, dusty, overcrowded streets of London to the warm golden glow of the richly furnished terrace houses, to the bright natural daylight of Ascot and a sparkling chandelier-lit ballroom. And oh, those chandeliers! Row after row, cascading down upon us in waves from the Gods to settle above the swirling dancers en masse at the Embassy Ball. This slick transition avoids a lengthy blackout and serves as a splendid reminder that if one has the good taste and sense to do the right thing with it, great wealth brings beauty and privilege (and potentially, slick scene changes).

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Oliver Smith’s glorious set, with its dual revolves, high ceilings, ornate finishes and delicately painted backdrops, as well as the welcome inclusion of a motor vehicle for Mrs Higgins (you’ll find the detail behind this inspired choice in the program notes), meld the old and the new, honouring the fine traditions of the English and American theatre and drawing on the latest technology to make everything exquisitely beautiful and functional. Consistently applied, the latter could probably slice 15 minutes off the running time…

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Cecil Beaton’s costumes are magnificently recreated by John David Ridge, who assures us, having seen a great many My Fair Lady revivals, “not one set of designs has managed to erase the memory of Mr Beaton’s original.” Tones, textures, accessories and silhouettes are all perfectly realised. The famous black and white Ascot scene is by far the best we’ve seen, scintillating in its arrogance and elegance, especially in stillness. It stops the audience short in a collective gasp of awe and delight.

A bold ensemble brings to life the boisterous, colourful characters inhabiting Eliza’s old world and the poised high society types of the new. It must be one of the largest companies we’ve seen on this stage, a new edition of the combined little black books of Lyndon Terracini’s and John Frost’s vast networks to create the look and sound they’ve been chasing since the series of smash hit co-pros commenced with South Pacific (followed by  The King and I and Anything Goes). This is where opera and musical theatre must continue to meet, with all the elements coming together in perfect alchemy to create productions with finesse (and not just flaunted, coveted, overblown budgets) and thus, even broader global appeal. The formula will surely mean the eventual success of the long-awaited (recently {ish} postponed) Jekyll and Hyde… We can remain optimistic, at least.

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There are really no stand-outs in this exceptional ensemble, but having said that, I couldn’t help be drawn time and time again to the lively, lovely faces of Georgina Hopson, Holly Meegan, Octavia Barron Martin, Elisa Colla and Erin James (Dance Captain). And the ‘loverly’ Cockneys (Matt Heyward, Todd Keys, Joel Parnis and Glen Hogstrom), bringing warm, rich harmonies and a touch of class to the Covent Garden exterior, perhaps reminding us that we’re not so different from each other, but we’ve been “carefully taught” to believe otherwise. The ensemble provide an underscore of genuine humanity and joy. We see them making do with what they’ve got and aspiring to some small, immensely satisfying achievement somewhere along the trajectory of their humble lives. While this may be a slightly romanticised view, we do get a sense that rather than miserably and regrettably settling for less, these humble people have embraced the “less is more” edict and that’s not a bad thing for a flashy musical to subtly show us.

Eliza’s cursory return to the flower markets in the final minutes of the show, at which point she’s taken for a “lady”, unrecognised and unknown to the people on the streets (although they continue to whistle her song), is a poignant reminder that some simply must choose something more, or anything other, than the ordinary. Julie Andrews’ attention to detail paired with George Bernard Shaw’s knack, in the original text, for juxtaposing the extremes of society at the time – apparent at any time in history – must account for the truths apparent in these complex, full company scenes, choreographed by the acclaimed Christopher Gatelli. With an eye for space and shape, with fitting focus on the music that lifts our souls as much as it does the dancers’ feet, Gatelli creates magic in the staging of every musical number.

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Glen Hogstrom (Zoltan Karpathy) and Deirdre Rubenstein (Mrs Pearce) offer a great deal of humour and humanity respectively, and Tony Llewellyn-Jones is a sensitive (although, appropriately, not completely sensitive) Colonel Pickering. Mark Vincent, in his second ever professional musical theatre role, embodies poor Freddy Eynsford-Hill, offering obsessive energy rooted in societal good manners, and singing On the Street Where You Live as if his petty life depends upon the appearance of Eliza at her door, which, if you’re poor petty Freddy, it does. His is a terrifically funny and sincere performance, revealing the acting chops we knew were there, behind the magnificent tenor voice.

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Reg Livermore (honestly, who else could have been considered for this role?!), is Alfred Doolittle, Eliza’s highly amusing, mildly infuriating, friendly, happy-go-lucky, lovable, mostly drunk dad. His musical numbers just about steal the show, and his characterisation, while reminiscent of Stanley Holloway’s exuberance, brings to the role a greater degree of delight and abandon. He’s an absolute joy to watch. Likewise, who else but one of my favourites, Robyn Nevin, would even cross the minds of producers and director for the role of Mrs Higgins? Nevin honours Shaw’s vision of the woman, and the sophisticated, precisely groomed, perfectly well-mannered, regal traditional take on the role, and then takes it to the next level, adding a sensational contemporary flair and a wicked wit that has to be seen and heard to be fully appreciated. She responds to her son’s deplorable behaviour mildly then firmly and finally, not unfunnily, dresses him down, as he deserves, developing in the same succession of moments, the most intimate bosom relationship with Eliza over a cup of tea in the garden. Nevin’s nuanced performance is the masterclass we knew to expect from the First Lady of the Australian theatre.

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But who would have thought we could possibly love anybody more in the leading roles than Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn (her songs dubbed by the “Voice of Hollywood”, ghost singer, Marni Nixon) in the 1964 film, the first reimagining of Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion? Well, you’d better believe it; Charles Edwards and Anna O’Byrne are sensational in this production, recreating the perfectly imperfect characters by bringing a fresh, new, high voltage energy to the relationship and unique qualities to their individual characterisations. Absolutely hilarious, Edwards is completely charismatic, surprisingly debonaire, despite his blatant misogyny, arrogance and absent-mindedness, nailing the speak-singing, a style that historically, many have loved to hate; throughout, the flow between speech and song is masterful.

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And it’s not my imagination; O’Byrne is truly reminiscent of a young Julie Andrews, in voice and poise. In the role that first made Andrews famous (on Broadway in 1956), the uncanny similarity is most apparent in O’Byrne’s simple elegance and grace with which she holds the space while the men ignore her, congratulating each other on their astounding success, having passed her off at the Embassy Ball as a foreign princess. She stands, silently forlorn and not a little bit lost, until her newly discovered self-assurance and natural tendency to fire up over the gross injustice of her situation, bubbles to the surface and she violently flings Higgins’ slippers at his head. This duality is the secret to O’Byrne’s performance, harnessing as Andrews has done, both sweetness and boldness.

I’ve always adored the ending of My Fair Lady, not knowing but knowing that these two can remain separate entities but never be separated again. Growing up and watching the film dozens of times, this relationship was preferable to so many depictions of couples in other classic musicals (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, ugh!), despite the final slipper-fetching taming of the guttersnipe/shrew. Let’s face it: penned by a man in an unenlightened era, ultimately, it’s Eliza’s choice to be tamed so let’s not get too caught up in how dare he, however; as Sam will probably sadly attest, I still can’t relate to this part of the story.

When the realisation drops in – yes! they are meant to be together! they will work it all out! – we rise to our feet, grinning, the rapturous applause and standing ovation, less often seen at QPAC than some would have you believe, absolutely heartfelt on this opening night, and we leave the theatre feeling that there is hope for the world and for all of us after all, each in our little lives! 

There is real magic in and around the staging of this stunning production; you can believe the raves and book now before the season sells out. It’s not only the “perfect musical” in terms of its book and score (a magnificent full orchestra under the musical direction of Guy Simpson and on opening night, the baton of Sunshine Coast treasure, Laura Tipoki), it’s a classic with real contemporary relevance and just enough nostalgia, just a spoonful, to make this My Fair Lady, the 60th Anniversary production, a richly rewarding, highly entertaining musical theatre experience for young and old. 

18
Mar
17

Constellations

Constellations

Queensland Theatre

Bille Brown Studio

March 9 – April 9 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

Humans are meaning makers.

Sam Strong, Artistic Director QT

 

You may have had to learn the dance routine slowly and in its component parts, but in the end, you had to let go and dance.

Howard Fine

 

The universe doesn’t care about time…

Kat Henry, Director

 

We have all the time we’ve ever, and never had.

Marianne, Constellations

 

Nick Payne’s award winning Constellations is an extraordinary play, and Kat Henry’s world class production for Queensland Theatre and Queensland Museum (and a major coup for the World Science Festival) is nothing short of astonishing, challenging actors and audiences to truly be present, live in the moment, and make the connections between seemingly random occurrences before opportunities (and loved ones) become lost to us.

Essentially, Constellations is a beautiful and complex love story, but it’s also about the choices we make and the infinite possibilities presented across ‘multiverses’.

Historically, physics has explained time chronologically, as in the “arrow of time”, charging forward in a single trajectory, however; an alternative view sees time as something immediate, infinite, without beginning or end, presenting endless opportunities. In A Time Apart, Paul Chan describes the quality, not quantity, of time as “A kind of time charged with promise and significance.” Upon further reading it becomes clear that the two types of time are entangled and while some may regard time as something to be kept, others derive greater satisfaction in its release…

The creative team behind Constellations is a scintillating meeting of minds, bringing the abstract and complexity of quantum mechanics, string theory and relativity, and the challenges of the unlikely relationship between an apiarist and an astro physicist into a reality accessible to all. (Can you lick your elbow? Try it!).

Within a deceptively simple design lies lots of clues: the dots we connect to make meaning from the play, in the same way, if we’re living mindfully, that we’re able to make meaning of our lives. Anthony Spinaze’s design draws on the visual representation of the scientific theories, the hexagonal spaces of bee hives and a smooth, shiny, deep blue undulating surface, beneath which we sense a tumultuous emotional landscape. At any given moment, the actors appear to be standing in space, or on the peak of a mountain, or within any interior indicated in the text. We are anywhere and everywhere all at once. Spinaze’s aesthetic is one of the most inspired, intelligent and effective designs we’ve seen for a long time, and so useful in terms of giving the performers a real-surreal place in which to play. 

Ben Hughes’ lighting is inherent in the design, built into the landscape and shining like streams of starlight from the wings and the rig above. The side lighting is particularly effective as we settle into the rhythm of the play and watch the relationship dance across various universes, and immensely satisfying is the final effect, covering the floor with the constellations of the title. A swirling black hole exists out of sight and yet right under our noses, continuously appearing in segments during the repeated motifs, the impressive choreography of the performers (how are they finding their marks in the dark?!) incrementally leading Roland and Marianne toward their inevitable fate. Guy Webster’s original compositions and a salient soundscape take this production into another realm, sending us at the speed of light between alternate worlds, poignant moments.

Lucas Stibbard and Jessica Tovey are perfectly cast, generously offering beautifully nuanced, incredibly rich material to one another and making every second vividly real, despite the challenges, which are more often found in film, presented by so much repetition in the text. This play could easily be a disaster of monumental proportions, and boring to boot, but Director, Kat Henry, is in possession of directorial superpowers. She employs a couple of them by crafting just enough of each vignette (we see an extraordinary 59 – or is it 60 – scenes in all), giving the actors clear boundaries, literally, within the space, delineated by lines and light, and also enough space between these boundaries and the actors’ bodies in which to allow them room to recreate each part of the story in a fresh, new way. I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like it, certainly not on a Brisbane stage. And the blocking! (Because even within these scenes, driven by impulse, there is a certain amount of direction to get them to where they need to go). 

When speaking about working on this play on Broadway, Jake Gyllenhaal observed, “There’s no moment for autopilot. It demands a constant presence,” and while this is true of every acting job, Constellations showcases the incredible skill and highly attuned instinctual natures of these two performers. To put it in a film context again, it’s as if we’re seeing every single take during a shoot, but every single take is being captured for a different film, depending on the choices made by the characters (and by the actors embodying those characters). It’s next level Sliding Doors. Bravo, Kat Henry, for diving in so deeply. We’re able to plunge the depths of human existence with Roland and Marianne, and come up for air at the end of the night in a state of serene acceptance of the tragic circumstances because, as incredibly moving and devastating as this conclusion is, we completely understand the way everything just is…and always was and always will be.

Whether or not you’re a performer, Constellations is a masterclass in staying in the present moment, applying fearless choices and responding courageously, instinctually and intentionally to whatever’s happening in a given moment.

Constellations is astonishing work; it really could change your life.

Special Event
For two evenings only, do not miss the unique opportunity to attend a performance of this critically acclaimed play, accompanied by an onstage conversation between Constellations playwright Nick Payne and World Science Festival co-founder and physicist Brian Greene.  Following the performance, Nick Payne and Brian Greene will delve into our current understanding of the multiverse, the mysteries that remain, and why this theory captivated Payne’s imagination inspiring this theatrical tour de force. This exclusive event is a collaboration between World Science Festival Brisbane and Queensland Theatre. Book online

 

10
Mar
17

Every Brilliant Thing

 

Every Brilliant Thing

QPAC, Paines Plough & Pentabus Theatre Company

QPAC Cremorne

March 8 – 11 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

#BrilliantThingsProject

Inspired by Every Brilliant Thing, we’re asking you to share one brilliant thing that you think makes life worth living. Use the #BrilliantThingsProject hashtag on Instagram or Twitter, or visit qpac.com.au/the-creatory

 

You’re seven years old. Mum’s in hospital. Dad says she’s ‘done something stupid’. She finds it hard to be happy.

You make a list of everything that’s brilliant about the world.

Everything worth living for.

Ice cream

Water fights

Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch TV

The colour yellow

Things with stripes

Rollercoasters

People falling over

 

Adapted from the short story, Sleeve Notes, based on true and untrue tales, Every Brilliant Thing is the most precious piece of theatre in the world right now. While everyone is finishing up being very angry around one corner and getting ready to be very fancy around the other (and being very funny across the river, around the corner and down the road), this little play, staged in the round in QPAC’s intimate Cremorne Theatre, is something that could potentially tour forever, such is its intimate tone and at the same time, its extensive reach and invaluable lessons in real-life gratitude, as opposed to the meme-heavy token #gratitudeporn currently flooding our social media.

Written by Duncan Macmillan and originally starring Jonny Donahue, this touring production features James Rowland, a master in non-verbal specificity and crowd control. It’s not so much a case of the traditional audience participation or interaction employed in this show but, as a friend observed after the show, the finer art of “audience integration”. Not only are we completely engaged in the story, but some are invited to be a part of the telling, and in the provision of props. Before the show begins – before it can begin – Rowland hands out pieces of paper with either multiple lines or a single word printed on each. Numbered, these are the brilliant things of the title, thousands upon thousands of them, creating a list of everything worth living for. The joy is in the detail, and the tragedy contained between these lines, embedded in the silences. Rowland holds space for us to consider every brilliant thing, and contemplate what might be on our own lists.

There is magic in so many moments, including listing the items themselves (and we never grow tired of hearing number one: ice cream), and the scenes in which the audience members assist.  For example, the awkward moment when a young front row fellow laughs nervously whilst delivering a lethal dose to the dog, Ronnie Barker. As the vet probably shouldn’t find the situation funny, he’s asked to play out the scene a second time, and it’s surprisingly – but not – absolutely devastating. And when the primary school teacher and school counsellor, Mrs Patterson, removes a shoe and a sock because she was directed to do so in a previous scene requiring a sock puppet and thus, next time she is called upon, already knows the drill. This is sweet and funny as the latter scene takes place some 10 years after the first. The most affecting interaction though, is when a gentleman plays the son (and then later, in a clever turn, the father), as Rowland imagines the answers to a child’s innocent and persistent stream of “Why?”.

This is meta-theatre at its most intimate, gently letting us in on the secrets of putting a show together, and at the same time, giving us a glimpse of just one way of trying to keep all the pieces of a life together. The sadness is even almost bearable because its shared, and it strikes me that for some Every Brilliant Thing could be a truly cathartic thing.

 

It’s a beautifully crafted show, delivered with pathos and sensitivity, which necessarily shines the light on life and quite blatantly and simply states that if you’re thinking about ending your life, don’t. There’s too much to live for. Start making a list…

07
Mar
17

American Idiot

American Idiot

shake & stir and QPAC

QPAC Playhouse

February 25 – March 12 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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DO YOU HAVE TIME TO LISTEN TO ME WHINE?

THIS IS THE DAWNING OF THE REST OF OUR LIVES.

In fact, this is the dawning of a whole new age of Aquarius; the new moon in Pisces during the opening week and an auspicious year one, in the first of a cycle of nine. This means we were already craving change; something new, something edgy, something to make us sit bolt upright and inspire us to sow some seeds for the future. We don’t have to be a part of the 24/7 news cycle to appreciate that in the current political climate, much of American Idiot rings as true as it did when the concept album went straight to the top of the Billboard charts in 2004, and when the show smashed onto the Broadway scene in 2009.

The Age of Aquarius is about acknowledging the system is broken…and not waiting for someone else to fix it.

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Green Day’s American Idiot is a new kind of music theatre experience, and unlike the string of political and social rock musicals with which we’ve grown up (West Side Story, Jesus Christ Superstar, Hair, Spring Awakening, Next to Normal), which all have super strong stories, incredibly, this show rides on only the flimsiest excuse for a book (by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer, also the show’s original director). In fact, the entire story is probably just the album description. (It’s not, I checked). More like Lloyd Webber’s Superstar in form, also groundbreaking in its time, American Idiot even has a Christ-like figure (or two, if we count the alter ego angel/devil dealer St Jimmy), Johnny, Jesus of Suburbia, whose story is told over the course of the song of the same name.

American Idiot relies on its punk rock pop and acoustic sound, its grungy rebel aesthetic and the star power brought to the stage by creators, Green Day, and the contemporary artists who star in it, in this case, The Living End’s Chris Cheney until February 26 and then Grinspoon’s Phil Jamieson.

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Michael Mayer told the New York Times in April 2010, “My idea all along was to keep the 13 songs in their original order and to interrupt it at times with other Green Day songs and the sparest of dialogue, because I didn’t want to have any extraneous words”. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

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The Australian premiere company is sensational, bringing big voices and rampant energy to QPAC’s Playhouse stage. The look and feel is fantastic, chaotic. It’s shake & stir’s first foray into this more expansive space and with a bold creative team, led by Director, Craig Ilot, to create the terrifying world of an idiotic America, they’re a welcome fit. A massive departure from their previous offerings, although with the same rock star energy and attitude we see applied to the schools’ touring company, this is not the usual shake & stir show. It’s inspired programming, perfect timing, and set to shift the gaze from shake & stir as a tight knit team of contemporaries, to MainStage presenters with a bolder mission to reach newer audiences still, and prove massive success at the box office while other companies continue to, by choice or necessity, play small.

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Josh McIntosh’s set design, utilising scaffolding and stairs, a hidden bed and eight enormous in-built television screens, provides the perfect anarchic playground for the cast of angry characters and also, for optikal bloc’s vivid AV design, which includes a barrage of chaotic images and lyrics – we get a taste of what’s to come in the opening minutes with the 24-hour news cycle popping up, as it does if we let it, on each screen – and a clever representation of that sacred ground, 7-Eleven. Matthew Marshall’s rock concert lighting states offer exactly the right mix of chaos and abandon, although we are blinded frequently and for some sensitive types this will not be a happy memory of the show. Lucas Newland’s choreography is edgy and angsty, sharply conceived and executed. Melanie Knight’s costumes capture a perfectly punk style, incorporating leather, tartan, torn denim, black hosiery and boots. It’s actually refreshing to see army fatigues, and Dirty Dancing’s Kurt Phelan cutting a fine figure in an officer’s uniform, despite the negative connotations of war at this point (at any point) in the not-quite-a-narrative. The look and feel and gritty sound will attract a whole new generation of theatregoers, but at the same time another set may well stay away. And that’s entertainment. At the first show on opening night – I can only assume the oldies and those having to travel from farther afield because we’ve never built our Instagram numbers to 10K and struck a deal with any of the nearby accomodation options (I’m counting myself in the latter category), were invited to the early show – the sound was muddy and the band overbearing. I thought it might be a punk thing? But no, and it will have been rectified by now. Under the musical direction of music industry stalwart Glenn Moorhouse (also on guitar), the on-stage band could easily sell a national tour without the rest of the show happening around them. These are some freakishly talented, dynamic performers.

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Ben Bennett, in his professional stage debut, leads a uniformly excellent cast, as a convincing Johnny, Jesus of Suburbia, styled to look alarmingly like Billie Joe Armstrong (the original Broadway Johnny). The Living End’s charismatic Chris Cheney gives St Jimmy a wicked Machiavellian grin and legit Green Day frontman movements like a snake, making it easy for us to believe in the simple allure of spending hard won cash on the drugs he magically procures from his pocket. Bringing the hyperactivity down a notch, Boulevard of Broken Dreams and Wake Me Up When September Ends capture the melancholy that underpins the show’s inherent angst. 

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Rowena Vilar’s dream sequence aerial is accomplished and delightful to watch while we question what the hell is it doing in there? We can forgive this very poor excuse to throw in a super sexy number because she’s mesmerising. Likewise, Strictly Ballroom’s Phoebe Panaretos (Whatshername) and Ashleigh Barlow (Heather, the only female character granted an actual name), do their best with embarrassingly underwritten roles that continue to perpetuate the myths of (Vilar) the sexy nurse/slave to men, (Panaretos) the girlfriend/good fuck/slave to men and (Barlow) the doting mother and desperate wife/slave to men. Definitely a theme there. While there are some shoddy attempts to lift these women out of their boxes, even when Heather ups and leaves the hopeless, useless Will (a stereotypical sofa slob, played by Alex Jeans, a performer who could do so much more given half a chance), it’s at the insistence of a friend. Likewise, Cameron MacDonald does what he can with the role of Tunny, similarly thinly veiled as representative of a vast section of the population (because we all dream of that extraordinary girl in dazzling white and crystal embellishments performing aerial acts for our viewing pleasure during a stint in hospital).

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In case we haven’t felt affected along the way (or in case we’ve felt more affected than we had expected to), the show closes with an overly sincere and unnecessarily sentimental, full company acoustic rendition of Good Riddance (Time of Your Life), which would have been better left as the play out music. It undoes much of the hard work, apologising in a way that feels very Robin Goodfellow, too earnestly hoping we can all still be friends by the end! But that’s okay because otherwise, of course we might leave and kick over a trash can, or shout impatiently at somebody waiting for their Uber. As it turns out, we have a delightful conversation for the next hour while one of the friends is waiting for her Uber, so perhaps it is, after all, the perfect note on which to end.

The contemporary collective voice of several generations, American Idiot is Brisbane’s biggest, loudest, funnest, most offensive premiere of the year. You’d be an idiot to miss it.

07
Mar
17

Propel

 

Propel

Expressions Dance Company

Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts

March 3 to March 11 2017

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

Deeper than Ink L - R Michelle Barnett, Richard Causer, Alana Sargent, Benjamin Chapman, Jake McLarnon and Elise May

I feel I really need to be a champion for the art of contemporary dance and I take that very seriously.

Natalie Weir, Artistic Director, EDC

Propel is the second incarnation of an Expressions Dance Company (EDC) initiative to provide emerging and established choreographers with the opportunity to create new works on the company. Propel was introduced in 2014.

This is EDC’s first season for 2017. Former EDC dancer Richard Causer is back, along with long-term members Benjamin Chapman, Michelle Barnett and Elise May (now also promoted to Assistant to the Artistic Director). Jake McLarnon and Alana Sargent have recently joined the company. Sargent, formerly from Sydney Dance Company, also designed the costumes for Propel.

Hollow Lands - Alana Sargent

Opening the program was Hollow Lands by Lisa Wilson, the most experienced and established of the four choreographers. She was inspired by the light installation Through Hollow Lands by the Seattle-based artist/designer Etta Lilienthal.

Lighting designer Ben Hughes (with Bruce McKinven and Leonie Lee) has created a striking three-dimensional network of fluorescent tubes, arranged in rectangles with various sides missing, evoking Through Hollow Lands. Warm sidelighting of the dancers highlights their sculptural muscularity, enhanced by simple white shorts/skirts and tops, or dresses.

In her program notes, Wilson says her response to the installation was to explore the idea of ‘coming to the brink’. The six dancers approach the lights in awe and appear to be both attracted by them, and repelled by a force around them. They reach out, shrink away, and hurtle over the lights. At times they move away from the framework.

In a slower, more lyrical section, Elise May undulates, and Richard Causer and Alana Sargent dance a sensual duo. With all six dancers back on stage, the movement becomes more frenetic towards the end, before five fall to the floor, leaving one still upright.

Written on the Body - Jake McLarnon and Alana Sargent

Written on the Body-Benjamin Chapman and Michelle Barnett

In the second work, Written on the Body, Elise May combines dance and video, with the loose general theme being our perception and the effects of others on our own inner world. It was difficult to see how such a general theme related to the dance and the movement, except, of course, that the dancers are perceiving each other and affecting each other, and the audience is also perceiving them and affected by them. A feature of the work that does directly and strongly express connection is the complex shapes formed by two or more of the five dancers balancing on each other, or performing intricate lifts.

The video, extending across three separate screens at the back of the stage, sometimes consisted of staticky white dots, and at other times of intriguing, occasionally beautiful images, such as closeups of grass stems and leaves silhouetted against the sky.

When the images were interesting and beautiful, I tended to watch the video and not the dancers, and when the images were less arresting, I focused on the dancers instead. Is that the intention? It was hard to connect the images with the dancers’ movement.

Waiting Alone - Richard Causer

Chinese choreographer Xu Yiming has been working with EDC as part of the company’s Australia China Dance Exchange. His work Waiting Alone made a big impact, not only with its style and sound, but with the outstanding performance of Richard Causer.

In this short, intense solo, Causer’s strength and maturity enabled him to put his technique completely at the service of expressing emotion – loneliness, desperation, and a feeling of ‘What have I done?’ or ‘How can this be happening?’

Starting by turning slowly on the spot, and crescendoing in a frenzy of windmilling arms and seamless movement down to and up from the floor, Causer eventually subsided into a defeated crouch, with head bowed. Throughout the solo, the dancer repeatedly draws one or both hands down over his face and bows his head.

In a departure from the varied mix of electronic music/sound effects of the first two works, the soundtrack for Waiting Alone is the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata for piano, overlaid with the sounds of screams, bangs, crashes, the wind whistling, and gulls crying. The sound and the dancer’s movement are a spine-tingling combination.

During this Propel season, EDC dancers Benjamin Chapman and Jake McLarnon will also perform Waiting Alone. It would be fascinating to see how each of the three dancers interprets this solo.

The final work on the program is Amy Hollingsworth’s Deeper Than Ink. The title metaphor represents an intense involvement with another person as a tattoo on the soul – only deeper. The simple, yet stunning costumes for all six dancers are long black pants, and sheer very pale tops, the arms and upper section densely mottled in blue-black, creating the illusion of tattoos.

The work is dimly lit and misty, with vignettes of movement at different positions on the stage suddenly illuminated and then plunged into darkness. In complex huddles and groupings, the dancers express aggression, despair, and sometimes consolation. One person is often pulled, resisting, away from another, creating an atmosphere of loss. The music (by Ben Frost, and Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto) ranges from eerie filmic grandeur to dirge-like strings, and metal-inspired dark energy.

In Propel’s three longer works, a wealth of different movement ideas were expressed, demonstrating the success of this choreographic development program in nurturing creativity. Some pruning of repetition and closer focus could fine-tune these works from an audience point of view.

The dancers all shone throughout the whole performance. Athletic, expressive, and each with an individual style, they are inspiring and energising to watch.

28
Feb
17

Matilda Awards 2016

Matilda Award Winners 2016

 

thewiderearth

 

Last week the Matilda Awards took place for the first time at Brisbane Powerhouse. Queensland artists were celebrated in a dazzling awards ceremony directed by Kris Stewart, and hosted by Melissa Western and Dash Kruck.

The committee has wanted to raise the bar for a little while now, and put on a highly entertaining and social event that honours our artists in a way that can be more genuinely felt by all in attendance (and by all those playing at home). Industry feedback has been very positive and the committee, working collaboratively with the newly appointed executive committee, will continue to consider suggestions from the artists and companies whom these awards were designed to celebrate. In 2016 the committee attended a record number of shows and added an award category to recognise physical theatre and circus arts in 2017 and beyond.

Thanks to ongoing Arts Queensland and Brisbane City Council funding, and an ever widening circle of fantastic supporters, the Matilda Awards and the annual ceremony can continue to evolve.

(Missing from pic, below, are committee members James, Baz and Elise). More pics on Instagram and Facebook. Search #matildas16

 

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GOLD MATILDA AWARD

Dead Puppet Society celebrating their exceptional body of work.

SILVER MATILDA AWARDS

Best Mainstage Production

Bastard Territory, Queensland Theatre Company and JUTE Theatre Company
George’s Marvellous Medicine, shake & stir theatre co and QPAC
Switzerland, Queensland Theatre Company
The Wider Earth, Queensland Theatre Company and Dead Puppet Society

Best Independent Production

Carrie: The Musical, Brisbane Powerhouse and Wax Lyrical Productions
Hanako, Brisbane Festival, Brisbane Powerhouse and Belloo Creative
True West, Brisbane Powerhouse, Troy Armstrong Management, Thomas Larkin and Annette Box
Viral, Shock Therapy Productions

 

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Best Musical or Cabaret

Carrie: The Musical, Brisbane Powerhouse and Wax Lyrical Productions
Hairspray, Harvest Rain Theatre Company
Terror Australis, Brisbane Powerhouse and Leah Shelton
Snow White, La Boite, Opera Queensland and Brisbane Festival

Best New Australian Work

Bastard Territory, Stephen Carleton
St Mary’s in Exile, David Burton
The Wider Earth, David Morton
Viral, Sam Foster & Hayden Jones

Best Director

Caroline Dunphy, Motherland
Ian Lawson, Bastard Territory
David Morton, The Wider Earth
Zoë Tuffin, Carrie: The Musical

Best Male Actor

Matthew Backer, Switzerland
Sam Foster, Viral
Benhur Helwend, Bastard Territory
Thomas Larkin, True West

Best Supporting Male Actor

Julian Curtis, True West
Jackson McGovern, American Buffalo
John McNeill, Endgame
Silvan Rus, Twelfth Night
Steven Tandy, Bastard Territory

Bille Brown Award for Best Emerging Artist

Masako Mizusawa, Hanako
Sophie Perkins, Carrie: The Musical
Paige Poulier, Twelfth Night
Emily Weir, Tartuffe

Best Female Actor

Kerith Atkinson, A Slight Ache
Andrea Moor, Switzerland
Sophie Perkins, Carrie: The Musical
Kimie Tsukakoshi, Hanako

Best Supporting Female Actor

Jennifer Flowers, Endgame
Libby Munro, Disgraced
Paige Poulier, Twelfth Night
Emily Weir, Tartuffe

Best Set Design

Aaron Barton & David Morton, The Wider Earth
Georgina Greenhill, American Buffalo
Leah Shelton, Terror Australis
Anthony Spinaze, Switzerland

Best Costume Design

David Morton & Aaron Barton, The Wider Earth
Kris Bird, Bastard Territory
Karen Cochet, Snow White
Jessica Haack, Twelfth Night
Josh McIntosh, George’s Marvellous Medicine
Leah Shelton, Terror Australis

Best Lighting Design

Jason Glenwright, Carrie: The Musical
Jason Glenwright, The Tragedy of King Richard III
Ben Hughes, Switzerland
David Walters, The Wider Earth

Best Sound Design / Composition

Dane Alexander, Hanako
Tony Brumpton (Sound Design), Lior & Tony Buchen (Composition), The Wider Earth
Rob Pensalfini & Silvan Rus, Twelfth Night
Steve Toulmin, Switzerland

Best Audio Visual Design

Tiffany Atkin & John Grist, Hanako
Justin Harrison (AV Design) & Anna Straker (Illustration), The Wider Earth
optikal bloc, Terror Australis
Nathan Sibthorpe, Viral

 

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