Author Archive for Xanthe Coward



21
Oct
19

I’m A Phoenix, Bitch!

 

I’m a Phoenix, Bitch

QPAC & Brisbane Festival 

QPAC Playhouse

September 18 – 21 2019

 

Reviewed By Shannon Miller

 

 

Shrieking melodramatically and pursued by God only knows, co-writer and performer, Bryony Kimmings enters the stage in a gold sequinned dress and blonde wig, frantic and helpless. She is pursued ridiculously by herself, a creature of her own making, as she flips between the damsel in distress and the hunting beast; an introduction lampooning Hollywood clichés, scream queens, slasher films and creature features.

 

However, the damsel turns the tides and defeats the monster, triumphantly shooting invisible fireballs from her loins! Kimmings is victorious and turns to the audience posing the meta-theatrical proposition, “Imagine if I started the show like that.”

 

Surrounded haphazardly by set pieces covered in sheets, Kimmings sheds the bling and levels with the audience, donning active wear and embarking on a heartbreaking personal monologue of a much darker time in her life. She meets her partner, Tim. They fall in love, and move into a quaint cottage out of town of which they’ve been warned by the agent of a pastoral stream having the potential to swell and flood the property.

 

 

They move into the cottage nonetheless; part dream-home, part Evil Dead/cabin in the woods. Kimmings soon discovers she is with child and everything couldn’t seem more perfect. However, the stream rises inevitably as it has been foretold, and the story delivers a child plagued by medical issues, born in the midst of a relationship breakdown, while Kimmings’ character is flanked by a crushing post-natal depression.

 

Along the way, she reveals the set pieces, which appear shambolic at first but soon become a curated visual psycho-sphere, items of the symbolic order which join the dots to this quickly harrowing tale: a kitchen, a back window, a miniature of the cottage, metonymic icons of the limited roles she is expected to play in a patriarchal society.

 

 

She puts the book into song, too, at times channeling Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, the yes girl, the bimbo, the damsel, the siren, Lorna Jane, the psycho – stereotypes that seek to sum her up and limit her as the gathering plot begins to unravel her in synchronicity with the rising stream.

 

Kimmings has written a sharply targeted one-woman show, and she draws the audience so tightly under her control. Every second of this work is deeply felt, beautifully rendered and at times utterly exhausting. It’s funny, whimsical and a serious commentary on not just gender inequality in the domestic sphere, but it’s a personal anecdote in which the audience is voyeur to a working practitioner’s creative, self-healing process.

 

 

This is a grim modern fable daringly funny and with darkly uncompromising feminisms echoing Virginia Woolf, Joan Didion and Jeanette Winterson. The story twists in the direction of mother-shaming, anxiety-driven perfectionism, and self-flagellation as the new currency of excellence, honing in on the pressures to be a strong and independent woman, girl, and lady – to become everything: the lover, the caregiver, and the breadwinner.

 

With stunning multi-media and set design, and a dénouement so unexpectedly dramatic and nuanced, this remarkably redemptive narrative set within a current movement of self-care and mental health awareness is buoyed ultimately by hope. A truly compelling theatrical experience.

07
Sep
19

Henry IV Part 1

 

Henry IV Part 1

Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble 

Roma Street Parkland

August 22 – September 8 2019

 

Reviewed by Rhys M Becks

 

 

 

Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble delivered a refreshing interpretation of Shakespeare’s Henry The IV Part 1. Roma Street Parklands Amphitheatre is the perfect outdoor venue for a Shakespeare, however; at this time of year I feel the bitterly cold winds sweeping across the stage, at times hindering my ability to focus on the text. I must commend the players on their ability to maintain their individual levels of performance throughout frequent cold blasts of wind! While Box Office was difficult to find as there was little to no signage, the polite and cheerful manner of the front of house staff made up for this minor inconvenience. The vibe is welcoming, the space cooly lit, and a pleasant ambience created by folk band Skimble Skamble Stuff, comprising actual cast members, playing us to our seats.

 

 

Playing King Henry was Liliana Macarone, who gave a commendable performance, and managed to perform a cross-gendered king in a believable and enjoyable fashion. Rebelling against the king was Angus Thorburn portraying Henry Percy. Thorburn gave a delightful performance that held the audience’s attention. His performance, only slightly marred by occasionally delivering lines with too great a speed, was nevertheless engaging. The greedy, thieving, yet loveable drunkard, Jack Falstaff, was played by Rob Pensalfini, who gave an outstanding performance, practically flawless. Pensilfini kept us captivated by the way in which he spoke, and moved through the space, making the text come to life, especially, I would imagine, for those less familiar with Shakespeare’s floral language. He brought to us that much needed ounce of comic relief between the slightly more serious scenes, which aided in holding our attention for the play’s rather long duration. Opposite Pensalfini as the young Prince Henry, was Silvan Rus, another sterling performer who like Pensalfini, in many ways carried the show right through to its end, with his engaging, charming performance that was easily enjoyed by all.

 

 

 

The pub scenes, and scenes involving Pensalfini, Rus and Murphy, were beautifully done, however; less effective due to blocking, were the royal court and rebel scenes. Similarly, aspects of the stage combat proved hard to watch, with some cast members more proficient and practiced than others.

 

 

With a cast of nineteen players it’s impossible to mention every performer, however; honourable mentions must go to Rebecca Murphy (the show’s director), for her captivating performance as Prince Henry’s dear friend, Poins; Dudley Powell, who played both the Hostess in the traditional, comical, cross-gendered style of classical theatre that we have come to know and love, and for his depiction of the Earl of Douglas, demonstrating superb accent work. John Siggers, in the role of Bardolph, was always interesting to watch, and won us over with his frequent renditions of Up To The Rigs of London Town and also, his speedy recovery after unexpectedly falling straight through a bench mid-delivery. Leah Fitzgerald-Quinn as Francis, is a stand out, whom I simply enjoyed watching.

 

In Henry IV Part 1 Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble delivers an enjoyable production and lovely evening out. I look forward to their next offering.

 

 

 

05
Sep
19

COCK or How to Manipulate Media Coverage In Your Efforts to Secure Rave Reviews or I’m Just a Girl Standing in Front of a Box Office Trying to Buy a Ticket to Your Show

 

COCK

Bosco Productions

Metro Arts

August 21 – 31 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

Somebody didn’t want me to see this show. Let’s pretend that we don’t know who that was.

This happens sometimes, following an unfavourable review; xs is left off an upcoming list and Box Office is directed to refuse us entry. But companies should be careful of what I like to call The Maleficent Effect, which is to say that not everyone would stand for being treated with such disrespect and still show up to see the production for what it is. Luckily for this Irish lot, COCK is brilliant and quite beautiful, in the most honest and transparent way, with not a single European pillow in sight. Even so, let’s take a moment to appreciate that the risk of being turned away at the door after a 90-minute drive in peak hour traffic, after a session with teens who still haven’t learned their lines a week out from assessment, is nothing; it’s more amusing than anything else, and not nearly as insulting or threatening as a spate of online trolling, name calling and death threats. So…Bosco…namaste. 

 

while the producers of any show may argue that as it’s their party, they can invite whoever they want, the principle of extending invitations across the board to established newspapers and reviewing outlets is a sound one. Trying to exclude particular reviewers is not – if for no other reason that it makes that individual critic seem more important than they are and hints at, if not outright censorship, than at least an over-developed desire to manipulate coverage and ensure good reviews all round.

You can never second-guess what a critic’s response will be.

The real issue here is the insidious, creeping desire on the part of producers and their PR agencies to control all press coverage by feature writers and critics.

 

You can never second-guess what a critic’s response will be

 

I’d like to suggest a new category for the Matilda Awards

Most Awkward Box Office / Foyer Conversation

 

Box Office Girls: stare up at me in what appears to be abject horror, or it could just be me pre-empting a Hilary Spurling scenario (Box Office Girls too young to know who Hilary Spurling is).

Me: Hi, I’m Xanthe and I know you’ve probably been told not to give me comps. So I’ll buy a ticket.

Box Office Girls:

Me: This must be the first theatre ticket I’ve had to buy in ten years!

Box Office Girls:

Me: Happy to support!

Box Office Girls:

 

You can imagine.

 

Fiona Apple’s Shadow Boxer pre-show, as I take my seat, seems appropriate. I know the play; I love Mike Bartlett’s properly real life writing, with its overlaps, interjects, repetitions, stutters and silences. I love that, as Writer, he has the audacity to demand of the companies brave enough to take on his play, a bare stage sans sets and props.

 

Queensland’s most under-utilised director, Helen Howard, has relished the challenges of a possibly highly stylised and potentially dated piece…or is it? After all, we are still insisting that relationships be bound by certain constraints, aren’t we? Howard has shaped this show from a contemporary place of power and compassion for these characters with whom we connect, and from whom we disconnect at the same time. It’s a voyeuristic lens that holds us in the gaze of the actors as we watch events unfold. Direct address is skilfully incorporated. Judge me. Don’t judge me. There is rarely physical contact between the actors; like a dance in a dream, their actions – undressing, touching, etc – are described but never carried out in the sense of showing us explicit stage business. This leaves scope for the imagination, creating a delicate, sensual intimacy that will make this production an example at the next round table re the results of best practice, as we continue to evolve the ways we work with actors, particularly student actors, on intimate/physical/emotional scenes. It’s a way into intimacy that’s been explored more extensively to date in the dance realm. A surreal, smoothly choreographed opening sequence at once feels beautifully fluid, and irregular and angular, leaving us distanced from the action, and yet completely committed, uncertain of where we are and what we’re in for.

 

The people we meet here are real and flawed, and either panicked or paralysed by tiny daily insecurities, as well as their – our – bigger fear of actually living life.

 

Derek Draper (M) and Julian Curtis (John) drive this narrative; a love triangle that’s more complicated than most, introducing the unexpected, and turning the stereotypical homosexual relationship on its head. When push comes to shove, M invites in his father – F – for moral support (Patrick Farrelly). When John meets a woman – W (Ashlee Lollback) – he questions his place…his worth…in his 7-year de-facto relationship with M.

 

The dance continues at intervals throughout the show, neatly devised transitions separating and marking for posterity each key moment; the tenderness of the storytelling and the heightened awareness of the actors evident in every pause. There is so much said, and left unsaid, in these silences. 

 

Draper is strong in this role; he finds the right mix of strength and vulnerability; M stands up for what he wants and ultimately, despite even more deeply doubting his power, he doesn’t back down. It’s enough to make us shrink in our seats during one of the most uncomfortable endings ever written. But more so, it’s John’s ineptitude that continues to make us cringe, even after the lights come up. Everyone knows someone this frozen by fear. The beauty of Bartlett’s protagonist is in this paralysis; the agony of being incapable of making a decision, squirming in the process; pushed to the edge and unable to decide whether or not to jump.

 

W challenges John on every level and gently exerts her most elegant use of force to urge him closer and closer to a decision that will suit them both. As John admits, it’s not as much about gender or sex as it is about the way he feels with her, the careful, kind way she speaks to him, treats him. Lollback is a beautiful, natural performer, at ease in her body and generous in her offers, employing a warm, firm vocal tone, and a sweet and comforting smile that reminds me of Naomi Price in Sweet Charity.

 

 

While we might judge John’s behaviour harshly, most of us can probably relate to his inability to communicate under pressure. The paralysis of indecision is no small thing so the dinner party scene, so fraught, becomes intense and fascinating and funny, and absolutely awful in the best theatrical sense, leaving us despairing, properly lamenting, John’s stubborn resistance to the power that we all feel quite desperately by now, is his to claim. There are exasperated sighs in the audience. And inexplicably, it could be said,  largely because it’s Curtis in this role making M completely hopeless and also, completely adorable, John keeps our sympathy, despite his reluctance to commit one way or the other, to one lover or the other, and the question arises: why should he be made to choose? Bartlett doesn’t go deeper here; he doesn’t suggest that John remain single for example, but we can imagine what John’s single life might look like. Instead…well, it’s that awful, uncomfortable ending, confirming once again, in case we are ever in any doubt, that we’re all needing as much validation as the next guy. Well, no. Some much more so than others it seems. 

 

31
Aug
19

The Cold Record

 

The Cold Record

Horizon Festival

Brisbane Festival, The Old Ambo, ArKtype / Thomas O. Kriegsmann

Black Box Theatre, The Old Ambo, Nambour

August 28 – 30 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

Kirk Lynn (Rude Mechs) wrote a story about a 12-year old boy who tries to set the record for the most days leaving school sick; during the process he falls in love with the school nurse and punk rock. Director of The Cold Record, Alexandra Bassiakou has fine-tuned Eli Weinberg’s sensational performance without losing the raw edge of reality. There’s an immediate and intimate connection between actor and audience, which comes from Weinberg’s easygoing manner, and our proximity to him, but also from the headphone verbatim approach to the production. In this country at least, Roslyn Oades is probably best known for this evolving performance form (her headphone verbatim piece, Hello, Goodbye & Happy Birthday toured extensively, and received critical and audience acclaim). We sense the same spirited energy here from just one dynamic performer.

 

Weinberg greets us in the foyer of The Old Ambo and leads us to the show’s secret location. We’re invited to enjoy a non-alcoholic beverage or local craft beer – Larry’s from Your Mates – and create a mix tape together, sharing the long-lost stories of our pre-selected punk rock song. Our mixtape on opening night comprises hits from the likes of Blondie, The Jam, The Sex Pistols and Blink 182. There are satisfied nods and some cool modified mosh pit moves, some long-lost memories that spark some other memories (LIVID 1994 in Davies Park, anyone?), lots of laughter, especially about the patience, and the intricate timing and precision required to record our favourite childhood/teen era radio tracks on old-school cassette recorders with the simultaneous push of two buttons, and general agreement that post-punk is a legit choice, as is Blondie. We’re thrilled that our listening and life choices have been validated, and that we’ll get to hear the mixtape in its entirety after the show, when the link appears in our inbox. The question arises, “What about all the other mix tapes from all the other shows?” Can we look forward to a Rude Mechs Cold Record Spotify playlist at some stage? The conversation is relaxed, and fun – but there’s more to the show, in fact, it hasn’t really started yet. Except it has… The nostalgic, casual lounge party vibe puts us at ease, almost dulling us into a false sense of security before Weinberg begins throwing us curve balls. And then there’s the ending.  

 

 

 

Weinberg is super relaxed and personable throughout, expertly manipulating the mood over the 28-minute arc of the show to take us on his rollercoaster ride through the final year of elementary school. We rally with him against the world of adults and unreliable friends. The group’s support is something of a special communal theatrical thing; people are visibly affected and because of our close proximity we can properly sympathise. Our eyes rarely stray from Weinberg’s, his 12-year old innocence a piercing gaze, challenging us to respond honestly to his musings about life, death and love, or not at all. Throughout, Weinberg wears the headset with the sound of Lynn’s voice in his ears, in real time telling the entire story a beat ahead of his own performance.    

 

The lasting impact of this performance is something interesting. While the story belongs to one young boy, the intimacy of its telling gifts his lived experience to each of us. We’re given the time and space to recreate, in minds and hearts for a moment, our own private version of first love, lost love, friendship, family, victory, grief, and getting up and getting on with it, without necessarily relieving or healing any wounds along the way, however; in the moments between we become aware of these feelings, and simply let them be what they will be until we make time to sit with them (or walk or run or dance with them). Neither live performance or life promises a quick or easy fix. 

 

Are there wounds that only music can heal? Is there music that only keeps us crying, bleeding, dying? 

 

The Cold Record goes to Brisbane Festival after this weekend and if you’re near, you’d be crazy to miss it. In fact, if you think you don’t have the time or the need to experience this neat, sweet, completely surprising and captivating one-man show, it’s likely the thing you need most.

 

26
Aug
19

Spencer

 

Spencer

QUT Gardens Theatre & LAB Kelpie

QUT Gardens Theatre

August 23 – 24 2019

 

Reviewed by Shannon John Miller

 

 

One of the final scenes from the 1994 film Muriel’s Wedding has Muriel played by Toni Collette and her father played by Bill Hunter, looking out over a scorched laundry line and backyard in the aftermath of a devastating family tragedy. Her sister appears on the balcony saying, “Dad, the cricket’s started. […] Do you want me to open you a can of beer? Bill responds, “That would be lovely, Joanie. With you in a sec.”

 

While essentially a comedy-drama, Spencer, a new work by award-winning playwright, Katy Warner, much like Muriel’s Wedding, is a dark idiosyncratic work epitomising the cultural cringe of the Australian suburban family. With themes of social isolation, suburbia and family dysfunction, it also touches on how masculine sport culture can serve as a family’s surrogate emotional connective tissue.

 

 

Set over the course of a weekend, Ben (Lyall Brooks) is still living at home; an overweight X-Gen who’s failed to launch and broken up with his fiancé now facebooking from Bali with a guy who was at their engagement party. His sister, Jules (Fiona Harris) has also returned home to live. She’s quit her job and is also in the midst of a messy break up with a married man who has kids of his own.

 

But as far as their single mother, Marylin (Jane Clifton) is concerned they live in the shadow of their younger brother, Scott (Jamieson Caldwell), the white-haired boy. On the precipice of a professional AFL career and while he’s the favourite, he’s also returned home burnt-out and at a crossroads in life. He’s also about to meet the two-year-old son, Spencer, he never knew he had. And while mum’s forgiving and excited in preparing for Spencer’s welcome home-cum-birthday party, things really get going when they receive an unexpected visit from their long-estranged father, Ian (Roger Oakley).

 

 

Clifton is magnanimous in playing the central matriarch, Marylyn; a role certain to become a staple in a contemporary actor’s repertoire. She’s an exhausted Sisyphus, while having spent  her life pushing the heavy boulder of a broken family up hill, she finds herself having to revisit the role as mother and peace-keeper later in life as her failed flock come home to roost, now adults and this time with more complex social baggage than just scraped knees and spilt Coco Pops.

 

While funny and acid-tongued, Clifton is brilliant, lashing out at her disappointing adult-children, and trying to counsel them through an unqualified lens of embittered motherly love. She’s cynical, a misanthrope, however living unrealised dreams naively through her young son, Scott, never realising the crushing burden it causes him.

 

 

This is wildly entertaining and funny stuff though. Brooks as Ben is vivacious as he channels Rick Mayall of the Young Ones and Perry Heslop of Muriel’s Wedding. Now washed-up and coaching a kids footy team, he’s an alternate masculinity in comparison to his more successful, more popular, and fitter younger brother, Scott. Ben’s a mummy’s boy, he grew up crying at everything, and while he isn’t afraid to express his emotions, he wants Scott to succeed where he failed.

 

Scott on the other hand, in his mother’s eyes, is on a pedestal of masculine pride. While seemingly mild-mannered, fit and handsome with a promising career verging on the celebrity, he’s got skeletons, he’s an emotional void, a purposeful blank onto which his mother projects her own ideals.

 

Scott can do no wrong, and his mother, an apologist to his mistakes, cannot see the real Scott due to blinding disenchantments with her own life. Scott, however, is disconnected with the world. He’s unable to articulate his emotions, unable to reconcile past machismo behaviours, and his return home prompts a spiralling identity crisis.

 

 

Playwright Warner isn’t afraid to take her characters where they need to go, tackling men’s mental health and the double standards of sexual politics. Meryl Streep opined recently that terms like toxic masculinity “hurts our boys”, and in the aftermath of the #metoo movement, Warner also raises questions of internalised misogyny, slut-shaming, revenge porn, and the casualised sex-discrimination which pervades the home.

 

It’s also about our identity and how that sits within the family dynamic. And it’s set masterfully against the backdrop of an economic generation of failed social refugees who’ve found themselves returning home in their 30’s.

 

 

Director, Sharon Davis expertly delivers the actors to beautifully crystalised moments of self-reflection or further delusion. She brings them together in remarkably playful and innovative ways, further developing them into full characters with lived-in relationships.

 

Set designers, Rob Sowinski and Bryn Cullen have created a simple diorama of an ancient 80’s/90’s domestic sphere with archways leading into linoleum kitchens, the rattle and slam of the obligatory security screen door, and clusters of family photos while polluting the walls, point to the innocence of once happier days.

 

Much like The Castle and Kath & Kim, Spencer is an exciting and important work which beautifully typifies an Australian domestic heritage; a time capsule of contemporary life as we know it. 

22
Aug
19

The Tempest

 

The Tempest

Zen Zen Zo

Trinity Parish Hall

August 16 – 31 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

We all want to break the chains that hold us in our prison cell.

We all want to be released and find our way out of the damp dark well.

We all want to glide like wind – an eagle to the wild.

We all want a land that we can call home.

 

I arrive in time to park in the street, beneath trees boasting fairy lights and a sky alive with the Ekka fireworks; perfect! An Ariel checks the water level in each of the silver buckets placed Zen-Zen-Zo-ever-so-strategically around the outer edges of the rectangular lawn that separates Trinity Church from Trinity Parish Hall on its sweet little island in The Valley. It’s here that we’re greeted by the company’s new Executive Producer & Education Manager, Nicole Reilly, and then by our Ariel. He is our Ariel by the powerful magic to which performers and top speaker circuit salespeople are privy; he engages and connects in the half a moment we need to simply pay attention and follow. We’ve already been stamped on the wrist, door bitch style, and guided to a place to sit. Or stand. This is serious adulting; for audiences, making these choices is part of a more active and immersive theatrical experience.

 

The tempest of the title takes a long time to happen, like a storm building far out at sea that doesn’t hit until after midnight, and seemingly only in our dreams. So I guess the spell is taking effect. The opening sequence is all very atmospheric, with outdoor lighting to cast Prospero’s shadow on the high brick wall of the hall, and a violinist giving the multiple Ariels their cues to move together, thrusting now rather than gliding if you must know – and if you’re an actor or an actor in training you must know – and the unlucky ship’s crew entering and bracing, preparing for perhaps the most famous literary and theatrical storm of them all. Ross Miller gets the opening line here with an almighty Suzuki trained and Linklater influenced, “BRAAAAAAAACE”.

 

This opening sequence sets up for the audience that something different is happening, and at the same time, risks being considered sliiiiiiiiightly self-indulgent and slow moving. It serves the performers by giving them time to establish role and mood, and to rattle or settle the disparate energies of their audience. This is vital if they are to manage us and move us through the space. So for some time, they play with spatial relationships and focus, relying on super close proximity and pensive or sultry stares and postures, depending on the performer, to slightly unnerve some and thrill others. They usher individuals from one spot to another, for no apparent reason other than to change the vantage point, or provide a point of focus while nothing much else is happening. It sets the mood and it gives latecomers their only chance to see the show, since a strict lock-out period applies once we’re inside and there is nothing zen about challenging the lock-out at a Zo show. Just don’t bother. It’s a Lynne Bradley thing. You can’t win.

 

If you miss out on the show on any given night, what you can do is go for a lovely dinner nearby, or see what’s on offer at Ad Astra or Brisbane Powerhouse, an old Zen Zen Zo haunt. Speaking of which, another stomping ground, The Old Museum, appears to have been made affordable for brides-to-be but not performing artists. While it’s lovely to begin in nature and enjoy the warm and intimate timber surrounds inside the parish hall, both the Powerhouse and The Old Museum would have served this show well. This makes me consider the challenges of a company’s homelessness; without a permanent place to work again, one of our long-term leading theatre companies is left to fend for themselves and find a space each time they schedule a season. It’s all very well to live and breathe The Viewpoints, discovering the architecture and interesting existing spaces throughout the city, but there’s merit in the madness of settling down. I recently visited Dairakudakan’s tiny all-black-everything performance space in Tokyo, and recognised once again, the sense of belonging and security offered by a permanent home for artists. 

 

If I think about it for too long, The Tempest’s constructed, contrived start annoys me, but for those who frequently visit a traditional theatre space (without writing afterwards about their experience!), and especially for the school groups that this show appears to be geared towards, looking to see the curriculum at work in the real life business of the Performing Arts, it’s the perfect invitation to join the company on a journey inside and to another island, the home of Prospero, and his daughter, Miranda, servant, Ariel, and slave, Caliban.

 

A small raised stage serves as the centre of the island, a striking setting that features a rowboat front and centre, jutting out as if dashed upon the rocks, holding Miranda in front of us, and under her father’s stern rule above us. Designed by Drew der Kinderen and Ben Adams, and alluringly lit by Simon Woods, the collaborative result is a place of mystery and magic; the audience  delights in moving around it, and we stand or sit as directed, or not; ultimately, the shape and pace of this show is as much about crowd control as creating the world of the play. I should mention that it was suggested we wear warm comfortable clothing in which we’d happily sit on the floor, however; having spent the previous weekend successfully participating in AusAct workshops wearing a pencil skirt, I decided to put this advice to the test. Conclusion? Strong core work required to frequently, elegantly, spiral up and down in said skirt; no problem.

 

 

Wayne Jennings is a stern and powerful yet playful Prospero; he’s imposing and omnipresent. He wields a magnificent hand-carved wooden staff and the thunder created with it as he drives it into the floor makes audience members jump, and not just the first time. I suspect its inclusion is, or was at some stage of the rehearsal process, also an actors’ dojo in-joke. As Prospero, Jennings is also gentle and generous when the story calls for it, as well as being an accomplished musician and MD. The title of MD is shared with performer and composer, Josh Curtis, who caresses a guitar that dreams of being a lute, and with Gina Tay Limpus, these two featured Ariels, willing slaves to the music as much as to their master, provide much of Emma Dean’s beautiful original score, with its intricate layers and harmonies, and tones and textures and pauses and catches of breath. Their voices blend sublimely and I can’t wait for their debut album.*

 

*unconfirmed

 

So let’s talk about the humble, completely unintentionally scene-stealing, Gina Tay Limpus. Seriously. Just for a moment; I mean, what on earth do we do with her now? After the show on opening night, I suggested putting her in front of Tarantino (there’s one degree of separation after Kill Bill, after all!), but this extraordinary talent could successfully transfer to any context anywhere in the world and make her mark there. Gina is one of the few female performers I know who properly stands in her power on stage. Talk about sovereignty. She’s a stand out, but you may not have ever heard of her, unless you saw DUSK at Brisbane Powerhouse or Alchemy staged in Southbank’s Cultural Forecourt during Festival 2018 (or my Insta feed during that time because #girlcrush and Kaylee Gannon’s costumes). Gina is the embodiment of our much discussed actor training and preparation, encompassing rich vocal work, and strong, sensual, controlled movement, fierce focus, harnessed, centred energy and that unnameable essence (though we may refer to it as ‘presence’), which has us hooked, not wanting to look away. But we must, because there are other gorgeous gifts in the vocal and physical performances of Travis Wesley (sinuous, sculpted), Ben Adams (hilarious, spontaneous and super fun as Antonio, opposite Siobhan Gibbs’ Sebastian), Maja Liwszyc (innocent, joyful, playful; she makes Miranda a tender temptress) and Luke Davis, the latter a relative newcomer to the tribe who’ll settle during the season as Ferdinand. He and Liwszyc connect beautifully, and sustain an extended bisoku sequence as the story continues elsewhere, their love for one another bringing time to a standstill. 

 

Alongside Director, Lynne Bradley, and a Caliban, Melissa Budd, Jamie Kendall has choreographed powerful and beautiful sections of this show. Not seeing him perform here could be considered a travesty, however; he’s another ready to fly. Zen Zen Zo proudly catches teaches and releases, and many of the performers return home at some stage, but this configuration shares a new, youthful ensemble energy. Special mention then, of Kai Woods, who appears with Nicholas Mohr as the King’s Men/Clowns and quietly, assuredly makes his presence felt.   

 

 

Wesley leads a motley Caliban crew, featuring Budd, Amy Cooker, Grace Keane-Jones, Liam Linane and Joshua McLean, and their heightened physical presence and appearance is enough to prompt some audience members to lean back or move away, staying out of their penetrating gaze and lion’s breath! The juxtaposition of this energy against the gentle, gliding Ariels is apt. (Heidi Harrison, Georgia Politikis, Sho Webber, Jazz Zhao and our local neo-burlesque beauty, Lauren Story). Bradley uses the Ariels and Calibans to draw attention to the company’s training arm, and the featured performers to showcase the individuality and finesse that comes from Zen Zen Zo’s disciplined approach to performance making. That’s not to say that a sense of fun or play is lost along the way, in fact; play remains at the centre of the creative process, and it informs each performance to a lesser or larger extent, depending on the demands of the text and the talent of the company members. Bradley skilfully shapes this re-staging of The Tempest, utilising the gifts and talents of the ensemble members to support the storytelling, and inviting audience members to become their travel companions. Shakespeare’s classic story is perhaps more authentically delivered this way and certainly, it’s more clearly presented by Zen Zen Zo than by many English teachers – sorry not sorry, English teachers; work it out. Get that text up and onto the floor. 

 

If you can get a ticket – there are just 20 remaining – come to this show curiously, sans assumptions about the company, the style of theatre or the space in which it’s staged, and you’ll experience a little bit of magic that you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else. This reimagining of The Tempest is a physical, musical, whimsical journey offering an enchanting escape from the daily grind, and a sweet moment of relief from whatever heavy notion, frustration, grief or grievance has got you down. It’s a style and a vibe of performance that will seduce you, tease you, test you and gently release you, ready or not.

 

Brisbane, it’s time to accept that, ready or not, Zen Zen Zo is back.

20
Aug
19

Queensland Theatre Season 2020 – 50 Seasons of Stories

 

Queensland Theatre launches 2020: A celebration of 50 seasons of stories

 

Queensland Theatre marks its half century by becoming the national home of new stories and staging the theatrical event of the year.

 

In front of a capacity crowd of 800, Queensland Theatre launched Season 2020, the Company’s 50th season of stage stories and the final under the artistic directorship of Sam Strong.

“Season 2020 confirms Queensland Theatre as the national home of new stories, with 50 percent of the season being world premieres,” said Strong.

“I’m proud of how we have transformed Queensland Theatre over the last four years, but I am especially proud of our championing of new stories. This is the third successive year in which at least half of our season has been brand new work,” he said.

“In the four years including 2020, we will have staged 15 world premieres, including 10 commissions reaching the stage. That’s a theatre company reflecting contemporary Australia back to itself more than ever before and more than any other. This has included established names and new plays by David Williamson, Joanna Murray Smith, Sue Smith and Melissa Bubnic. It has also included at least seven mainstage debuts, three first nations writers, two Asian-Australian writers, one Islamic-Australian writer and one transgender writer.”

 

 

“However, it wouldn’t be a Queensland Theatre season if we weren’t ambitiously growing. We are celebrating the milestone of our 50th season of stories by reflecting Queensland like never before. This includes more Queensland exclusives and the theatrical event of the year, the stage version of Trent Dalton’s smash hit novel, Boy Swallows Universe.

 

The season showcases a spectacular smorgasbord of talent from Queensland and around Australia, including: mainstage debutants like director Zoe Tuffin through to master playwright David Williamson, who is celebrating his 50th anniversary of working; actors who have become favourites at Queensland Theatre such as Christine Amor, Jimi Bani, Emily Burton, Ray Chong Nee, Jason Klarwein, Angie Milliken, Bryan Probets, and Toni Scanlan;  Australian acting royalty Nadine Garner and Rhys Muldoon; and the hottest young talent in Australia, including Josh McConville, Contessa Treffone and Sheridan Harbridge.  Joining these actors are the best directors and designers in Australia in Sam Strong, Paige Rattray, Lee Lewis, Dale Ferguson, Richard Roberts, Renee Mulder and Steve Francis.

 

 

Fittingly, the 50th anniversary year opens with adopted Queenslander David Williamson’s Emerald City which celebrates the acclaimed playwright’s 50th anniversary. The play uses the hedonistic late-1980s as a canvas to explore bigger – and ever more relevant – concerns about compromising personal ideals. Directed by Sam Strong, Emerald City sees the return of  Rhys Muldoon (House Husbands and Rake) to Queensland Theatre after the success of his turn as Isaac Newton in David Williamson’s Nearer the Gods.

From contemporary New York comes Triple X, by one of Australia’s most prolific and dynamic young writers-turned-New York local in Glace Chase. This world premiere, directed by Paige Rattray, will move audiences as well as make them laugh through its dissection of gender and sexuality in the 2020s.

 

In May, Queensland Theatre presents William Shakespeare’s most intimate tragedy,  Othello. Directed by stage powerhouse Jason Klarwein and starring Jimi Bani, this uniquely Queensland version will give the classic an evocative and effective setting in the Torres Strait during the Second World War.

 

Next up, the world premiere of the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award-winning play The Holidaysby David Megarrity, directed by Matilda Award-wining Bridget Boyle. This sensory feast will transport audiences to a quintessentially Queensland beach getaway for a touching meditation on mortality.

 

 

Posing the question, ‘what’s our responsibility to the future’ and set in the wake of a nuclear disaster, The Children is written by one of the UK’s hottest young playwrights in Lucy Kirkwood and will be directed by Zoe Tuffin.

 

Then, one of the most anticipated stage stories of the year – and an Australian coup – the world premiere stage version of Trent Dalton’s wildly successful novel Boy Swallows Universe brings Brisbane unforgettably to life under the direction of Sam Strong. Adapted for stage by Tim McGarry and presented in partnership with Brisbane Festival, the play will see the blockbuster Australian novel burst onto stage.

 

 

In October, the Griffin award-winning Prima Facie, by playwright Suzie Miller presents an urgent, gripping one woman show which mounts an irresistible call for change through its powerful story of a defense barrister who finds herself on the wrong side of the system, directed by Lee Lewis.

 

 

The Season 2020 finale is the world premiere and Queensland exclusive of Phaedrawhich satirically transplants one of drama’s great heroines to a Queensland that has seceded from the rest of Australia. From the minds of Queensland’s own Belloo Creative, written by the acclaimed Katherine Lyall-Watson and directed by Caroline Dunphy, the play sees the return of the much-loved Angie Milliken to Queensland Theatre’s stage.

As the company celebrates 50 seasons of stories, it is especially proud of the success of the immediate past. Under the Artistic Direction of Sam Strong and the executive leadership of Amanda Jolly, Queensland Theatre has made concrete its vision of leading from Queensland – with key achievements including a new name, a new theatre, record audiences and growth, national industry leadership through gender parity of writers and directors for four successive years, more diverse voices, more new stories and world premieres, and the next generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stories. These successes and so much more will be celebrated throughout Season 2020.

Sam Strong paid tribute to Queensland Theatre and audiences as he bids farewell.

“I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to lead Queensland Theatre and am so proud of what we have achieved together over the last four years. I’ve loved living, working and sitting in lots of theatres in Queensland, including the one we built together. Thank you for so generously embracing me and the Company’s work. Brisbane really does have the warmest audiences in Australia.  I can’t wait to return to those audiences as a punter and as a director in 2020.”