Archive for the 'Children’s Theatre' Category

10
Dec
18

A Christmas Carol

 

A Christmas Carol

QPAC and shake & stir theatre co

QPAC Playhouse

December 8 – 20 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.

– Charles Dickens

 

And in the end, light wins.

– Josh McIntosh

 

DON’T EVEN READ THIS. JUST BOOK THE TIX ALREADY.

 

Brisbane has seen three Christmas shows run simultaneously this year in a bid by leading companies to capture the Christmas market by encouraging us to establish new yuletide traditions. It’s a no-brainer, brilliant; everyone’s a winner. Give heart-warming, life-affirming, amazing experiences created especially for you by artists who stay employed right up until the end of the year in our venues that, by being filled to overflowing for every show, reinforces the case for our need for new venues so more humans get to enjoy live entertainment. This is what it’s all about. 

 

All three productions are of the highest quality, but it’s A Christmas Carol that exceeds expectations. It’s not only a compassionate take on the timeless tale, and performed with ease and extra sparkle by a stunning cast, but it’s truly visually spectacular. It’s not overstating the fact to say that the combination of visual elements surpasses anything we’ve seen before, with the exception of a flying carpet perhaps. You’ll get no spoilers from me, however; you’ll have to see the theatrical magic for yourself. 

 

shake & stir’s superb retelling of Charles Dickens’ classic novel, adapted for the stage by Nelle Lee and directed by Michael Futcher, might not appear to be for everyone; at first glance it looks dark, sombre and a little bit scary. But it’s also very funny and completely family friendly (QPAC and shake & stir recommend the family members be 8 years and older), and as set and costume designer, Josh McIntosh reminds us, in the end, light wins.

 

Josh Mcintosh has actually outdone himself with A Christmas Carol’s seamlessly shifting set design of Neo Victorian Gothic walls and windows and staircases and balconies, creating imposing movable pieces that come together like a jumbo 3D puzzle in a whirlwind of choreography, and in true Gothic style, create an additional character in its own right, of 1800s Victorian London. Somehow there are spaces that also seem cosy and reassuring, and this is helped by Jason Glenwright’s stunning lighting states, bringing daylight into the darkest corners of the world without losing the sense of the shadows we see at the edges.

 

In amongst the moments of Christmas cheer, the mood is eerie, foreboding, suspenseful; everything that the mega smash hit next door offered to deliver and didn’t. Unsurprisingly, because this company goes to such lengths or because the theatre ghosts kindly arranged it, air con colludes with creatives, chilling us to the bone so that a shiver runs down the spine even before we catch our first a glimpse of the Ghost of Christmas Past. And is it really the actor on stage? Or an apparition? It’s the magic of theatre, created by Craig Wilkinson of another Brisbane based creative company steadily taking over the world, optikal bloc.

 

Despite some highly physical characterisations, particularly in Eugene Gilfedder’s Scrooge, and in Bryan Probets’ Jacob Marley and the spirits of Christmas past, present and future (if it is indeed his elegant gesture inside the sleeve of the Elder-esque figure), there’s actually very little pageantry or pantomime involved. These heightened performances are delightful, and comparatively naturalistic when we remember perennial favourites, George’s Marvellous Medicine and Revolting Rhymes

 

The real secret to the success of this production lies in its magical alchemy behind the scenes, in the spaces between shake & stir’s founders and Artistic Directors, Nelle Lee, Nick Skubij and Ross Balbuziente, and the phenomenally talented creative team they assemble each time. Honestly, how we still have them in Brisbane is beyond me. Like those of The Little Red Company, shake & stir’s mainstage productions are truly world class, and they could choose to be based anywhere in the world. However, a beautiful producing and presenting partnership with QPAC and finding your work so brilliantly realised by the likes of director, Michael Futcher, and the design team would make anybody reluctant to leave the nest.

 

Original, whimsical musical arrangements performed live by wandering minstrel Salliana Campbell add festive spirit and fun to an often haunting soundscape. Campbell is a natural addition to the shake & stir family, fitting into every scene with her easy, relaxed manner and accomplished musicianship, and even brightly, unfalteringly, returning Scrooge’s Christmas morning greeting. The lovely Arnijka Larcombe-Weate is another new addition, however; we will need to wait for the next production to see her potential more fully realised.

 

 

Futcher is one of my favourite insightful directors, his light touch able to take on board the bleak tone of the original material and its central unlikeable character, but also dispel any dark power that it may hold over us by excavating the inherent beauty and kindness of human nature, and the nuances in each moment of joy, in this case, the simple message of peace and goodwill. So while this is a dark and sometimes terrifying story, the light really does win in the end. Some lovely, typically shake & stir comedy comes through, and this is also testament to Lee’s ability to adapt a complex classical text that on stage becomes suitable for almost all ages. I will mention that a particularly terrifying projected image stayed with Poppy throughout the rooftop party and lingered during the drive home, so that we had to hear Dear Evan Hansen twice more. This is not a terrible thing. The current detour due to roadworks takes us home via Forest Glen, an extra twenty minutes down the road, so the deluxe album, including deleted songs and Katy Perry’s curious rendition of Waving Through A Window, was perfect. And Poppy remembers a perfect evening out!

 

This company is well known for its founding artists’ ability to turn a hand to just about anything, and their performances don’t disappoint. Lee offers a gorgeous and gratitude filled, bubbling, bustling Mrs Cratchit, which is supported by the heartfelt, heart-warming performances of the boys (Skubij and Balbuzienti, two of the few amongst us who can convincingly play much younger than they are). And in his shake & stir debut, Lucas Stibbard is a particular Mr Cratchit, not dithering, not obsessive, not quite frightened rabbit…but there’s a sense of the downtrodden, the underdog, and he harnesses this energy beautifully to turn around each low point for the sake of his family and the youngest boy, the cripple, Tiny Tim. I won’t spoil it, but this character is a little bit of quiet genius, which may or may not make perfect sense to you, depending on your imagination and compassion. (And if you really want the spoilers, simply read the other reviews. What is it with this frantic, desperate need to reveal all?). 

 

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A Christmas Carol is the new next best beautiful annual tradition after The Nutcracker – many will say it’s their preferred option – if the presenting partners can make it work. If so, I’d like to see the ticket prices reflect the nature of the gift this show would be to so many families – and not only families – that would otherwise miss out.

 

There will always be artists and sets and spaces demanding payment (actually, the artists are usually the least demanding), and there will always be a demographic that can’t even entertain the possibility of taking themselves, let alone a family of four or five to a show, especially at Christmas time. So let’s find a way to make this brilliant, beautiful, uplifting, thrilling and life-affirming experience more accessible. Would you gift a ticket? Keep letting our companies and venues know that when you book your seats, you’d like to Pay It Forward rather than Pay A Booking Fee. 

27
Jun
18

The Arrival

The Arrival

QPAC’s Out of the Box & Red Leap Theatre

QPAC Playhouse

June 26 – July 1 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

A man flees his homeland and journeys across vast seas to arrive in a strange, wondrous

new world where giant ships fly through the air and curious creatures abound. There he

negotiates dazzling architecture, bizarre foods and foreign tongues to build a new life. On his

travels the man meets fellow migrants, each with their own tale to tell.

 

 

There are no notes for a relaxed performance, though that’s what it is, with hundreds of kids spilling into the seats in the Playhouse on the first day of QPAC’s Out of the Box children’s festival, asking questions already, and right through the show. And this is the way theatre used to work, and needs to continue to work, allowing us to be involved and completely immersed and alive, feeling every moment. For a kid, more often than not, this means feeling out loud, speaking their mind in the moment, and not accepting being told, “Shhh…we’ll talk about it later”, although if you’ve been following for a few years you’ll know that that is precisely what I’ve told Poppy, now twelve, for years of attending theatre with adult audiences. (I care less now about the glares). I love the children’s chatter during the shows that are especially created for them. I also love when they are captivated and silent, and in this show there are those magical moments too, when a hush descends over the entire audience of under-eights. But not for long! It’s too interesting and exciting!

 

What’s happening? What is that? Where is he going? Why can’t they be with him? Is the tiny ship the ship he’s on? Why can’t they go on the ship too? Is this a true story? Not all of it is understood, but there is a basic family unit separated and eventually reunited, and in between there is survival, friendship, war, horror and a new home.

 

More questions. This time from Poppy, afterwards. Why can’t we see Air Play? Why can’t we see everything? Why did he have to leave his home? Why couldn’t his family go together, stay together? Did the beautiful origami bird letter reach them? Was it even a letter? Money? Was it his love being sent symbolically across the ocean? This last, not as clear as it might have been, unless of course you’ve recently read the book, which Poppy had not. If you’ve not looked at the book recently either, or never looked at it, watch this brilliant animation. I had shared it with ten-year-olds at one school before we wrote about our favourite images, and created leaving and arriving freeze frames. At another school I was asked not to use the book again, it was too much to discuss. “We don’t have time to talk about that.” 

 

Adapted by Kate Parker and Julie Nolan, and directed by Nolan, this outstanding production, like Shaun Tan’s award winning graphic novel, comprises a series of incredible images, created by bodies, and the muted colours and textures they wear and through which they weave. Set pieces slide, and fold in and out and onto themselves, offering a semblance of a pop-up storybook on stage, perfectly lit. Scenes and moods and emotions shift seamlessly in curious exploration of a whole new life and the wonderment of living it, and the challenge and contentment that comes with communicating and connecting with other living beings. 

 

 

To have The Arrival of the title, we must first have a departure. This is a poignant goodbye, preceded by the opening image of the three as one – a perfectly balanced family trinity, clutching each other in a lifted embrace before they separate, to be seen as three individuals, each with their own feelings and ways of working out the world. There is a long journey and a ship sails by, beyond the action, just as a suitcase ship is constructed downstage, in front, in the real-life world of the play. The kids get it. Perspective 101. Performers become migrants, and make a porthole of their arms, and we fully accept the style of the show now – I remind Poppy that she saw something like it for the first time in Wolfe Bowart’s beautiful works, including Letter’s End and La La Luna; his is some of my favourite visual/children’s theatre ever – combining live performance and physical theatre, puppetry, projections, silhouettes and shadows, an evocative soundscape and original music. Adults and kids alike marvel at various inspired aspects of Red Leap’s storytelling, even something as simple as swaying together to create the shared trepidation of the travellers and the movement of the ship. With only the faint hope of finding more than a day’s work, it’s the opening of Les MiserablesAt the End of the Day, played out in silent slow motion on a boat. Birds fly overhead, heralding a strange new land, and crying freedom and joy and flight and hunger and fear. Of course, that depends on who you’re asking.

 

 

The walking fingers of performers, representing the newcomers’ insignificance as much as the figures themselves, hurry along a gangplank, which rests between the suitcase ship and an official looking person, standing formidably and stamping passports, allowing them passage across the bridge to a new world. A projected image seems to be the shape from the book, which is a beautiful, spot-the-difference moment with children if you have a copy at home or at school; it’s the towering, hand-shaking figures in their boats, but it’s not as clear as the Statue of Liberty would be (and how clear is her message at the moment, anyway?), and perhaps it’s a missed opportunity to incorporate another amazing design feature, as The Rabbits had its central tower of earth. Perhaps not.

 

 

A hot air balloon is revealed before it’s miniaturised, and our man continues his journey, looking over a vast new city. This means of transportation is gentle and other-worldly, like Dorothy’s intended way home, or Charlie’s Great Glass Elevator once it’s crashed through the factory ceiling. There are oohs and ahhs all around us. We see seasons pass, and the man is rained on, snowed on, each element initially indicated by the actions of the ensemble, clustered around him, reaching and clicking fingers in the air, and more reaching, fingers pinching snowflakes, unintentionally making the “okay” sign because (the boy behind me), “Look! Everything will be okay, don’t worry, Mum”, and (Poppy beside me), “Surely someone will be kind enough to give him a home.” And someone is. The new home is tiny and strange, with strange things in it! The ensemble members become a hat stand, a shower, and the puppeteer of a stray creature, a new best friend. A wonderful moment sees the actors react to a spray of water from the shower, and kids all around us shriek and laugh! In the pages of the book we see that there are many like the man, however; this story is mostly his story, and it has not been made too overwhelming by frequently and needlessly reminding us that there are countless others in his plight, focusing instead on just a few migrant stories to represent millions. The most engaging of these, a great and terrible battle in which many lives are lost during a series of lifts and spins and balances, and a near tragedy, depicted by a woman moving over and under a continuously moving ladder to retrieve a precious book, perhaps her only possession. These are highly physical sequences, the company of actors having settled with each other and with the demands of the show over a very short rehearsal time, however; during the extended season, once they’ve really settled, you’ll see an even tighter, more precise and even more closely connected ensemble, comprising Giema Contini, Nerida Matthaei, Leah Shelton, Michael Tuahine, Charles Ball, Danielle Jackson, Kristian Santic, Caroline Dunphy, and Tama Jarman & Shadon Meredith from Red Leap Theatre.

 

 

We appreciate more and more the work of these performers, largely disguised during the journey in their on-stage-stagehand roles, manipulating the invading dragon tail dementors in the sky, and moving city walls, and later, pulling up cloth from below the apron of the stage to create a field of flowers, the perfect realisation of Tan’s original illustration. A devised imagined language also makes perfect sense, supported by comedic gestures and facial expressions, often bringing light to this dark story. There’s a very funny snozzcumber moment, when a refreshing, revolting tasting fluid is sourced from some weird vegetable at the market. A more frightening BFG/Holocaust/The Mission moment comes with the sudden, violent extraction of tiny people by enormous shadowy figures looking suspiciously like Ghostbusters (the original Ghostbusters, kids, the best).

 

It’s gorgeous to see and hear this society brought to life by accomplished performers, making this production a theatre makers’ masterclass: for physical theatre / devising / directing addicts/aficionados we see in The Arrival a stunning example of contemporary theatre, and specifically, Visual Theatre and Physical Theatre using the essential elements/ingredients of composition, including all of The Viewpoints. For example, and this is especially for my year 9 & 10 drama kids, who are used to me telling them to go see whatever it is I’ve just seen, a beautifully constructed sequence of everyday activities exploring gesture, tempo, repetition and duration, as well as a choreographed dream-turned-nightmare, and a unique game in which lawn bowls meets bottle-flipping, to the great delight of everyone-who-is-not-a-teacher-with-playground-duty-experience.

 

 

With the arrival of another Spring, comes the arrival of the man’s family, and again this moment is miniaturised, the fingers doing the initial walking, building our anticipation before, finally, a running, leaping, embracing reunion, made even more moving this way, setting up the final lasting image of the family standing together again. 

 

The Arrival comes to us with its universal story, its beautiful, powerful, theatrically conceptualised and constructed images, and Red Leap’s signature aesthetic. It’s unparalleled at this year’s Out of the Box Festival, superbly realised, designed and directed, imbued with so much meaning and emotion, and waiting for your take on it. This is the intelligent, aesthetically and emotionally inspiring theatre that kids (and adults) never forget. Take the whole family and talk about it, and about what it means to each of you, and what – if anything – you might do about the feelings that come up for you. It’s not a call to action exactly, but a gentle nudge, a reminder to love and be loved, and to be kind to those near you – family, friends, strangers – because at the core of The Arrival is the struggle to survive and stay connected, and that’s everyone’s story.

 

Red Leap Theatre – The Arrival TRAILER from Red Leap Theatre on Vimeo.

14
Oct
17

Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories

 

Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories

QPAC Presents A Barking Gecko Theatre Company Production

QPAC Playhouse

October 11 – 15 2017

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

How does a story write itself?

 

It only takes a wish…

 

How weird theatre is, or my head while I’m in it. The ancient Greeks recognised the River Styx as the point between this world and Hades, and this with its ferryman, Kharon, is the image that fills my head as we watch Bambert, an impossibly small man with an enormous love for writing, cross over to the other side of the dream.

I cry, and usually I can brush away any tears before the house lights come up but something is different and I let them fall. Poppy hugs me – she’s almost as tall as me and as skinny as my grandmother, her great-grandmother, Ena; I’ve been thinking about her – and we don’t hang around, even though my friend knows this cast and I could race around with her to Stage Door to give every one of them a huge hug to say thanks for stopping by and stopping other things happening in my life for a little while. Katie Noonan’s exquisite cover of River Man, from Elixir days, haunts me for the next few hours, despite Poppy’s insistence that we listen to Next to Normal all the way home – I will keep the plates all spinning – and then, when we get home, the noise of the neighbours’ parties pervades our house, and our little street. This used to be a neat street…

 

 

Children’s stories make us think of other children’s stories, and this one, a Helpmann Award winner in 2016, brings up all sorts of stuff, including my hero, Mr Plumbean, and for some reason (because we get a sense of how simple and complex death is?), a favourite Little Golden Book about the changing of the seasons, The Four Puppies. And always, The Neverending Story. ALWAYS The Neverending Story. Some stories stay with us…

 

Child-like, old man Bambert lives in the tiny attic above Mr Bloom’s grocery store, writing his stories beneath the gaze of his friend, the moon.

 

 

“He realised that all his stories were just words on a page. All these years he thought he was writing himself into the world but the truth was, if Bambert knew nothing of the world then the world knew nothing of him.”

 

One day Bambert sends his stories out into the world, tearing the pages from his book and attaching each to a balloon, with instructions for the reader to send the story back so that he may use the postage stamp to give each story a location.

 

Bambert’s stories are rich with meaning. I enjoy the first one the most, about a headstrong, and socially, politically and environmentally conscious princess looking to appoint the next leader of her kingdom. She sees through the gimmicks of potential suitors who have been asked to give her the key to truth, exposing their flaws and fake news, and we are left to assume that she herself will take the reigns. Frightening tales follow this one, in which a pigeon woman in London, Lady Brompton-Featherly-Poselthwaighte-Huntington-Moore the Third, finds lost and hungry people to add to her collection of living wax figures, another in which two writers will have to put their faith in an imaginary child to escape their prison cell on a ray of light, and a brother and sister who will have to find their way through the stark winter forests of Poland before the Dark Angels (no, not those who frequent the fetish club, but something more like Dementors, or…Nazis), find them and force them into a deep hole in the freezing earth. And finally, it’s the tale of Taruk, whose drawings come to life as he completes them, reinforcing Bambert’s wish that creativity and good choices will change the world.

 

Directed by Dan Giovannoni and Luke Kerridge, who came across a copy of Reinheldt Jung’s book in a London bookstore and carried it with him for years of backpacking around the world before returning home to turn it into this show. (Kerridge’s other favourite book is The Little Prince). In these sophisticated stories, Kerridge recognised Jung’s simple storytelling device, that it’s the children who are the protagonists and the children who can save the world.

 

It’s a much darker show than you might expect to be seeing with the kids, but here are 5 things I noticed during the Friday night performance at QPAC’s Playhouse, which makes me consider how much we need darker stories told in a theatrical context, and how much we need kids to continue taking their parents to experience live theatre.

  1. we need darkness to see the light
  2. kids are more prepared to hear difficult stories than their parents appear to be
  3. kids are more comfortable hearing difficult stories than their parents appear to be
  4. kids and parents experience similar difficulties trying to quietly consume hard candy in boxes
  5. theatres should resist selling hard candy in boxes if they would like to maintain a particular quality to the storytelling and audience experience
  6. parents should resist accompanying their kids to the theatre unless they are going to follow their own advice, including not speaking or using phones during the performance because as well as being distracting to those seated nearby, the performers, who all real people exisiting in real time in front of you, can hear you and see you.

 

Of course most of the kids work out how it works before the house lights have dimmed.

 

 

The magic of Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories is not only in the allegorical tales themselves, but in the telling of them. Igor Sas is the thoughtful, gentle Mr Bloom, who intercepts Bambert’s stories in favour of seeing his small friend’s delight rather than disillusionment with the world. A talented ensemble play the roles required to bring the story characters to life. Tim Watts is Bambert’s gibberish voice and head and heart (and also, Lord Byron and the princess’s tall, gangly, funny father, the king). Amanda McGregor, Jo Morris and Nick MacLaine are exceptional across multiple roles demonstrating their versatility and flair for comedy and Bunraku puppetry.

 

 

Designer, Jonathan Oxlade, has created a beautiful, intimate two-storey set of intricate detail, which we would ideally have seen in the Cremorne Theatre, only somebody probably thought they could sell every Playhouse seat to any production from this award winning company (I would have thought so too). With ever-changing evocative lighting by Chris Donnelly, and a cinematic soundscape and original music by Ian Moorhead, there’s nothing about this show that’s not perfectly crafted and polished for audiences of all ages and sensibilities. I’ve seen nothing on this scale, of this calibre, for young children since Slava’s Snowshow and Wolfe Bowart’s suite of works. We miss so much as adults (and with an older child now), not even trying to get to similar work at QPAC’s Out of the Box festival for under eights or so-called “children’s theatre”. If only we could get to everything, and if only everything was this sweet and enthralling and entertaining. 

 

While you’re at QPAC, drop in to see Puppet People, a free exhibition in the Tony Gould Gallery with extended opening hours during the Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories season:

Saturday 10am – 6.15pm and Sunday 10am – 1.30pm

13
Jul
17

Pocketful of Pebbles

Pocketful of Pebbles

The Arts Centre, Gold Coast & White Rabbit Theatre Ensemble

The Arts Centre, Gold Coast

July 6 – 7 2017

 

Reviewed by Claire Harding

 

 

 

Aspiring, as all good fairy tales should, to teach children a moral, Pocketful of Pebbles delivered an important message to its family holiday audience at The Arts Centre, Gold Coast…

 

Stories can only exist when they are shared.

 

A funny and entertaining show with a darker edge, the collaborators on this unique project drew inspiration from traditional folk and fairy tale traditions that didn’t shy away from reminding younger audiences that life is not always sunny. Co-written by White Rabbit Theatre’s Lisa Smith (Playwright, Director, Producer and last minute Actor), Victoria Carless (Playwright The Grand, 2015 and Novelist The Dream Walker, 2017) and Tammy Weller (Playwright and Actor), show us that before Disney, not all good stories ended in happily ever after.

 

 

 

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. This tension is juxtaposed with a whimsical delivery of stock characters and Puppets, such as the main character Mr Phoenix; a giant Phoenix bird designed by Graeme Haddon (Director of Puppetry for The Wiggles and Jim Henson’s Farscape). He is a humorous bird whom, with his companions, delivers some great commentary and witty one liners, which keep the adults just as entertained as the kids.

 

 

Performers, including Puppeteer Master Anna Straker, with Zachary Boulton and Louise Brehmer, had three short weeks to prepare and master their puppeteering techniques. Each actor plays many different characters, giving this simple production a much grander feel. The script doesn’t shy away from villainous characters or scary situations, but skilfully uses humour to ensure that the play remains light-hearted and fun, including the inclusion of sock puppet twins, Detectives Burp and Fart. The use of audience interaction, stylised movement and sound effects, give the piece a cartoonish feel, without slipping over into the pantomime realm.

 

 

Three traditional stories are skilfully woven together through the narration of Mr Phoenix, who is a magical storytelling bird played by the gracious Brehmer. Mr Phoenix’s comedic commentary is reminiscent of the Grumpy Old Men on The Muppet Show. A bird who is destined to be born again but just wants to die, his morose complaining, used to add humour, drive the story and break the fourth wall, reminding the audience that they are just watching a silly story. The minimalist setting is engaging for the audience as it invites us to fill in the blanks and use our imagination, further investing in the reality skilfully created by White Rabbit Theatre Ensemble.

 

 

A year in the making, Pocketful of Pebbles is a unique, dark and funny tale that delivers a positive message as Mr Phoenix challenges the audience to become the keepers of the stories so that the stories live on, and storytelling traditions be continued. A very entertaining and, at times, moving piece of family theatre. A too-short season on the Gold Coast means we can only hope that this touring production makes its way to a theatre near you.

 

05
Dec
16

Matilda the Musical

Matilda the Musical

Royal Shakespeare Company

QPAC Lyric Theatre

December 1 2016 – January 8 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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Matilda the Musical is hands down the best made and the best promoted show we’ve seen in this country. Not many productions live up to the hype preceding them but this one exceeds expectations. The elements combine in a perfect alchemy of joy, morality, imagination and witty, wicked humour, delighting kids, and daring adults to look around, pay attention to the children and begin to listen again to their own inner child.

Roald Dahl’s Matilda is the extraordinary little girl who, armed with a vivid imagination and a sharp mind, dares to take a stand and change her own destiny.

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Queensland’s Matildas are Izellah Connelly, Annabella Cowley, Venice Harris and Eva Murawski.

On opening night we saw Venice Harris, and as the rockstar chocolate-cake-eating Bruce, Exodus Lale, both superb. We will have to return a little later in the season to see our Eva perform! Last night she was on standby and she was able to appear on stage for a very special curtain call with the standby cast, and composer and lyricist, Tim Minchin.

We rarely see a genuinely rapturous, heartfelt standing ovation from an actual full house at QPAC.

(Don’t believe every accolade you see on social media. I’m so often surprised/bemused to see claims of a standing ovation when only a smattering of the audience is on its feet!), but the opening night Matilda audience was as excited and appreciative and awestruck as you’ll ever get at the end of a show. 

It’s no secret that opening nights are a special kind of magic but Matilda the Musical is a show with a buzz that makes you feel like every night is opening night. If there’s a person in the world who hasn’t enjoyed it, I’d like to meet them and ask, “WHAT’S YOUR DAMAGE?” There’s nothing to dislike here (except Miss Trunchbull and the Wormwoods and we’re supposed to loathe them). Matilda the Musical is an uplifting, life affirming, incredibly moving experience, and the cast of children a dynamic new breed of Australian talent. (Minchin has said the girls who play the Brisbane Matildas are four of the best, in this extremely demanding role, in the world. High praise indeed!). We recognise them by their tremendous hearts and rich, clipped voices, their explosive energy and their neatly contained egos. There are adults in the industry who can learn from these hard working and humble kids. (Those adults are not in this show!). And the synergy between adult and child performers makes this show extra special. The ensemble’s opening number, the fast-paced, bright and brilliant, memorably cheeky Miracle, followed by Matilda’s Naughty, and the School Song, choreographed and executed with military precision, testament to the extraordinary talent on stage and off.

There are also a number of must-be-something-in-my-eye moments.

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One of these moments is the beautifully bittersweet When I Grow Up. This is a smiling-while-tears-are-running-shamelessly-down-cheeks scene, reminiscent of Mary Poppins’ Let’s Go Fly a Kite. The use of a slippery slide and timber seated swings hanging from the gods creates a child-sized whimsical world of wide-eyed possibility. I want a swing hanging from the gods in my backyard! When the “big kids” fly out over the audience we gasp in surprise and delight and abandon – even those of us who have seen it before – and our hearts fill to bursting.

It’s not often that a production succeeds in pouring pure glee over an entire audience. 

A fully engaged little kid sitting next to me, so smart, asks his mama if they are sad because they don’t want to grow up. The kid is no older than four or five. Other innocent comments throughout the evening earn smiling, murmured responses from a lovely older gentleman in front and giggles from the rest of us. There’s a little bit of healthy fear happening too. True to the original story, there are some quite frightening moments in the show, just as there are in our dreams and ordinary lives, and the mother does her best to quietly comfort her child. I know parents sometimes avoid taking kids to the theatre because they know it will be their kid to shout out something in the middle of a show. They think this will annoy the other punters and leave themselves embarrassed and apologetic so they decide to give it a miss until the kids are older, and they and the child miss out on an awesome experience and lifelong memories. If you’re a parent wondering whether or not you should take the kids to the show, STOP WONDERING, BOOK THE TICKETS AND TAKE THE KIDS TO THE SHOW.

If the teens and the spouse are slightly wary, they should know Matilda the Musical is also, obviously and subversively, a very grown up show. If nothing else, tell them to hang in there until the final number, the epic kid rock anthem, Revolting Children, which is a showstopper they’ll be singing (and stomping!) for you for days, even weeks. Probably for the next six weeks…of school holidays…lucky you.

The burning woman, hurling through the air with dynamite in her hair, flying over sharks and spiky objects, caught by the man locked in the cage…

The Acrobat and the Escapologist, the story-within-the-story, which has been somehow magically more fully woven through the production since last seen, and which Matilda tells to Mrs Phelps (the fabulous Cle Morgan, a delicious performer of exquisite expression and passion; she shines in this underwritten role). You’ll remember it doesn’t appear in Roald Dahl’s book. The dramatisation of – spoiler alert – Mrs Honey’s parents’ romance, is a neat theatrical device to move us into another realm of storytelling, the segments perfectly placed throughout the show now to allow us to wander through Matilda’s imagination. Her voracious reading and imagining is her escape from a despicable family and horrible home life (loud, brassy, not-real-classy caricatures of the worst possible parents, in Daniel Frederickson & Nadia Komazec in Marika Aubrey’s absence).

There are so many dark themes and dastardly deeds detectable in life, which children need to be able to process just as grown ups do. Roald Dahl knew this, and Minchin and Dennis Kelly make a considered art of serving it straight up, without apology.

Elise McCann is a stronger, more focused and better settled Miss Honey than when we saw her early on in the Sydney season, her rendition of My House poignantly, perfectly delivered, the vocal tone just divine. And the incomparable James Millar, as the formidable Miss Trunchbull, takes the cake (and makes poor Bruce eat it!). Millar’s hilarious, highly physical performance is another highlight. His performance is so polished and so perfectly ridiculous and reasonable at the same time that you might have a hard time now, as I do, listening to the original Trunchbull, the much-loved Brit, Bertie Carvel. Sorry, Bertie.

Can we have an original Australian Cast recording please and thank you. 

Hugh Vanstone’s lighting and Rob Howell’s costume and set design transfer spectacularly well to the Lyric Theatre and MD Peter Rutherford’s orchestra is spot on. The only superfluous number for me is Mr Wormwood’s Telly, but others love it. 

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Matilda the Musical lifts our spirits and raises the musical theatre bar. It’s a show that proves the book, the film and the real life lens we look through every day can be improved upon. YES. The way we view the world is a choice we make every day. And Matilda reminds us that putting things right and standing up for ourselves and for others is easier than we’ve been led to believe.  

Don’t even think for a second you can miss it. There is no gift more magical or inspirational you can give yourself and those you love than Matilda the Musical

 

Brisbane Opening Night Company:

Matilda – Venice Harris
Bruce – Exodus Lale
Alice – Tahlae Colson
Amanda – Isla White
Hortensia – Madison Randl
Lavender – Charlotte Smith
Eric – Elias Geffen
Nigel – Alfie Jamieson
Tommy – Jake Binns
Adult Cast as follows:
Miss Trunchbull – James Millar
Mrs Wormwood – Nadia Komazec
Mr Wormwood – Daniel Frederiksen
Miss Honey – Elise McCann
Mrs Phelps – Cle Morgan
Ensemble – Stephen Anderson, Reece Budin, Travis Khan, Daniel Raso, Rachel Cole, James Bryers, Leah Lim, Adam Noviello, Patrick Whitbread
Swings – Cristina D’Agostino, Matt Douglass, Hannah Stanton, Clay Roberts, Danielle Cook

 

 

 

 

 

31
Mar
16

Concerto For Harmony and Presto

 

Concerto for Harmony and Presto

QPAC

QPAC Cremorne

March 29 – April 2 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

This is a story of two unlikely friends. One day Presto arrives, bringing with him an astonishing array of bits and bobs that threaten Harmony’s neat and ordered existence. Harmony sees a cart full of junk. Presto sees infinite possibilities – precious things that when put together just the right way can create extraordinary music!

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This morning, THIS HAPPENED. WONDERFUL!

QPAC and debase are partnering with Autism Queensland to present a Sensory Friendly Performance of Concerto for Harmony and Presto.

QPAC acknowledges that individuals with sensory and social disabilities may require support in attending performing arts events. This performance session is specifically designed for children with ASD or other sensory, social or learning disabilities that create sensory sensitivities.

Sensory Friendly Performances involve modifying a particular performance session by adapting the audience environment and providing pre-theatre preparatory activities for the person with a sensory, social, or learning disability so they can understand and anticipate what might happen during the performance.

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I missed seeing an excerpt from deBase’s Concerto for Harmony and Presto at APAM16 and Poppy and I thought that maybe this show would be another one billed by QPAC for kids aged 3+ meaning suitable for 3 – 8 year olds, which is a common challenge for parents when contemplating which children’s theatre to take the over eights to. We were pleasantly surprised to find the fun for all ages in it.

Even before the show begins the atmosphere is warm and welcoming.

Gasping in mock horror and scolding each other as we do so, we leap over a row of seats because that’s the quickest and easiest way into our own. We love the sweet 40s & 50s tunes that play before the show and we see a friend to say hello to. It’s Lighting Designer, Jason Glenwright. Poppy is polite, as always, but unimpressed; they’ve met a number of times before and she simply says to me matter of factly, “Good, the lights will be good then”. She and I chat quietly about the lovely muted colours and rich but raw textures on stage while younger children all around us loudly demand snacks and ask, “When will it start?”

We relax into the autumnal colours, brought to life across a vertical surface of muslin and cotton and satin, enchanting colour and texture. A rustic, old-fashioned ambience is created by Glenwright’s gentle golden glow and the upbeat laid back party music of our grandparents: Sweet Georgia Brown, You Made Me Love You and If You Knew Susie… We sing along, playing imaginary spoons on our knees and soft-shoe-ing cool moves beneath the seats.

Old world shadow puppets, beautifully cut, are used to to set up the classic story of a young girl, Harmony, and her parents, who fall on hard times. The father loses his job at the factory and, reminiscent of the story of Jack (of Beanstalk fame), Harmony is sent to market with strict instructions to sell the family’s beloved gramophone, which is symbolic of their joy. As she turns and walks away, she remembers their days and nights of singing and dancing while the silhouette of her father hangs his head in his hands. A small child nearby whispers, “Mummy, he’s crying.”

When the lights came up again after the dimness it was like a sunrise and I felt engaged. The puppets were beautiful.

– Poppy Eponine

The travelling tinker, Presto (Don Voyage), and the little girl, Harmony (Liz Skitch), find that they have set up in the same place, which leads to conflict. Most offended is Harmony, who sets a rope between them. She and her Dead Puppet Society puppet, Lucy, will dance for pennies and Presto can do what he likes, as long as he stays on his side of the rope and doesn’t attract too much attention from the passers by. After all, she is there to make money to help her family, which is far more important than…whatever it is he is there to do.

What will happen to Harmony when she finds herself in a spot of trouble? Will Presto cross the line to help her? He makes it clear that she has made it clear from the beginning that he should stay in his dance space and she in hers. There are lovely subtle nods to some of our country’s biggest issues here… A moment suggests that Harmony might do away with the rope and invite him over but alas, she only moves it nearer to allow him to reach the precious gramophone, which is in desperate need of his unique skill set. (Earlier, perhaps not as subtly, Presto steps near enough to be physically present at Harmony’s tea party, but only as a non English speaking servant to pour the tea…). What follows is a hilarious and chaotic sequence of crazy, zany emergency treatments, with (Dr) Presto and (Nurse) Harmony working together, channelling classic Commedia and clowning energy and antics (Dramaturg Robert Kronk) to bring the broken gramophone back to life.

Presto’s sound effects especially are sensational and nothing is safe; every object is a noise-making instrument. (Some objects produce sounds that are more musical than others). He communicates using a language entirely of his own making, using gesture and bird whistle words. He’s very clear and we’re reminded that the challenges we experience when communicating with others is less about what they are saying and more about what we are hearing. 

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When Harmony and Presto finally tune in to what the other is saying and discover a way to work together the children in the audience clap and cheer. Harmony invites us, without a word, to be a part of the concerto by handing out colourful toy instruments and prompting us to clap along. Skitch employs every facial expression in her repertoire, Voyage struts and trumpets and the kids love it!

Presto surreptitiously loops the sound effects to create a final multi-layered piece that plays beneath the live trumpet and percussion sounds. What began as a simple kitchen collection of noisy junk becomes a richly textured musical number, the Concerto of the title. A stronger finish will make this show almost perfect.

Directors, Helen Howard and Michael Futcher, expertly manipulate the artists’ playful exploration and their heartfelt communication to transform a simple story into a sophisticated musical extravaganza, which genuinely engages and delights all ages.

16
Jan
16

The Tiger Who Came to Tea

 

The Tiger Who Came to Tea

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

QPAC Playhouse

January 14 – 17 2015

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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