Archive for the 'Comedy' Category

23
Apr
19

CLUEDO! The Interactive Game

 

CLUEDO! The Interactive Game

Brisbane Immersive Ensemble

Baedeker Wine Bar

April 17 – May 25 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

CLUEDO! The Interactive Game is the most fun you’ll have outside a theatre until Anywhere Festival takes over all the unlikely performance spaces in Brisbane and across the Sunshine Coast (May 9 – 26). Since its humble beginnings during the 2017 Anywhere Festival, with just two performances on board the Kookaburra Queen, the award winning interactive game / show CLUEDO has continued to attract capacity audiences, and also serves as an attractive corporate option, by special arrangement.

 

This Baedeker Wine Bar season is Brisbane Immersive Ensemble’s third, returning to delight audiences who come to collect clues and assist the iconic board game characters to solve a murder mystery by the end of the night. Ultimately, we don’t actually care who it was, or with what, or where; but others do and either way, the fun is in the chase. We follow our favourite suspects curiously, to see how well they hold up under interrogation. And by that I mean, who here has the sustained focus, and the rather unique skill set required for the successful navigation and manipulation of this style of entertainment and its audience? Not only that, do these performers have the energy and ability to genuinely connect with their audience in this close-up context? No pressure. 

 

CLUEDO is undoubtedly Brisbane’s best improvised immersive dinner theatre experience, encouraging dress ups, dancing and mingling – as much or as little as we like – as we hear from characters made famous by the classic board game (1949) and the film it inspired, starring Tim Curry, Madeleine Kahn, Eileen Brennan, Christopher Lloyd, Colleen Camp and Lesley Ann Warren (1985). A cast of thousands appears to be on hand for each season of the live show, and testament to the nature of the production and this far-reaching yet tight-knit ensemble, a number of past and present players attend on opening night just for fun, including Chris Kellett, Jonathan Hickey, Aurelie Roque (on alternate nights playing Madame Peacock), and Damien Campagnolo (credited with a variety of roles).

 

 

The current season sees the debonaire Colin Smith (Kelly, Nearer the Gods, An Octoroon), step into the role of Dr Black, perfectly suiting both the suave attire and high society demeanour as the host of a 1930s style cocktail party in the beautiful Baedeker building. 

 

The stock characters are variously informed by the experience and confidence of the performers. Most notably, Madame Peacock (Elizabeth Best) and Reverend Green (Tristan Teller) hold their own no matter what’s thrown at them by the punters. Best struts and postures, relishing the bold and brash Americanisms and eroticisms of the role, as well as the effect on guests of her towering headpiece. (Standing at almost 6ft tall even without this plumage, for Roque to don it on alternate nights must make her Madame Peacock the most imposing character of the night and possibly, with the exception of Joanne in RENT, of Roque’s repertoire to date). Best’s version of Madame Peacock has a sense of the Unsinkable Molly Brown about her, and she won’t be beaten. Likewise, Reverend Green has all the answers and when for an instant he almost appears not to, he conveniently and appropriately passes the buck to God. And in a neat casting trick of the Gods, we think that Teller, surely the most accomplished performer here, having previously been cast opposite Tom Hiddelston and Eddie Redmayne, and with a list of special skills too long to mention (I resist including his CV), could actually be Jude Law’s long lost brother, such is his precise and very lovely vocal work, distinct look, and with a devilish glint behind them, his distinct looks. For a man of the cloth, the shifts between pious and wicked are too deliciously easy, and if he can be kept in Brisbane, we can look forward to Teller’s next captivating performance, in a mainstage production, or a commissioned festival piece, or in a staged reading, just of some memes or something somewhere. Or just sitting, reading, silently. Or drinking coffee, or anything, actually. Seriously. Someone. Anyone. Give him work. Make him stay.

 

 

Professor Plum (Joel O’Brien) and Colonel Mustard (Zane C Webber) provide wonderful contrasts in their statures, mannerisms and banter, leaving Mrs White (Jessica Kate Ryan) and Miss Scarlett the least memorable guests on the list. Ordinarily, the latter role is in the hands of Geena Schwartz, however; due to unforeseen circumstances, was filled at the last minute by Director, Xanthe Jones. In her ill-fitting red satin, designed and made for Schwartz (and we love Kaylee Gannaway’s designs – remember, I own one – everything else here is perfection), the stand-in Miss Scarlet’s simpering, and her protestations to the accusations made against her, lack light and shade, and Jones misses many opportunities to keep us engaged with her story, however; there are others who remain entranced with her from start to finish. Perhaps they knew she had thrown herself into the mix, or perhaps they are granted eye contact, which we are not. She only looks up in passing to compliment me on my stole, which I would love to tell you is faux fur but it’s properly vintage so… Mrs White, a character informed neither by Madeleine Kahn nor Colleen Camp in this case, is not attuned to the offers from her fellow performers, and despite her efforts to cut through the noise of the crowd or the quiet intensity of a scene, Ryan fails to make an impact as Dr Black’s German hausfrau. However, had we seen her in a scene rather than in between scenes, we might gain a more complete picture of both the character and the actor. More on this later.

 

 

Patrick Aitken gallantly strides in to save the day – or at least, to facilitate and wrap up the investigation of the crime committed while we had enjoyed jazz and booze in the ballroom, driving a challenging scene that amounts to wrangling cats since most of the guests are by this time happily holding their third or fourth glass of wine. He is assisted by prettily named detectives, Carmine, Periwinkle, Dove, Moss, Cobalt and Honey (James Elliot, Johanna Lyon, Julia Pendrith, Tom Harris, Patrick Shearer and Matthew Butler).

 

Genevieve Tree and Samuel Valentine sing up a merry storm with the band led by MD Jye Burton (I would name the talented musicians if they were credited). This aspect of the evening is so enjoyable that if solving the crime doesn’t interest you, you’ll have a decent night out just sitting and listening, or dancing to the band! All the players can carry a tune and when I mention my surprise to Chris Kellett, because here we are with the Immersive Ensemble and not Oscar Production Company, he laughs and tells me, “Yes, it’s what we do!”.

 

Written by Xanthe Jones and directed by Jones and Ben Lynskey, CLUEDO makes the most of the superb Heritage listed space in which its staged. It relies on clearly drawn characters and mostly audible instructions to move punters through a range of interesting rooms, and a story full of intrigue and action, but therein lies the challenge. The construct itself is problematic, allowing us so much freedom during the evening that we miss vital scenes. Is it enough to get a version of events from other guests? I would like to have seen more for myself, particularly from Mrs White, and Miss Scarlett. Perhaps their scenes are more engaging than those moments in-between. A solution might lie in a ‘menu’ of appointments, a card in the style of the original game if you like, or iPads – so good for the company’s socials and data collection too but then, how would one hold one’s drink? – distributed to guests upon arrival to ensure they know where to be and when to be there, in order to witness each conversation or altercation in turn. Ensuring that everyone is an eye witness to everything will invariably lead to more efficient and more relevant lines of questioning. Some of the questions! Be patient with your friends, friends! Also, another point of conversation and certainly a more glamorous offer, befitting of the surrounds and the style of the party, would be a generous grazing table in the dining room, rather than the plates of food currently available, which you won’t feel the need to photograph. Anyway, after running such an event for two seasons, I know that I would start to want more control of the crowd (think of the Divergent trilogy; Poppy is obsessed with it!), but such solutions are less obvious from the inside. And drugs are bad. 

 

Despite a sense of chaos during the time allowed for questioning suspects, and a few loose ends here and there, what makes this immersive and quite sumptuous version of the much loved CLUEDO a winner is its perfect location and its cast, and their genuine interactions with members of the audience. If you’re prepared to interact, it can be a very personal theatrical experience, as if what you imagine to be true will make all the difference to the outcome! You might not feel quite as satisfied at any other show after this one, or quite as willing to sit still in the audience and stay mute. Go with a group and work together in a team or go rogue like we did, and investigate from the fringes to solve CLUEDO’s mystery – or not – and have a swellegant, elegant time of it. 

29
Mar
19

The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon

John Frost, Stuart Thompson & Important Musicals

QPAC Lyric Theatre

March 20 – May 31 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

 

One man’s blasphemy is another man’s scripture. Matt Stone

 

Religious stories are just stories. That’s enough. They don’t need to be more. Bobby Lopez

 

We grew up with Mormons, and their MO is to beat you by being kinder than you and higher than you. Trey Parker

 

 

Is the opening of this musical not the most iconic and adored since we first saw Maria running, twirling and singing across the tops of those hills? (You can’t miss the cheeky nod to her later). In keeping with the new curriculum – not that any school should feel the need to make a group booking; see note below – The Book of Mormon blows musical theatre apart. And raises suit standards for young male Mormons everywhere.

 

PARENTAL ADVISORY: If you’re a parent and you’re OK with your kids watching South Park, then use your own judgement about letting them see this. I would add to that, if you would consider that I’ve taken my child to just about everything, and that we talk about just about everything, now that she’s 12-going-on-32 we agree that this content is not what she needs in her life right now. It’s a little like choosing not to have the evening news on in our house. We know stuff is happening to people everywhere, and quite simply, we can better serve those near us. It’s not so much about being blissfully ignorant as it is about retaining our right to make conscious choices. Having skipped the songs marked explicit on the soundtrack for years, we discussed again recently that there is so much else for Poppy at the moment, and she can look forward to experiencing this show in its entirety another time. As an adult, you might decide the same thing. And then you’ll have to decide how you feel about that because when everyone else is seeing it and talking about it, there’s a real risk of FOMO! 

 

HELLO! Hilarious and irreverent beyond belief, and boasting a company of new and engaging triple threat male performers, The Book of Mormon must be the most eagerly awaited show to open at QPAC this year. And it returns next year! It doesn’t disappoint. If you’ve never even listened to the original Broadway cast album (apparently, there are still people who go in cold to a show) you’ll be thrilled to see that it’s been brought to life in the most outrageously musical theatre way imaginable. 

 

Directed by Trey Parker and Casey Nicholaw, with choreography by Nicholaw, and outstanding full orchestrations from a 9-piece band under MD David Young, The Book of Mormon, for those making a conscious choice, is a must-see. 

 

 

When Elder Price (the ridiculously talented and gorgeous, Guy Smiley channelling Blake Bowden) is paired with Elder Cunningham (his perfect foil and the best import ever, Canadian, Nyk Bielak) at the Mormon mission training centre and they’re assigned their mission destination, Africa is not exactly the place they had in mind. (Two By Two & You and Me). While their pals get to go to Norway and Japan, the mismatched pair are sent to war-ravaged, poverty-stricken, AIDS-infected, maggot-infested, fuck-you-God Uganda.

 

Disappointingly, it’s not a bit like The Lion King. (Hasa Diga Eebowai)

 

 

Despite their best efforts to deliver the word of the Heavenly Father and convert the sinners, the suit clad, little blue book bearing boys make little positive impact on the Ugandan people. In fact, they attract all the wrong sorts of attention, from cynics to local war lords, as well as complicating relationships with their Mormon missionary brothers (Turn It Off & I Am Here For You) and before long, having given preaching a red hot go (All-American Prophet, the first incredible showstopper, harking back to the all-singing, all-dancing, all-grinning numbers of the 1950s-ish Golden Era of all-American musicals), Elder Price walks away from his mission partner and his mission, with the intention of going to Orlando, with its clean streets and theme parks. Without his best little buddy by his side, the version of biblical events offered to the villagers by Elder Cunningham is mostly imagined, but the strange stories appear to make sense to the Africans, who all agree to be nice to people, and to be baptised as Latter Day Saints. (Man Up, Act 2 Prologue, Making Things Up Again). Bielak has so many fantastically funny moments that it’s impossible to pick just one. The secret to his performance, and to the rest of them, is that there’s nothing happening that’s actually outrageous. Everyone is completely genuine and responding just as they might in real life, within the world view created on stage, and therein lies the best kind of comedy and the most convincing kind of theatre, no matter how silly the premise might appear to be.

 

A proper South Park style scene, Spooky Mormon Hell Dream takes the ridiculous to new heights – or depths – as Elder Price laments his decision to leave, hearing from Lucifer, and a couple of Starbucks single-use styrofoam coffee cups, and infamous historical figures, including Ghengis Khan and Hitler. This is a dazzling musical theatre disco zombie showstopper; it’s superbly staged, very Fosse, riotously funny. The design team – Scott Pask (Set), Ann Roth (Costumes), Brian MacDevitt (Lighting) and Brian Ronan (Sound) – create worlds within worlds, keeping each chapter of the story within a proscenium of stained glass, complete with revolving heralding angel, against a backdrop of the entire universe. If you look closely, you’ll see that you have your own planet up there. 

 

The costume design, I would hope, is certainly conscious of what the show is saying about the world. Ann Roth

 

 

The high energy performances from every last member of this company means that there are no weak links. It’s virtually impossible to single out an ensemble member, but the Brisbane audience thrills in seeing our own Alex Woodward (a standout, though we don’t know when he’s had time to learn the show, having been busy recently staging so many of his own), Tom Davis and Billy Bouchier. Sydney’s Joel Granger is a perfectly over-enthusiastic McKinley, and Andrew Broadbent is a groovy and gallant Joseph Smith, among a number of other roles. The bedtime tap number, Turn It Off, is a properly polished and fabulous number, and includes a nifty costume trick to draw gasps and squeals of delight. A new graduate of APO and VCA with beautifully controlled vocals and a smile to brighten even the darkest Ugandan day is Tigist Strode, a light-filled Nabulungi. (Sal Tlay Ka Siti, Baptize Me)

 

 

We went to restaurants and we’d grab one of the wait staff and say, do you know any Mormons who went on missions? They’d say, yeah, me and all of our wait staff. And then we’d say, do you know anyone who was gay, and gay Mormons? And they were like, yeah, me and all of our wait staff. Bobby Lopez

 

 

Blake Bowden smashes the role of Elder Price, and I Believe serves as confirmation, in case we weren’t sure when we heard You and Me, that Bowden is a superstar. On the Sunshine Coast we already knew this, having hosted Bowden in Noosa over the last couple of years. But if you don’t get out much, or you subscribe to the myth that Broadway still boasts the best of musical theatre, it might be difficult to predict how good Bowden’s performance is. You simply have to experience it to believe.

 

 

…there are literally no jokes in that song; it’s just facts. It’s just funny ways to describe Mormon things that they believe in. It’s all directly from The Book of Mormon. Bobby Lopez.

 

 

Matt Stone, Trey Parker and Bobby Lopez use the darkest and most ludicrous comedy to highlight some truly horrific humanitarian issues, including religion, race, gender, power, privilege, politics, violence, sex, discrimination and indoctrination. And just like any issue highlighted or disrupted by an art form, what we do about it after the show, or not, is up to each of us. The Book of Mormon is the most irreverent, the most hilarious, the most surprisingly poignant in parts, and the most polished, energetic and entertaining show we’ll see in Brisbane this year. You better believe it.

 

 

According to its own merch and social media, The Book of Mormon is God’s favourite musical, and it might just be yours too. 

 

 

The Book Of Mormon is the winner of four Olivier Awards (West End, London) and nine Tony Awards (broadway, NYC), including Best Musical, Best Score (Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, Matt Stone), Best Book (Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, Matt Stone), Best Direction (Casey Nicholaw, Trey Parker), Best Featured Actress (Nikki M. James), Best Scenic Design (Scott Pask), Best Lighting Design (Brian MacDevitt), Best Sound Design (Brian Ronan) and Best Orchestrations (Larry Hochman, Stephen Oremus); the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical; five Drama Desk Awards including Best Musical, the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album; four Outer Critics Circle Awards, including Best Musical, and the Drama League Award for Best Musical.

 

The Australian production of The Book of Mormon is the winner of the coveted 2017 Helpmann Award for Best Musical. It has performed for over 500 packed houses since opening on January 17, 2017, and broke the house record for the highest selling on-sale period of any production in the 159-year history of Melbourne’s Princess Theatre.

02
Feb
19

Peter Pan Goes Wrong

 

Peter Pan Goes Wrong

Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, Kenny Wax Ltd. & Stage Presence

In Association With David Atkins Enterprises & ABA

Griffith University Queensland Conservatorium

January 30 – February 3 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

When the First Aider requires First Aid, what can you do?

 

After Mischief Theatre Company’s production of The Play That Goes Wrong, which made us laugh until we cried and cursed our non-waterproof mascara, we knew to expect from anything that followed, much hilarity and probably, an un-happy ending. This time, the Cornley Polytechnic Dramatic Society present their very special production of Peter Pan and we can only hope for a familiar ending to the classic tale. Or at least, with disaster after disaster turning Neverland into Never Again Land, a finale that leaves everyone alive. But if you’ve ever done a show on a community stage, or seen one, you’ll know that both quality and safety standards are the variables that make it exciting…and entertaining…and a unique experience that, once it’s all over and everyone has done the best they can, you feel compelled to experience it again! Such is the life of a Cornley player, each just doing what they have to do, to put on survive a show.

 

Clever actors-turned-writers, Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields have followed their winning formula to create this new version of a behind-the-scenes spectacle in which anything that can go wrong, does. It might not be as strong a piece structurally as the original – The Play That Goes Wrong – but everything still fails miserably and falls apart beautifully, and it’s just as funny, if not funnier, because we know who’s who and we know what to expect from them. 

 

 

Luke Joslin, as well as playing to the absolute hilt, Robert the Co-Director, the shadow of Peter Pan, Pirate Starkey, and beloved dog/children’s nanny Nana, is also Resident Director on this touring production (originally deftly directed by Adam Meggido), which means every joke lands perfectly and the pace is kept snappy, except perhaps during Act Two’s lengthy revolving, unfolding montage of catastrophic climactic events, but this is by design. Let’s acknowledge that while Simon Scullion’s set looks simple, it incorporates tricks to rival those of Haversham Manor, designed by Nigel Hook for The Play That Goes Wrong. Costumes designed by Roberto Suce also appear to be typical of a community panto, and typically thrown together, but each addresses every detail of character and practical necessity, and the bright colours and a multitude of interesting textures and additions come together to delight rather than horrify, as is so often the case when costumes are credited as “cast’s own”.

 

 

Connor Crawford offers every annoyingly accurate quirk of an amateur director as Chris, who plays George Darling and Captain Hook. George Kemp returns as Dennis, playing John Darling and Mr Smee, although because Dennis doesn’t retain his lines, he has them fed to him by the stage manager in the wings (until he doesn’t!) via an obtrusive set of headphones that also enables him to give us the winning Powerball numbers and various other radio station snippets as well as the final moments of a marriage. Tegan Wouters, triple threat that she is, is wonderfully physical and vocal as Lucy, the shy and stuttering, eventually transformed, Tootles.

 

 

 

Adam Dunn is Trevor, the no-nonsense, no-idea, no-end-to-his-patience stage manager in his final year of training for the third year running, and he almost steals the show, such is his presence and perfect comic timing. (The combined and complementary energies, and the quick wit of Dunn, Crawford and Joslin in the audience before the show is unforgettably very funny). Matt Whitty and Jessie Yates are the understudies who appear as assistant stage managers to Trevor. Jordan Prosser plays Max who can’t act, but whose uncle contributed the funds to make the production possible, so he is given the roles of the smiling crocodile and Michael Darling, and with his Colgate smile he nearly steals the show! Francine Cain is Sandra, and thus, Wendy Darling, though you’ve never seen a good little girl behave quite like this one. Sandra has something rather intense going on with Jonathan, who plays Peter Pan, played by Darcy Brown and she also has some seriously impressive interpretive dance moves.

 

As Annie, Tammy Weller gets a series of the quickest quick changes we’ve ever seen, playing both Mary Darling and the maid, Lisa, and then risks death by fairy lights as Tinker Bell. In the meantime, as Tiger Lily, she is rescued from certain death (the only other extended scene, strangely lengthy). Is there a harder working actress at Cornley Polytechnic Dramatic Society than Annie? I think not. 

 

 

Jay Laga’aia doesn’t keep us waiting long to hear a few strains from the Playschool theme song, and as Francis, he has a fantastically fun time playing the Narrator and Secco the pirate. His warm, generous performance in both cases is well received, as is the abundance of fairy dust each time he enters or exits with a flourish, by those in the front row. 

 

Peter Pan Goes Wrong, like last year’s The Play That Goes Wrong, could easily enjoy a much longer or more regular run in the right venue. (Another purpose built venue! Imagine that! In the meantime, imagine this franchise moving into Gail Wiltshire’s Twelfth Night Theatre. Actually, perfection), but it should be widely known by now that these touring productions in fact enjoy only a very short season before moving on. It’s simply not the same to sit in front of the 2016 film (or in front of any film when the live production is an option), so we must remember to take note of the early publicity and get tickets each time as soon as possible, and get a fix of Mischief Theatre’s special brand of hilarious, highly entertaining family friendly storytelling. I guarantee you’ll go home feeling better about any misadventures in your own life, reassured about your own ability to safely construct a bunk bed for the kids, and (as I am), completely convinced that we really do have some of the best talent in the world, right here on our own stages. If in doubt, if you’ve seen the Australian cast now, compare those performances with the ones below… But it’s true, right?

 

18
Dec
18

A Very Naughty Christmas – The Second Coming

 

A Very Naughty Christmas – The Second Coming

Understudy Productions

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

December 6 – 16 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

Elliot Baker & Sophie Christofis. A Very Naughty Christmas.

 

THE POLAR OPPOSITE OF CAROLS BY CANDLELIGHT

 

Alex Woodward’s Understudy Productions returned to Brisbane Powerhouse for the holiday season with the naughtiest Christmas cabaret show in the city. It really should have run for another week. It’s the return of A Very Naughty Christmas and it’s only missing Miss Libby Hendrie, the gorgeous blonde triple threat in all of the marketing collateral. Other than that, there’s not a single disappointment; it’s perfectly designed to become a (strictly adults only) Brisbane Christmas Tradition.

 

Apparently, The Second Coming is nothing like last year’s production. But I missed seeing it, so from what I can gather it’s either lacking its original raw, really naughty edge, or it’s even more titillating and entertaining than before! We’re going to assume that the latter is the more common response because box office records. Also, Woodward is one of our excellent new producers who learns from each experience rather than giving up, packing up and moving on to another, bigger, brighter city. The lights are getting brighter in Brisbane and it’s largely because the indies, like Understudy, persist and survive – very well it seems – alongside the mainstage offers. (It’s also because table service survives at many of Brisbane’s better haunts. C’mon, Sunshine Coast!). Woodward always assembles the best of the best, both onstage and off, which makes it easier to garner support for each new project, and also makes the next tickets on offer from this company, for next year’s production of Sweet Charity starring Naomi Price, a very attractive Christmas stocking filler indeed…

 

Dan Venz directs a fierce and fiercely talented, unafraid, flamboyant cast. Each is a bit of a star in their own right, and not a bit reticent about performing this style of comedy. There’s a great deal of the individual in each very personalised role. Let’s face it, we’ve never seen Santa’s Helpers quite like these! Unlike last year’s rough and ready reverie, this script was written by Emily Christopher and Matthew Semple. It’s super speedy, stupidly funny and yes, very naughty.

 

Emily Kristopher & Stephen Hirst. A Very Naughty Christmas.

 

The role of Santa comes, of course, to Stephen Hirst, the host with the most…well, let’s just say he’s the most indecent Santa we’ve seen on local stages. Leading a completely politically incorrect, drug addled, intoxicated and very sexy band of elves, it’s no surprise to see an Austin Powers’ nude number eliciting raucous laughter, and equal measures of delight and dismay, when sight lines outside of the main seating bank offer sneaky peaks at a little more than the punters thought they’d paid to see, especially for those sitting in the right (or the wrong?) seats. Hirst is well known for his easy manner and wicked humour, his ability to take an audience along for the ride with a wink and a knowing grin; all qualities that serve him well here, lowering the tone a little nearer to bawdy, but lifting the standard of the show into the realm of Club Cumming, rather than just another cabaret show; yes, high praise indeed!

 

There was never any doubt that raunchy Aurélie Roque could steal the show, but she resists (that) temptation and plays nice – real nice – with performers and unsuspecting audience members. With powerhouse vocals and legs up to her ears, Roque leaves an indelible impression as always.

 

Emily Kristopher, having had two other productions in the Wonderland program, lets her hair and her guard down in this one. A substantial amount of the writing has got to be hers, such is the clever, concise dialogue, breathing space and overall pace. A versatile performer, her character is ridiculously cute, her comic timing is perfect and her voice is sublime. Sofie Christofis finds her place in this cast, establishing herself as the one to watch. I suspect she is to Understudy Productions what Stef Caccamo is to The Little Red Company.

 

Austin Cornish and Elliot Baker round out this devilishly talented cast. Cornish, given the opportunity to do so,  dances rings around the other elves, and Baker relishes his comedic role as the newest elf on the shelf with a shameful secret and a crush on Christofis. Cornish and Baker are further testament – as if we needed any further evidence ever – that the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University (i.e. the Con) is training our next generation of triple threat superstars. Watch out, WAAPA. It’s a delight to hear each sing up a storm, in between their riotous workshop antics, and at times combining these elements to deliver, for example (and possibly, for a verse and a chorus too long), the viral Lonely Island number about a particular appendage in a boxMD Tnee Dyer (keys), Chris Evans (drums) and Elliot Parker (bass) appear to have just as much fun as we do. New arrangements of the most popular Christmas songs become fabulously dirty ditties with new lyrics; singalongs that you might not want to be caught on camera singing along with!

 

Understudy Productions had already gone to some lengths to fill the gap in the market, a chasm in fact, left by Oscar Theatre Co – now Oscar Production Co. A Very Naughty Christmas is potentially a neverending year-round series, like enough Club Cumming or Jim Caruso’s Cast Party, starring new and old talent, featuring new and favourite sketches and songs, and satiating new and returning audiences, as long as they’re over the age of eighteen. It’s a no-brainer to bring this show back to Brisbane Powerhouse each year at Christmas time (and in July!). If you missed the last two versions, you don’t want to be left out of a third.

 

Make sure you’re amongst the first to hear of another season. While you’re at it, you might want to book for the return season of The Little Red Company’s Christmas Actually and then let QPAC know that you’d like to take the whole family to A Christmas Carol. But keep any version of A Very Naughty Christmas for yourselves. It’s a lovely, filthy treat especially for the big kids. Talk about filling the gap in the market!

 

 

Austin Cornish. A Very Naughty Christmas.

03
Oct
18

Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience – A Parody by Dan and Jeff

 

Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience – A Parody by Dan and Jeff

Lunchbox Productions

QPAC Playhouse

October 2 – 7 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward and Poppy Eponine

 

 

Discover your Hogwarts house here

 

It’s not essential but it’s nice to know which house you’re in prior to seeing the smash hit Potted Potter, an unauthorised parody of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts’ experience, attempting to condense all seven Harry Potter books live on stage in 70 minutes. Actually, it’s just two funny British guys telling us what we already know about the boy wizard defeating the evil Lord Voldemort, and unashamedly failing to fill in the gaps. That’s it! That just happened!

 

Because we’d missed Potted Potter at the Powerhouse a few years ago, we walk in not knowing what to expect and walk out loving every bit of whatever irreverent clever comedy that was. 

 

The first thing to realise is that it doesn’t feel like 70 minutes because it’s so much fun. And the second thing to realise is that it’s so much fun because what seemed a solid plan, to recount Harry Potter’s adventures as they occur chronologically in J.K. Rowling’s famous series comprising seven books, is thrown out the window when it’s revealed very early in the piece that one of the two performers hasn’t actually read any of the books. Nor did he secure any actors to play over 300 roles, or get the set and props required to accurately represent the story on stage for a discerning audience of Potterheads and their parents.

 

While Scott is a legit Potterhead, the authority figure to Dan’s little boy persona, super serious at first and intent on sharing his knowledge with us, all Dan wants to do is play quidditch. He’s obsessed! Like a kid who’s been promised a trip to the beach after a week of rain, he can’t let quidditch go. For Dan, quidditch is the answer to everything. Interestingly, without reading the books, and without being familiar with the characters, quidditch-obsessed Dan manages to nail a Powerpoint presentation summarising Book 3 (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), before the quidditch World Cup has even occurred! It’s a mystifying muggle miracle! 

 

Dan’s quidditch match, played live in the theatre with the audience divided into Gryffindor and Slytherin fans, is an absolute highlight for most, it’s so much fun. As silly as it is, there’s just something about a big inflatable ball being shared with the audience, isn’t there? And a special side note from Dan to everyone seated above in the balcony might have them booking earlier in future, in order to secure seats in the coveted stalls where all the action is! These offhand comments, obviously irresistible, and usually coming from naughty, distractible Dan, are typical of the frequent funny hooks for the “casual fans”, who may miss some of the actual Potter references. Rather than admonishing him, Scott just about falls about laughing with him, which makes the whole experience even more relatable and enjoyable, although we’re quite sure there are some cynics in the crowd thinking, “Get on with the storytelling!” and “I thought this was a Harry Potter show!” 

 

 

Other hilarious meta-references are at the expense of teachers and Trump’s America. After Dan questions the greatest wizard in all the world choosing to become, of all things, a teacher, an awkward silence follows and he fills it by innocently observing, “Who knew there were so many teachers in Brisbane!?” We all remember when Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone became Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the Americans, giving Dan licence to admit that it’s a pleasure to be back in an intelligent country. Further political references ensue, including a dire warning that “Donald Trump is coming for you, Australia!” These jokes (however terrifyingly too-real!), are met with cheers and applause from an appreciative audience. The prepared improvisation is exceptional, and exceptionally funny. These guys gain the respect of the Potterheads and the casual fans, appealing to all ages and sentiments. 

 

 

Dan’s interpretations of the characters are deliberately at odds with the original characters, which is very funny. Ron becomes Gangsta’ Ron in a bright orange wig and Hermione sports blonde schoolgirl plaits beneath a straw hat, more Hanging Rock than Hogwarts, and a baritone voice; there’s room for a Priscilla style drag queen act here. (Of course, no spoilers re the finale, but we also enjoy plenty of Priscilla-playing-next-door references, ie. “You won’t see that in Priscilla“)! Lord of the Rings, Narnia and even (the “inappropriate, Scott!”) Fifty Shades of Grey get a nod, as do Star Wars, Shrek, Wicked and little orphan Annie – not Ginnie – introduced as the youngest of the Weasley family. Unsurprisingly, Scott recoils when Dan-as-Ginnie-not-Annie tries to give him a kiss.

 

The running joke, repeated ad nauseam (almost too often, just as the set up appears to run too long before the show really starts), remains stubbornly focused on the amount of production money spent not on actors or scenery or props, but on the fire-breathing Hungarian Horntail dragon featured in Book 4 (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), not an enormous animatronic King Kong creation but a hand puppet accompanied by Dan’s vocal effects and sweeping gestures. Scott Hoatson is the perfect foil to Daniel Clarkson’s ridiculous antics throughout, always trying to get the show back on track and simply tell the story. We love his Scottish accent, his undying trust of Dan and the constant deferrals to him, and his determination to honour his “close friend” J.K. Rowling’s storytelling. These guys are a super talented pair and it’s a delight to see them work so effortlessly at this style of comedy. It’s even funnier to share the jokes and the happy accidents with them, as they lose it and laugh on stage. It makes the whole experience special, just for us, and totally relatable, as if we’re sharing our favourite Harry Potter moments amongst friends.

 

The clever incorporation of props at precisely the right time helps to punctuate the most dramatic or poignant moments from each book. When Dan opens the coffin on stage to take two hats for our quidditch seekers (willing volunteers from the crowd), from a skeleton’s hand, he addresses the skeleton as Cedric, thanking him as he takes the hats. Complete silence follows. “Too soon?” he asks. More uncomfortable silence. Still in shock, we miss the Twilight reference that follows but others laugh hysterically. We always notice that we like to laugh during uncertain times, don’t we, and this show is just the thing. Whether or not you’re a Potterhead is irrelevant; the laughs are in the polished-unpolished, superbly confident and cheeky, transparent performances more than in the content.

 

Nevertheless, our own memories of reading the books for the first time, of seeing each film, of sharing our favourite moments with family and friends who are just as obsessed (or not!) with Harry Potter as we are, come flooding back during the show and afterwards, as we recall the funniest scenes on stage, either very loosely handled or very precisely manipulated – who can say? – by Director, Richard Hurst. 

 

Potted Potter relies on a relaxed sense of humour and our knowledge of Harry Potter’s world, or at least the knowledge acquired through osmosis by those who live with Potterheads, and follows a deceptively simple formula of broken expectations. It’s the sort of childlike, improvised, never-to-be-repeated genius that you might expect to see in the living room around Christmas time, a play put on by the kids, involving every stuffed toy and unassuming adult in the house. This show is so crazy it just works. You can’t help but love it and laugh out loud.

28
Jun
18

Guru Dudu’s Silent Disco Walking Tour

 

Guru Dudu’s Silent Disco Walking Tour

Out of the Box

QPAC Cascade Court

June 26 – July 4 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

The Brisbane Guru Dudu team boasts four energetic and very brightly clad tour guides – Maja Hanna Liwszyc, Stefan Cooper-Fox, Daniel Cabrera and the original Guru Dudu, David Naylor – who take turns to take super fun silent disco walking tours.

 

The concept is not only an Out of the Box smash hit but also, a private-party-in-public-spaces phenomenon sweeping Australian and UK cities.

 

I think we all wish we’d thought of it.

 

We arrive on QPAC’s front steps to be greeted by staff in their black and red, and to greet festival volunteers in their orange. That distinction is deliberate, many of them being a bit shy, or else, not yet in character as Effervescent Festival Vollies. We are issued with a set of headphones each, and instructions to meet Guru Dudu and the green group at the top. Fortunately for punters on the first day, most of QPAC’s staff, being not quite as shy, and a number of them having survived several Out of the Box festivals since 1992, knew a good deal more about where things were and indeed, what things were, than many of the vollies. We’ll put misdirection and reticence down to opening day/night jitters. 

 

We could see our Guru Dudu (Stefan Cooper-Fox) and as soon as we had our earphones in place we could hear him, and that the party had already started! We joined the group and I made a strong offer of a classic disco move. Not being known for my enthusiasm when it comes to audience participation, I’m not sure if it was me or Poppy who was more surprised by this unusual willingness to be involved. Panic at the disco? Having to talk the talk in recent devising sessions? Actually, it’s harder not to join in; the music makes us want to move. This silent dancing/walking caper is hard to resist! It’s actual real-life living-in-the-moment stuff without the memes, instant heightened awareness, just-add-earphones increased confidence, without inhibiting levels of self-consciousness. It’s liberating and laughter inducing.

 

Of course, we’re not really aware of anything happening outside of the world created by Guru Dudu. We realise on some level that without earphones, onlookers don’t know what’s happening; all they know is what they see, which is a group of super confident disco dancers of all ages and abilities having super amounts of uninhibited, silent, silly fun. Going by the raised brows and wide smiles, it must be hilarious to witness. A mum shares her headset with a random woman, her bewildered expression transforming into one of recognition. She knows the song and she suddenly understands the set up. She offers a big smile and double thumbs up, passes back the headset and continues on her way with a new bounce in her step.

 

The song choices are good, with a few of them kitsch enough to be cool – it’s a kids’ festival after all, but the grown ups have to make it through the day with some humour too. The Mission Impossible theme is the first challenge, as we move like Super Spies across the walkway, heading towards the museum and art galleries. Bjork’s Quiet is performed conspiratorially, now that we’ve all bonded during our impossible mission, just as we might expect to see it at an early Wakakirri rehearsal (or an early evening karaoke effort), with parents getting down low to join Guru Dudu and kids, gesturing “SHHH” and singing along, although whether or not any of them are singing the same notes as Bjork is anyone’s guess.

 

Not as popular with the adults as with their children are the more literal song and dance tasks, including being dinosaurs to Katy Perry’s Roar, and dancing like monkeys to a track that was previously unknown to me: Disney Junior’s Big Block SingSong Two Banana Kind of Day. I don’t recommend it.

 

Everyone happily joins a conga line, and takes their turn At the Carwash, although Poppy thinks this one is odd and I remind her that everyone – even the kids of Rydell High – have their variation on a tribal initiation or celebration circle. We wind down with some actual circle dancing, as any sub-culture would, with parents pushing their offspring into the centre, confident that with so much live on-camera experience after this, their children are well and truly ready to be reality television stars. Walk Like An Egyptian garners massive support from tour participants and randoms, and we finish up with a fun free dance and enthusiastic high fives for Guru Dudu.

 

Despite the exquisite pressure of a tight turnaround before the next tour and a couple of unintentionally quiet moments that occur at the push of a wrong button (these are met with merry laughter), Guru Dudu has been relaxed and fun, keeping things moving at a safe, steady, contemporary, public-space-disco pace. It’s been real.

 

There is obviously safety in numbers and everyone feels comfortable to do their very best silly dance moves in a big group. Guru Dudu’s Silent Disco Walking Tour is so much fun. There’s no right or wrong; we’re free to be ourselves and have some uninhibited fun.

 

Guru Dudu is one of the most exciting inclusions in this year’s program, with a terrific payoff for participants and an awesome ongoing opportunity for artists. And the festival is always amazing – you can see its success in the smiles on small faces and the stats in the press – but I miss the amazing festival feeling of previous years, when school groups and families all settled in the sunshine, on the grass by the river, sharing the open outdoor space, a village, a common ground. Without that now, and everything happening instead within the QPAC building and cafe areas, it all feels very safe and neat and contained, a little like the development and support of the arts in this country generally. I mean, it’s hard to believe that there’s a festival on at all. I guess in good weather over the weekend, the Cultural Forecourt will come to life again. 

 

Perhaps Guru Dudu’s tour group will be allowed to venture out into the open then, since this immersive event goes some way to filling the community festival feeling void (The other great crowd event is Dance…Like No One is Watching, don’t miss it!). We’d noticed the first tour group of the day moving through that riverside space, and I can only imagine the reasons to move to a more contained concrete area upstairs (weather and workplace health and safety considerations/risk assessment factors, and comments from carers who would rather not admit that in fact, they’ve always felt a bit insecure in their attempts to wrangle small persons in open spaces). It probably looks easier on paper to take it all inside. But easier is not often better or…funner.

 

 

Minister for the Arts Leeanne Enoch said Out of the Box was a great opportunity for Queensland children to engage with amazing arts experiences, to sing, dance, move, play, paint, create and imagine. “With ongoing support from the Queensland Government for more than 25 years, Out of the Box has presented quality performance and cultural activity that celebrates and supports learning, play, and discovery for children,” Minister Enoch said.

“Since the first Out of the Box in 1992, the biennial event has engaged more than one million participants and 3721 artists. It has presented 1534 performances, 2335 workshops and 9461 activities.

“Out of the Box has presented 103 brand new works, some of which have gone on to tour nationally and internationally and creating work for Queensland artists,” Ms Enoch said.

QPAC Chief Executive John Kotzas said the delivery of the biennial Festival and associated community engagement activities connects children with a variety of arts experiences and is a great example of how QPAC inspires our community to talk about broader issues in the world today.

 

 

 

17
May
18

Midsummers At The Lake

 

Midsummers At the Lake

Little Seed Theatre Company

Noosa Botanic Gardens Amphitheatre

May 12-13 & May 19-20 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

 

Little Seed Theatre Company, founded and directed by Johanna Wallace, continues to go from strength to strength, with this outdoor production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Anywhere Theatre Festival showcasing a couple of talented young performers in particular, largely due to great casting.

 

Admittedly, we experience this production in a slightly more traditional theatrical setting, and while Shakespeare in the park has its merits, when we add an immense body of water as the backdrop and frame the action with an amphitheatre inspired by ancient Greek design and gifted to the community, lakeside Shakespeare becomes the best sort. If you’ve never ventured out to this venue, here’s the perfect opportunity.

 

 

A light-hearted and entertaining production, this Dream features the comic talents of Oscar Long (Peter Quince), Luka Burgess (Nick Bottom) and QACI graduate, Alex Cox (Demetrius); each has a terrific sense of themselves in the open air space, a knack for slapstick and natural comic timing. Burgess in particular knows how to play the audience and as a result, he basically steals the show. The Mechanicals work energetically together, retaining their individual characterisations and appearing as a tight-knit ensemble at the same time, bouncing off one another (and into each other!) to the delight of the audience. Their play-within-the-play and the rehearsal scenes leading up to it could easily be considered a touring entity, and wouldn’t it be terrific for someone to sponsor such an opportunity for these enthusiastic young performers?

 

 

 

Nathaniel Knight (light on his feet without losing any of the weight of authority as Oberon) and Jack Miller (a lovely, lively Puck) embrace the same sense of spontaneity and mischief, and at times we see this in the Lovers too. Cox and Emily Potts (Helena) share some beautifully awkward moments. The over-the-top Potts also plays well with fourteen-year-old Virgo Nash (Hermia), who offers a surprisingly mature performance for one so young. In fact, it’s worth noting that as challenging as Shakespeare’s text and themes tend to be, there’s certainly a solid understanding of the play here, and only rarely do we miss a phrase. Some of the youngest members of this company have some vocal work to do, but if more mature performers such as Harper Ramsey (a firm, fair and distinguished Theseus) and Ayla Long (a stern Hippolyta and a playful fairy) are any indication of Little Seed’s training over the years, this too will come. 

 

 

A soundscape and a series of original songs by Heather Groves in collaboration with her musicians perfectly underscores the action, punctuates comical moments and sustains the magical mood, established early, when the fairies enter the amphitheatre from all directions. We’ve only seen this musical aspect of Shakespeare’s comedies bettered by Tim Finn, for Queensland Theatre’s Twelfth Night. I hope Groves continues this tradition and also, that other Sunshine Coast companies can feel inspired to make the effort to involve live musicians in their productions too; far too often now we lament aspiring and accomplished performers having to learn and perform their songs to click tracks, making the production cheaper to produce and often sounding cheaper and less professional as a result.

 

Little Seed creates a gorgeous atmosphere, using live music, and energetic and enthusiastic performers within the beautiful natural setting of the Noosa Botanic Gardens and amphitheatre, delivering a wonderful production of one of Shakespeare’s most loved plays.