Archive for the 'Music' Category

04
Nov
18

Neon Tiger

 

Neon Tiger

La Boite Theatre Company

La Boite Roundhouse Theatre

October 31 – November 17 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

The adult gap-year you never know you needed.

 

Fast, frivolous and continuously flashing, the always-away playground of a tourist mecca in Bangkok paints the scene for Neon Tiger – a new Australian musical love story. Andy (Lisa Hanley) is an Australian traveller outrunning her broken heart. She has taken residence as a host at a Bangkok part-district karaoke bar where she meets Thai-American Arisa (Courtney Stewart) who’s on a personal quest to connect with her mother’s culture. When the two meet, sparks fly.

 

Once somebody sent me to Bangkok for ten days with two strangers and now they are my friends and this show exists.

Gillian Cosgriff

 

The sense of this show was seeded overseas and brought forth into the world by its female creative team and the team at Brisbane Powerhouse, after Kris Stewart asked Director, Kat Henry, to come up with something during ten steaming hot days in Bangkok with two women she’d never met before. Co-creators, Kat Henry, Julia-Rose Lewis (Writer) and Gillian Cosgriff (Writer/Composer/Performer) returned from that trip in 2015 conceptualising a number of vastly different productions, including something like a cross-cultural physical theatre performance using masks, until Stewart sagely told them, “It’s a musical.” And so, Soi Cowboy was born. A creative development season in the Visy Theatre was so polished, I walked away from it with the impression that the piece was just about ready to tour! (And if you have a space, ArtTour will look after Neon Tiger following its world premiere season). 

 

 

Performed by dynamite duo, Gillian Cosgriff and Courtney Stewart, in that first instance (2016), Soi Cowboy was a vibrant story of a friendship cum fling evolving over ten heady days in the midst of the city’s summer haze, and its cacophony of sounds, smells, beers, bars, gutters, beggars, flashing lights, ridiculously sweet and garishly coloured cocktails, temples, tuk tuks and muck. Over the last two years, the simple story has been pared right back by Lewis, and the dialogue retains its smart, sassy pace, making the new shorter, sweeter iteration – Neon Tigeran engaging and entertaining 90-minute new musical. Although I miss Cosgriff’s sass, her comic timing, and her extraordinary vocals, Lisa Hanley in this role brings a different sort of spunk and sound with her acoustic guitar (the vocals are extraordinarily similar in tone and style to Cosgriff’s……) 

 

 

Sarah Winter’s open split-level design offers specificity and scope, putting us anywhere – everywhere – in Bangkok, from the titular karaoke bar on Kao San Road, to the Tiger Temple, the Don-Rak War Cemetery, the streets, a shrine, a five-star hotel… Deceptively simple, it’s a set that reminds us how much magic can occur using very little. Andrew Meadows resists overusing the neon and strobe lighting (there is some, necessarily), working intimately with the sound design to give us the afterglow of the city, the afterglow of a relationship that retains its lustre even over time zones and oceans, without prolonged and potentially fit-inducing pulsating lights. Sound Designer, Guy Webster, assisted by Anna Whittaker, intricately weaves an evocative soundscape between dialogue and song, bringing to life the vibrant city, and bringing back a looped vocal excerpt to tug at the heartstrings at various intervals. This unsuspecting theme is almost the through line of the piece, a gentle memory that lingers in the heart not the head, interrupting real life, just for a second sometimes, for years to come. 

 

This play is about feeling like a tourist in your own life. It’s about falling in, and out of, love. This play is about meeting yourself, the real you, for the very first time on the vibrant city streets of Bangkok.

Julia-Rose Lewis

 

Kat Henry’s direction is so refreshing – remember, I loved her Constellations for QT so much that I went a second time – and in this I recognise the same real stuff. Henry uses every opportunity to move the performers, inwardly and outwardly on their journeys, expertly manipulating pace and production elements to shift out of languid and into high alert in a split second, and embracing the natural pauses and stillness of the script, so often glossed over or stretched for too long (in case we don’t get the poignancy of half a moment? I don’t know; this aspect of so many productions, on stage and on screen, completely baffles me. Why can’t we just let the actors say the words and see what happens?). Cleverly structured and measured direct address means we get the girls’ inner monologues in short bursts and freaking-out-outbursts at times, as they navigate the fascination and trepidation of a new relationship, however; nothing is superfluous or melodramatic, just so Australian. And so American. So universal. 

 

There’s a big mood here just beneath the surface, and I love that we’re not made to feel obliged to explore it at length or worse, to wallow in it, but instead we’re asked to simply bring our attention to it, and just like when we’re travelling, there’s a gentle nudge to consider perspectives other than our own. I’m sure there’ll be directors and performers in the future who want to ramp it up, make Neon Tiger racier, spicier, and add “some girl-on-girl action” (actually an opening night comment!). But I would advise against it! Just as it is, this is a story around which the artists have reserved some respectful, gorgeous, really very groovy space.

 

 

Cosgriff’s original songs are witty and funny as always, included here under the premise that they make Andy’s debut album. Hanley delivers each with sassy, smiling aplomb, unapologetic about her point of view and at the same time, perplexed about what she sees and feels about the situation in Bangkok, and about Arisa.

 

There’s nothing steamier here than the city’s suffocating heat, not even a flash of flesh (disappointingly for some, erotic scenes are recounted rather than played out; for me this is far more effective and a stroke of genius in terms of the work being widely viewed and read in secondary and tertiary circles. What a joy it will be for our young female performers to find this text in their hands!). The intimacy of Arisa and Andy’s complex relationship is kept shrouded in the hot haze of memory, and we savour its allure and magic as if it were our own precious, private experience. It’s the story behind the Instagram story.

 

 

We had to accept that Thailand was unknowable to us, that we were part of the problem, and that creating a piece of entertainment about this complex place would seem, to most Thai nationals, a perplexing and peculiar privilege. But this is our experience, and this is a version of love: messy, thrilling, and confusing, with temperatures rising, full of paradoxes – wanting both to stay forever and to find a way out; always trying to understand what the hell is going on.

Kat Henry

 

Neon Tiger is the most genuinely culturally sensitive theatrical work we’ve seen in years, beautifully personal and universal in its explorations and observations on what happens when we give ourselves over to new experiences and new influences. Neon Tiger is innocent, optimistic, charming, chaotic, comforting, raw and real. It’s for anyone who’s ever even dared to dream of travel or adventure or love, or forgiveness.

15
Oct
18

Everyday Requiem

 

Everyday Requiem

Expressions Dance Company

QPAC Cremorne Theatre

October 12 – 20 2018

 

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

 

I have tried to approach this work with a sense of nostalgia for the past, but even more, with a sense of what is important in moving forward for a 70-year-old man. Forgiveness, acceptance, love and family — surely that is what is important.

Natalie Weir, Artistic Director, EDC

 

 

In making Everyday Requiem, the singers and I have aimed for simplicity and beauty, interacting with jarringly everyday imagery.

Gordon Hamilton, Artistic Director, The Australian Voices

 

 

Everyday Requiem is choreographer Natalie Weir’s final signature work for Expressions Dance Company as Artistic Director. After 10 years, in which the company has grown and developed under her leadership, and in which she has created a string of outstanding works, she is moving on to a new phase of her life and career.

 

Everyday Requiem is the story of 70 years in the life of an ‘ordinary man’, reflecting the way our lives are complex mixtures of mundane routine, everyday joys and disappointments, ecstatic happiness and shattering tragedy.

 

 

Vocal ensemble The Australian Voices is an integral part of this work, performing an a cappella vocal score by their Artistic Director and composer, Gordon Hamilton. The six singers not only sing with a moving purity of tone and faultless diction: they also act, they engage with the dancers, and perform some demanding choreographed movement while singing. Isabella Gerometta, one of the singers, subtly conducts the ensemble.

 

Their vocal performance includes interesting effects and techniques such as harmonic chant, and singing while gargling. Snatches of text from the traditional Latin requiem appear in among more banal, everyday words, such as lists of items from a schoolbag, and pet names used by lovers. A song by Tibetan musician Tenzin Choegyal also runs through the work.

 

The focal point of Everyday Requiem is the Old Man, played by guest artist and veteran dancer, choreographer and actor Brian Lucas. He looks back on his life, seeing its progression from childhood to youth and first love, to maturity, marriage and fatherhood, and on to middle and old age.

 

 

Lucas is a tall and commanding figure, but projects great warmth and tenderness in this role, conveying a wisdom born from hard experience, and a yearning for happy moments in the past while appreciating the present. He has a powerful stage presence.

 

The choreography for dancers playing the roles of people in the Old Man’s past is intensely athletic, fluid and expressive, with duos full of inventive lifts that flow naturally out of the movement. Mixed in with the complex movement are repeated motifs of simpler, more everyday ones, such as slow dancing, and playing the child’s ‘hand over hand’ game.

 

Jag Popham is a playful incarnation of the character’s Infancy and Childhood, showing a strong bond with his Mother, Australian Voices member Sophie Banister, who evokes a tender affection that is one of the enduring themes of the life story. (There is no Father character.) Humour springs from the playfulness in the movement and music, the vocal text introducing the refrain of names of items in a child’s schoolbag.

 

Jake McLarnon is strong and intense as the Adolescent and Young Man, very much resembling a younger version of Lucas. His duos with Isabella Hood, as his Young Love, are athletically lyrical, showing an awakening passion. The duos become trios when the Brother (Scott Ewen), compounding earlier sibling rivalry, steals the girlfriend. Ewen plays the cocky, bullying brother with relish, and portrays a later reconciliation with great sincerity.

 

The Young Man marries The Wife, played by guest artist Lizzie Vilmanis. Vilmanis is EDC’s Rehearsal Director, a former company dancer, and also now an independent artist. Standing in for an injured Elise May, she is wonderful in this role. Technically strong, fluid and precise, she expresses all the emotions of the role without histrionics, but making a powerful impact.

 

As the Mature Man, Richard Causer projects a brooding physicality and frozen anguish on his return from war. While his relationship with his wife remains strong, the difficult relationship with his daughter (Alana Sargent) is a key part of the ongoing story. Causer and Vilmanis are well matched, and generate a heart-wrenching intensity of emotion. The daughter is the character most overtly expressing emotions, which Sargent does with speed and abandon.

 

There is a note of optimism and recovery all through Everyday Requiem, and it finishes with a moving 70th birthday party. The large group of nostalgic and happy party guests are older dancers from WaW Dance (a Brisbane ensemble of mature-aged dancers led by Wendy McPhee and Wendy Wallace).

 

The set and costume design (Bill Haycock) and lighting design (David Walters, assisted by Christine Felmingham) are simple and very effective: a dark backdrop is sometimes lit to glow dark gold, and tables and chairs are shifted around in different configurations.

 

The singers wear white, and the male dancers wear conservative pants, shirts and jackets in neutral colours with touches of black, and jungle greens for a war scene. The women’s costumes stand out as touches of colour: a salmon-pink cardigan for the Mother, a full-skirted 1960s yellow dress for Young Love, a dark-red plaid dress for the Wife, and a light denim blue for the Daughter.

 

 

On the first night, the performance was briefly interrupted by a fire alarm at a significant moment. However, this was soon forgotten as everyone involved in the performance drew us straight back into the story.

 

After the emotional and celebratory conclusion of Everyday Requiem, the first-night audience leapt to their feet in a standing ovation, clapping, whooping and cheering in response to the performance, and to Natalie Weir in particular. It was a well-deserved acknowledgement of a stunningly beautiful work that pierces the heart with joy, sadness, and ultimately celebration. It was also a fitting tribute to Weir herself and her achievements as a choreographer and Artistic Director.

 

24
Sep
18

Peter Grimes

 

Peter Grimes

Brisbane Festival, Opera Queensland, Philip Bacon AM

QPAC & QSO

QPAC Concert Hall

September 20 – 22 2018

 

Reviewed by Matthew Hickey

 

 

THE centrepiece of the Brisbane Festival Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes fell apart on Thursday night when the star couldn’t sing due to illness.

When the internationally renowned Australian heldentenor, Stuart Skelton, was wobbly in the high register during the first act, everyone thought it was just the histrionics of the part. But after the interval, Brisbane Festival artistic director David Berthold emerged to tell the audience the bad news that some in the concert hall at QPAC had already guessed, that Skelton, 50, was ill and would be unable to continue singing.

 

Phil Brown, the Courier Mail

 

Art criticism is fundamental to a healthy arts scene.

 

Informed and considered criticism applies a torch to artists’ feet. Dialogue between critic, artist and audience is central to the development of great art. When done well, there is nothing like arts criticism. Sadly, the Courier Mail’s criticism of the premiere of the semi-staged production of Peter Grimes, which forms the centrepiece of this year’s Brisbane Festival, was nothing like arts criticism done well.

 

Peter Grimes is an opera by British composer, Benjamin Britten. Here, it is sung (as originally composed) in English. The story is set in a Suffolk fishing village. It centres upon Peter Grimes, a troubled local fisherman, of whom insular locals are suspicious. His young apprentice has recently died, “in accidental circumstances”, during a misadventure at sea.

 

Contrary to the Courier Mail’s hyperbolic clickbait headline, last night’s production did not “fall apart”. It’s lamentable that Phil Brown’s piece ignored entirely the many positive things that deserved to be acknowledged in print. Before addressing those, one must speak about the obvious.

 

 

The star, internationally-acclaimed Australian heldentenor Stuart Skelton, was unwell. As much became concerningly obvious when the achingly glorious moment, which usually arrives in the first duet between Peter Grimes and Ellen Orford – when they sing “your voice, out of the dark” in a leaping ninth – frankly, didn’t.

 

For those close enough to the stage to see him well, it was obvious that Skelton was working hard, very hard, to produce his sound. But, despite the odd crack here and there, in a narrow part of the voice where Skelton seemed to be struggling to get his vocal folds to come together, in the first act the audience received a thrilling demonstration of why this man is the best Peter Grimes on the planet right now. His singing was exciting and powerful and his hulking physicality brought equal parts menace and pathos to the role.

 

After the first interval, it fell to David Berthold, Brisbane Festival’s Artistic Director, to gingerly take to centre stage (where his awful task was prolonged by darkness until someone found the light switch) to tell the audience what many had already guessed: Skelton was ill; he would be unable to sing the rest of the performance; the understudy (to whom I will return) would sing the performance from the side of the stage; and Skelton had “generously” agreed to act out the role.

 

Berthold’s use of the word “generous” seemed initially an odd choice. But, by the end of the performance, it made complete sense. It was an act of generosity for Skelton to walk through the role. Grimes is a dramatically challenging character. Complex, brooding, dysfunctional, tortured, despised, shunned and, ultimately, cast out by a community disappointed in him. One couldn’t help but feel, observing his personal anguish during the bows at the end of the performance, that Skelton had begun to personalise Grimes’ pain, by transmogrifying the Borough’s hate into (what his mind might have convinced him was) the audiences’.

 

But there was no hate from the audience. Only admiration. Those who were there were treated to a tantalising (and satisfying) glimpse of the voice that has made the Australian heldentenor a star on mainstage opera houses abroad.

 

It fell to Skelton’s understudy Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts, a Welsh tenor, to sing the role of Grimes from a music stand at the side of the stage while, from time to time, leaping back onto the stage proper to sing the role of Reverend Adams, in which he had been cast. His singing was clear and powerful. He is a very fine singer and, as may be seen from his leaping into the fray without any real time to think about it, a courageous one.

 

Other notable international guests included British soprano Sally Matthews, who sang the role of the schoolmistress, Ellen Orford, with great control and line, and British baritone, Mark Stone (who, interestingly, read mathematics at Cambridge University) sang the role of Balstrode. I can’t remember being more excited by a baritone’s performance since hearing Simon Keenlyside sing at the Opera House, in the mid-90s. Even without Skelton, the price of admission is worth it to hear those singers alone.

 

But they were not alone. Through the musical and dramatic skill of the rest of the featured cast, the Suffolk fishing village came to life on the Concert Hall stage.

 

 

Andrew Collis was steadfast as the dour Swallow, with his drunken dancing a particular highlight. The nieces were played to trashy, fish-netted, stiletto-heeled perfection by Katie Stenzel and Natalie Christie Peluso. Jacqueline Dark’s portrayal of the laudanum-baked Mrs Sedley was beautifully nuanced. Michael Honeyman’s cheeky turn as Ned Keene, the pill-pushing apothecary, in particular when leading a pub-full of tense drunks in the ditty “old Joe has gone fishing”, was great fun. Brad Daley again showed why he remains among the best-known tenors in this country. His voice remains bright and strong, and from the moment he “started shouting” as the dishevelled bible-basher Bob Boles, he made the character his own. Jud Arthur (whose biography records an unsurprising history as a rugby player) provided wonderful physical menace as the performer of “dirty jobs”, Hobson the carter.

 

 

A particularly poignant moment in this production is the quartet in the first scene of act two, between Ellen Orford (Martin), Auntie, played stoically by Hayley Sugars, and the nieces (Stenzel and Christie Peluso). They sing despondently of the role women play in supporting men. “And should we be ashamed because we comfort men from ugliness?” they sing. In the era of #metoo, that quartet resonates like never before.

 

The Opera Q Chorus, supplemented by talented students from the Queensland Conservatorium, again revealed astonishing vocal polish and discipline, and dramatic commitment. That so much is accomplished by this ensemble, year in, year out, when they are retained on an ad hoc, casual basis, is testament to their collective talents. We are lucky to have them. They sang their hearts out. The power of the moment at the end of Act 2, when they stormed the front of the stage, with flame torches aloft, a terror-inducing, frothing-mouthed mob, baying for Peter Grimes’ blood, was especially confronting.

 

Finally, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of the baby-faced Scottish conductor, Rory Macdonald, has rarely sounded better. Their performances of the famous four sea interludes, in particular, were evocative and atmospheric.

 

While it was disappointing he couldn’t sing the second and third acts, to suggest the production “fell apart” is to do a grave and thoroughly unjustified disservice to the rest of the performance.

 

It was, simply put, a remarkable evening in the Concert Hall.

 

 

 

20
Sep
18

Mother’s Ruin

 

Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin

MILKE & The Ginstress

La Boite, QUT & Brisbane Festival

La Boite Roundhouse Theatre

September 18 – 22 2018

 

Reviewed by Nicole Reilly

 

For one week only, as part of Brisbane Festive 2018, La Boite’s Roundhouse Theatre has been transformed into a boozy, magical gin joint. The cheekily self-proclaimed ‘threesome’, Maeve Marsden, Libby Wood and Jeremy Brennan, take their audience on a hilariously whirlwind, hazy and musical journey through the history of ‘mother’s ruin’, AKA gin.

 

The show begins with Maeve and Libby performing a Prayer to Gin, with Jeremy accompanying on piano, amidst the clutter of gin bottles of every shape and size strewn across the set. Don’t let the amount of empty bottles surprise you, the trio manage to pull gin bottles from anywhere and everywhere, with several hiding in the cleavages of Maeve and Libby to be retrieved mid-song.

 

Though the history of gin, and its reputation as a depressive tipple, is quite a downer, mostly due to the mistreatment of women throughout history, the expertise of these rising cabaret stars is in their ability to not take their narrative or themselves too seriously. As they race us through 18th century London, Libby confesses that it’s probably best for everyone if she just doesn’t attempt the accent, while Jeremy later remarks that he desperately wanted to do an accent because he’s “from NIDA!”. The songs and on-stage antics are equal parts cheeky, sexy and grotesque – with a memorable rendition of Fever by Libby ending in her dying of malaria after suffering from a range of delightfully disgusting symptoms on-stage – always with gin in hand. 

 

 

Both Maeve and Libby are incredibly dynamic performers, and unashamedly themselves (albeit heightened for stage), as they banter with the audience. They exude sexy, and their voices, together and individually, are mesmerising. Towards the end of the show, Maeve takes the microphone at the front of the stage and the other two disappear into a fiercely blue lit stage. I cannot even recall the song, it’s irrelevant, but Maeve’s ability to hold an audience, to captivate us with her authenticity and vulnerability was utterly engrossing. The audience was completely immersed in her world, which is a credit to her formidable skills as a performer.    

 

 

The passion and enthusiasm for their drink of choice, including the inclusion of a certified gin expert to their creative team, is infectious – if the gin bar of the Theatre Republic post-show is anything to go by! And so finally, after critically acclaimed sold out seasons at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, London Underbelly Festival, Sydney Festival, Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Melbourne Cabaret Festival, Fringe World Festival Perth, Adelaide Fringe and Festival of Voices, Mother’s Ruin has landed in Brisbane!

 

With a gin in hand, don’t miss this wonderfully silly and informative cabaret.

17
Sep
18

Stalin’s Piano

 

Stalin’s Piano

Robert Davidson and Sonya Lifschitz

Brisbane Festival and Griffith University

QPAC Cremorne Theatre

Friday September 14 2018

 

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

 

 

I think everyone is a composer, at the very least through endless spoken melodies

Robert Davidson

@robcomposer

22 Jan 2015, Twitter

 

You and I may not have noticed before, but there is music in everyday speech. According to Brisbane composer Robert Davidson, we are all composers, creating and performing music every time we speak.

 

Davidson is fascinated by politics, the connection between politics and art, and by the music of speech. These preoccupations fuse in Stalin’s Piano, a multimedia work developed in collaboration with pianist Sonya Lifschitz, and premiered at the Canberra International Music Festival 2017. Together, Davidson and Lifschitz uncover the music in the speech of 19 famous artists and politicians, creating musical portraits of them in a powerful piece of theatre.

 

The 19 range from Bertolt Brecht, to John F Kennedy, Joseph Stalin, Robert Helpmann, Mao Zedong, Gough Whitlam, Percy Grainger, Ai Wei Wei, and Jackson Pollock. Particularly memorable were Percy Grainger, with his astringent description of music as ‘the art of agony’ and ‘derived from screaming’; EE Cummings, with a lyrical reading of one of his love poems; Robert Helpmann, with stories about his early life; and former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, with the surprising and stirring music of her anti-misogyny speech to the Australian Parliament.

 

Lifschitz is centre stage at the piano, with video clips playing on a large screen behind and above her. In this performance lasting just over an hour, she is playing or speaking almost constantly.

 

She gives an awe-inspiring performance of great warmth, playing music of varying styles, from lyrical to frenetic, martial to Latin jazz.

 

Her timing is uncannily precise, with the piano exactly echoing the musical notes of speech from the video soundtrack. The listener feels a sense of discovery and illumination in response. At other times the piano is in counterpoint to the voice and connects with the images on the screen, or it elaborates on or accompanies the music of the speech.

 

 

The composition, the images and the performance of Stalin’s Piano arouse many emotions: it is by turns lyrical, fierce, horrifying, funny, chilling, sad, and nostalgic.

 

The film clips are often sampled and looped, with the repetition and rhythm reflected in the music. This has been used to create comic effects, for instance in the portrait of JF Kennedy, with exhilarating Cuban-influenced rhythms and choppy film echoed by the piano, and contrasting with the tension of the Cuban missile crisis.

 

As part of her spoken performance, Lifschitz talks about Stalin, Shostakovich, and Russian pianist Maria Yudina. The story of Yudina and Stalin is central to the work, as reflected by its title. The story is of two absolute opposites: the dictator who destroyed millions of lives, and the pianist who championed artistic freedom and openly defied Stalin’s regime, yet survived.

 

Stalin loved Yudina’s playing and demanded a recording of her performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23, which was made especially for him in a late-night recording session by terrified conductors and musicians. This recording is said to be the last music he listened to before he died.

 

Yudina was revered in Russia, and a huge influence on Lifschitz and her contemporaries as students. In a poignant tribute during Stalin’s Piano, Lifschitz plays some Mozart along with the recording of Yudina.

 

Davidson and Lifschitz both spoke in a relaxed and friendly way to the audience about the work beforehand, and took part in a Q&A after the show (chaired by Brendan Joyce, Artistic Director of Brisbane chamber orchestra Camerata). The show certainly stands alone without the Q&A, but this added some fascinating insights (such as revealing that Gough Whitlam spoke in B flat major, and explaining how Lifschitz manages to synchronise her playing with the spoken words and moving images).

 

 

 

In discussing the comedy of Stalin’s Piano, Davidson said that manipulating sound and image, as in the JFK portrait, is only one element of the comedy in the work. Sometimes comedy lies in what the person is saying, as in the portrait of Percy Grainger, with his spiky response to an interviewer echoed by the piano. Humour also comes from the realisation that there is inherent melody in speech, which was borne out in the frequent laughter from the audience.

 

Davidson said that while music isn’t as precise as words, it enhances what is underneath them, ‘where the real punch comes in’. Stalin’s Piano certainly does that, amplifying the feeling in the spoken words of 19 people. The show is intense, entertaining, and completely absorbing.

 

There was only one performance of Stalin’s Piano at Brisbane Festival. If it ever comes back, or you can see it somewhere else, don’t miss it!

 

15
Sep
18

YUMMY

 

YUMMY

Yummy Productions

La Boite Roundhouse Theatre

September 12 – 15 2018

 

Reviewed by Anthony Borsato

 

 

I was pleasantly surprised to see a drag cabaret take pride of place in Theatre Republic this year. I was even happier when I got to go along to this absolutely fabulous night out. After seasons in fringes around the world, YUMMY brought its campy humour and sequins to La Boite’s stage this week – Act 1 of Brisbane Festival – what a week! 

 

Featuring seven amazing performers – Karen from Finance, Benjamin Hancock, Valerie Hex (Producer, Director and BRIEFS performer, James Welsby), JandruzeZelia Rose (recently seen with Dita von Teese), Hannie Helsden and Joni in the Moon – YUMMY is a night of drag, circus, cabaret, burlesque and comedy. Each performer clearly has their own style and personality that is allowed to shine throughout the entire show. What is unique to this drag show is that YUMMY features both male and female performers, showing us more than just the traditional gay-man fuelled drag culture. I would love to have seen drag kings in the performance as well – but the night felt like a celebration of the ‘yummy’ nature of the camp and the feminine.

 

 

 

Was it the most cutting edge drag? No. Was it the best cabaret or circus? No. But it doesn’t need to be because it’s a fun night. Drag is, by its very nature, a political act – tearing down the walls of traditional gender roles and performativity but there is no doubt that the night is all about entertainment. The key to any drag show is that throw yourself into the nature of the night and if you do that you will have a truly fun time. This cast knows how to work a crowd and get the audience eating out of their hands. The audience was ingratiated into the scene by our MC for the night, a queen with one of the funniest names in the business; Karen from Finance. Karen told us at the very beginning to clap, cheer, scream, stamp the floor for everything we love – and then each act encouraged that. It is the oldest and most effective technique in the book – get the audience hooting and cheering for what they like, and the adrenaline and endorphins carry them through the rest of the great performance. It keeps you in the mood.

 

YUMMY pulls in the audience expertly; so much so that the show seems to be over before you know it and you are left wanting more. The cast isn’t afraid to look silly and don’t take themselves too seriously.

 

YUMMY offers no journey or transformation for audiences; it is pure entertainment. And sometimes, that’s refreshing in such a dark, bleak evil world.

 

 

With so many unique acts it’s hard to pick a favourite. Stand outs include a mash-up of Rihanna’s Bitch Better Have My Money and ABBA’s Money, Money, Money by Karen From Finances, Benjamin Hancock’s lipsync with a smart-phone muzzle, and maybe one of the best acts I’ve ever seen; Valerie Hex tap dancing to heavy metal/screamo music.

 

The demographic of YUMMY’s audience is unlike any I have ever seen at a drag show. They are likely drawn in by the Brisbane Festival and La Boite marketing, but what is great about YUMMY is that it works as an entry level performance into the drag world for those who know little about it. It has the traditional camp comedic elements that many would recognise as drag, an introduction to more experimental drag performance art, and burlesque/cabaret acts, which mainstream theatre audiences would be used to experiencing. It also provides more context to audiences whose only knowledge of drag comes from Rupaul’s Drag Race. Audiences enjoy the energy and the spectacle of YUMMY, from costumes to rival Lady Gaga’s, to acts that are well thought out and fun to watch.

 

YUMMY leaves the Theatre Republic tonight. If you get a chance to get along, sit back, have a couple cocktails, and throw yourself into the fun of the night. Switch off and be entertained.

 

 

 

14
Sep
18

Memorial

 

Memorial

Alice Oswald & Brink Productions

QPAC Playhouse

September 7-9 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

our tragedy is everything, and yet nothing…

 

Only during Brisbane Festival would we have the opportunity to experience a deeply moving and heartfelt piece as grand in scale and as poetic in nature as Memorial, involving accomplished musicians, large scale, event style, precision choreography and 215 local community choral members in the staging of, not the retelling of (it’s an important distinction: we know the story), the staging of the atmosphere of Alice Oswald’s Memorial: An Excavation of the Illiad.

 

Oswald’s epic poem, to which she herself refers to as an “oral cemetery”, shares the human aspects of death and dying during the ten-year war that famously ended in Troy, located just 75km from Gallipoli. Two months out from the centenary of the Armistice that ended the First World War, we are plunged into the imagined memories, and shown the shallow graves of those who fought and fell in ancient battle. In any battle. Director, Chris Drummond, successfully translates the atmosphere of Oswald’s poem to the stage, inspired by critics’ appraisal of The Illiad, in terms of its ‘enargeia’ – its bright unbearable reality. How I love the images conjured by the use of this word!

 

It’s the word used when gods come to earth not in disguise but as themselves. This version, trying to retrieve the poem’s enargeia, takes away its narrative, as you might lift the roof off a church in order to remember what you’re worshipping. – Chris Drummond, Director

 

 

Consider the roof lifted. Our beloved Helen Morse is poet, actress, enchantress, finding the breath and sinew of Oswald’s text, drawing on masterful vocal and emotional work, harnessing all the human aspects and the elements of the earth, conjuring the vivid images and wrought emotions of the battlefield and the aftermath of war as powerfully as if we were there, sitting and shedding our tears over the bloodied bodies of the fallen, or opening our arms and offering our embrace to the shaking, or silent and still, desperately empty shells of those who loved them, left behind.

 

There are other opportunities to pause and ponder but the most beautiful, memorable moment of intimate connection occurs when an ensemble member steps across the stage bearing a small bowl of water from which Morse will sip. She stands close, patient, reserved and respectful, pleased to simply serve – such an effortless act of kindness – and before taking the bowl away, holds the gaze offered by Morse: deep gratitude and mutual respect in this single moment. It’s so intimate an exchange we feel privileged to have had a part in it simply by being present. Other exchanges of energy, some languid, others frenetic, create poignancy or excitement. A number of brief, fluid segments are certainly not intended to be as accomplished technically as the Royal Ballet, of course, yet feel vaguely reminiscent in terms of energy and floor patterns, entrances, exits and frozen time, of Wayne McGregor’s time-bending Orlando act in Woolf Works.

 

 

Macedonian and Bulgarian vocals (Tanja Tzarovska and Belinda Sykes) weave beneath and in between the complex layers of a rich musical tapestry brought into living, breathing, haunting existence by an orchestra seemingly suspended above the mortals on stage, thanks to Michael Hankin’s design lit by Nigel Levings, then soar beyond that negative space and into the skies above. The original transcendent score composed in response to the text by Jocelyn Pooklifts us into whatever heaven we perceive there to be above us, with exquisite strings and reeds, and given additional gravitas by the combined voices of Exaudi Australis and the Queensland Festival Chorus, Vocal Manoeuvres Academy Youth Ensemble, and singers from Access Arts and Emma Dean’s Cheap Trills, coordinated and coached by Alison Rogers. The music is truly something else. 

 

 

Movement conceived and coordinated by Circa’s Yaron Lifschitz (the world premiere of his En Masse next week is a must-see) features some superb complex sequences performed by just a few ensemble members. The last of these seems particularly significant, shared via a dancer on either side of the stage, building on familiar gestures and morphing them into a strange and mesmerising dance of love and loss. A jarring hip movement juxtaposed against fluid, sweeping arms and the natural curves of the body speak volumes about the discombobulation of those lost in their longing, and the getting-on-with of their life. The large-scale choreography is designed to move hundreds across the space and freeze in more geometric formations to support the images from Oswald’s text and direct our attention back to Morse, and to the individuals representing the soldiers of whom she speaks. The Soldier Chorus used in this way, within the vast space of QPAC’s Playhouse stage, is a powerful reminder that the inescapable reality of war, its horror and its desperate sadness imprints on us all.

 

 

 

 

Somehow, magically, time is stretched and we may have been sitting here, in a dream, for three, or four or six or eight hours, but in fact it’s just 90 minutes and we remain fully present and at times, hyper alert. Intriguingly, with each gentle lull in the action, during more descriptive passages, there might be a tendency to sink deeply into a meditative listening state, a similar state common in audiences of the durational performances of other ancient cultures; think of the Ramayana or Mahabharata, or Japanese Noh theatre, where we surrender to the power, and ebb and flow of all the elements, transfixed over hours…or days. And we come out of this 90-minute-decade-long experience with a semblance of awareness that we’ve been changed somehow, and now our heart is murmuring its own condolences and gentle comfort to the world.

 

Memorial is an epic production with a humble heart. Truly, incredibly, transcendentally magnificent. Helen Morse, with her otherworldly musicians and 215 barefoot strangers, in a masterful performance supported by every detail of Chris Drummond’s production and ably assisted by Benjamin Knapton, brings us to our knees in the face of death, dying, and that smallest and simplest of human kindnesses, remembering, in the event of their death, the details of a person’s life.