Archive for the 'Music' Category

07
Nov
19

Jane Eyre

 

Jane Eyre

QPAC and shake & stir

QPAC Cremorne Theatre

October 18 – November 9 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

 

No one does a slow-burn gothic treatment better than shake & stir, and there was never going to be a better time of year to schedule this one than during the sassy, scary Scorpio season. Let’s face it: Rochester is as Scorpio as Scorpio gets.

 

shake & stir’s Jane Eyre, like its titular character portrayed by Nelle Lee, is fiery and full of promise, but it’s not Polly Teale’s take and it’s not my favourite. Adapted by Lee and Nick Skubij, it’s quite simply overly long, however; if you leave before Interval, you’ll miss the best half of the show, so don’t!

 

Have we even seen a Jane Eyre since QUT’s student production in 2010 at Gardens Theatre? (And is it true that Gardens Theatre is the next live theatre venue to go?).

 

The tech elements here are absolutely next level, a bleak mood from the outset, helped by smokey blue hues and the darkest shadows, cast across multiple levels of a scaffolded set, thanks to Brisbane’s most awarded and appreciated creative triumvirate, Josh McIntosh (Designer, having designed a completely different production for HR in 2008 – wish I’d seen Edward Foy’s Rochester), Jason Glenwright (Lighting Designer) and Guy Webster (Additional Music and Sound). If you can’t imagine how incredible the result of a collaboration between these guys can be, see it for yourself before Jane Eyre closes this weekend, or during the return to QPAC later this month of A Christmas Carol).

 

shake & stir’s productions are truly world class.

 

The Superjesus and Green Day’s American Idiot star, Sarah McLeod, takes artistic stakes even higher, and it’s a gamble that pays off, with a haunting, stirring soundtrack of original music commissioned for this production. In her compositions and rasping, grasping vocals, lies the deeper realisation of both Bertha, the mad wife of Rochester (McLeod), and Jane. And without feeling the need to return to Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea I get a sense that it’s this version, or essence, of Bertha we see here, beneath McLeod’s sculpted arms and ink, and fierce, frightened eyes in this challenging role. (McLeod’s Bertha is probably as Polly Teale as we can expect to get for audiences that include Year 9 – 12 students). In a future role, it will be interesting to see if there is a need to reign in McLeod’s extraordinary energy and natural presence on stage. Let’s hope not; it can be better managed than that!

 

The duality of the female characters is further examined in the treatment of little Adele, Rochester’s ward, represented here by the actor’s posturing and impossibly wide eyes, a Sia-sized ribbon in the hair, and the jaunty movements, as marionette, Adele’s invisible strings pulled by the adults, who regard her with vague interest, or none at all, rather than with Jane’s attitude of love and acceptance, until the little dolly demands more and drops the coquettish act – literally; this is a very funny fuck-you moment – as individuation finally kicks in, and she is seen to stomp – not skip or twirl – to assert her place in the household, in the world. I would like to have seen a more deliberate prelude to this, in Jane’s very early behaviour, which of course would have had little to no effect in the context of the Reed’s oppressive home; perhaps this would be too subtle after all, to foreshadow the widening distinctions between class and wealth and society and privilege and pride, or perhaps we just had to see her as someone different. 

 

 

We have to remember that Charlotte Brontë published under the male non de plume, Currer Bell, in 1847 – a time when class structure began to be challenged and the romantic notion of the gentle ‘feminine’ was supposedly being left for dead, and a stronger ‘feminist’ approach was taking hold, although not everywhere; even the women of the day were shocked and dismayed by the boldness of Brontë’s Jane Eyre. A female critic famously referred to the story as a “very naughty” one.

 

A production picture of McLeod and Lee, facing off only inches away from each other, contains all the intensity and harnessed energy expected on opening night. The adaptation is still too dense to make this version a truly captivating one, and this production lacks the necessary pace to keep us on the edge of our seats. At least it’s not set in space. There is something lacking in the bullying scenes, which are rushed and light-handed, and then we spend an overly long time in the red room, and away at Lowood School. An extended choreographic sequence here, of ritual and repetition, ticks a box but fails to enhance or advance the story; it’s such a short moment actually, and you might enjoy it as a prelude to the very interesting symbolism later of little Adele, but these are the things that are slightly clunky after seeing other, flawless moments work magnificently in shake & stir’s previous productions.

 

Nelle Lee’s Jane Eyre is quietly brash and bold, with appropriate agency, giving us a sense that actually, Nelle Lee is quietly this brash and bold.

 

Anthony Standish is the bully, John Reed, the principal, Mr Brocklhurst, the missionary, St John and the gentlest, gruffest Rochester ever, and despite the distinct lack of scintillating, simmering sexual energy between he and Lee (let me know if you sit closer and feel heat from anything other than the house fire), at least we get the gorgeous playful moments, such lovely moments for actors and audience, and those looooooong looks that should have felt more…thrilling. Perhaps each piece really is just so precisely measured for schools now, so careful not to titillate or offend. Or does it still, in the moment, on the night, come down to casting, timing and bold, impulsive choices? With Intimacy Coordination/Choreography/Direction and wellness at the centre of our actor training and the entertainment industry, and in the meantime, complaints directed to school administrations at the mere mention of a gothic element, or a stiletto strutting teen in a scene for assessment or assembly, this is a very interesting conversation. To be continued…

 

 

Helen Howard is one of our most accomplished actors and directors (and with a bit of Irish luck, COCK will start something in terms of regular directing engagements for Howard). As Aunt Reed, as well as various school teachers, each with their own stance, posture, gesture, accent, and social mask/set of facial expressions, and as Mrs Fairfax and Blanch Ingram, Howard reasserts her superior authority and versatility on stage, and her place in the hearts of Brisbane audiences. 

 

Did you remember that both Helen Howard and Michael Futcher are Matilda Award Hall of Fame(ers)? No. So. There’s your reminder and a little timely nod to Rosemary, whom we miss. so. much.

 

Director, Michael Futcher, has a sharp eye; his astute and super sensitive direction of just four performers in this magnificent contemporary starkly gothic space, contained beautifully by the Cremorne, brings some splendid literary moments to life, and heightens some of the subtleties of the original text, including a stunning image of the women, Bertha above and Jane Eyre below. But by resisting taking a red pen to this adaptation, in its inaugural season this Jane Eyre is not yet the absolutely extraordinary example of live theatre it promises to be. When this production grows up and goes beyond even its own wildest imagination, watch out!

 

What a joy it is to always be able to recommend a company for each new theatrical work offered (even when it’s not my favourite!), based upon the extraordinary body of work, and on the clever and creative team’s ongoing commitment to making live productions continue to work for as broad an audience as possible.    

 

31
Aug
19

The Cold Record

 

The Cold Record

Horizon Festival

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

Black Box Theatre, The Old Ambo, Nambour

August 28 – 30 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

22
Aug
19

The Tempest

 

The Tempest

Zen Zen Zo

Trinity Parish Hall

August 16 – 31 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

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

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

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

We all want a land that we can call home.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

*unconfirmed

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

17
Jun
19

TOSCA

 

Tosca

Opera Queensland

QPAC Lyric Theatre

June 13 – 22 2019

 

Reviewed by Shannon Miller

 

 

Last year within the walls of the historic Italian city of Lucca, I visited the birthplace of Tosca’s composer, Giacomo Puccini who was born in 1858. Once a wealthy apartment overlooking the Piazza Cittadella it is now a museum enshrined with his personal artefacts, costumes from his operas, personal letters and postcards, photographs, and an old baby grand piano said to have been used by the young composer before he departed for Milan where he would undergo his serious musical training. He would go on to eventually write the operas which he has now become so famous for including Tosca, the awe-inspiring production currently part of Opera Queensland’s 2019 season.

 

 

With its themes of police corruption, executive overreach, political terrorism and feminism, it’s not hard to see why Tosca continues to hold relevance for contemporary audiences, despite its first debut more than 100 years ago, in 1900. Program notes co-authored by artistic director, Patrick Nolan and executive director, Sandra Willis make mention of our media recently becoming the focus of the world’s attention due to the raids on our national broadcaster, calling into question the idea of free speech and the integrity of the media – concepts central to Tosca’s verismo melodrama.

 

Originally set against the Napoleonic invasion of Rome in the 1800s, director Nolan sets the scene during Italy’s ‘Years of Lead’: a dark period of great political terrorism and violence spanning the 1960s and 1980s. (*Lead allegedly denoting the shootings and bombings of the time.)

 

As we enter the Lyric Theatre the curtain is already up. We see a church with floors polished to a mirror’s gleam. There are candles to be lit, long minimalist pews, imposing linear structures, and cubic compartments framing the proscenium as if the set will attempt to contain in an orderly fashion what chaos and tragedy will seek to undo. The production design is boastful and foreboding, and the program notes explain that it is the work of Italian modernist architect Pier Luigi Nervi that influenced the design; a conflation of religious iconography and bureaucratic geometry – a tension upon which the plot of Tosca pivots.

 

Angelotti, sung by Sam Hartley, is an escaped political prisoner who takes refuge inside the church and hides as a Sacristan enters to prepare for the evening mass. Joining him is Cavaradossi, sung by Angus Wood, an artist employed to paint a portrait of the Mary Magdalene. The iconic motifs of the strings and woodwind herald the opening of the first main aria Recondita Armonia. Here, we get a real sense of Woods’ bold tenor voice; a resonant and youthful timbre which lilts boldly, but wraps sensitively with a controlled legato around the lyrical phrasing. With the climax of the aria’s closing note, we pinch ourselves as we come to realise, we are indeed listening to one of the world’s most beloved operas, and we’re in expert hands.

 

The Sacristan leaves, Angelotti re-emerges, and after promising to protect him, Angelotti hides as Cavaradossi’s girlfriend arrives, Floria Tosca a famous singer. The titular character, sung by Rachelle Durkin, channels Sophia Loren with wild sunglasses, high-waisted pants, a silk floral blouse and fur, no less. Tosca’s gumption, style and physicality are magnetic as Durkin commands respect, inhabiting the stage with a conspicuous nonchalance, her voice generously picking out the flowers in the music, while gorgeously navigating its churning ocean with a vibrant vocalism and vibrato that lashes but then reigns in to show off a deeper discipline and modesty. She jealously accuses Cavaradossi of cheating on her and also that the painting resembles another woman as the two engage in playful tête-à-têtes. They are in love and we cannot help but fall in love with them.

 

 

After they leave, the Sacristan returns with a congregation, but the celebrations are interrupted by chief of police, Baron Scarpia. Moustached and skivvied, he is followed by his police agents and henchmen hot on the trail of Angelotti. Scarpia, sung richly by baritone Jose Carbo, leads the chorus in the final number of the first act – a rousing Te Deum – which is a more structured piece speaking to the rigidity of the internal demons of process that drive Scarpia; very much in contrast to the musical language of our lovers. The chorus and orchestra fuse together, the melody twisting upward impossibly, divinely, and culminating with a palpable electricity still buzzing amongst the audience during intermission.

 

In act two, Scarpia, in an effort to discover the whereabouts of Angelotti, will manipulate the lovers by torturing and threatening to execute Cavaradossi unless Tosca yields to his sexual advances. In a final plea to God, she sings a heartbreaking Vissi d’arte, followed by Woods’ E lucevan le stelle – arguably Puccini’s best tenor aria outside of Turandot’s Nessun Dorma. Woods’ performance had me so star struck and fangirling that I was flung back to my bedroom floor at thirteen, singing along to a $5 bargain bin compact disc titled Puccini Favourites which I still have to this very day.

 

 

Show stealers maestro, Oliver Von Dohnanyi and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra bring this magnanimous score to life; a demanding musical work of extremist romantic dynamics, sensitivity and vociferous power. The orchestra were generous and rigorous in their efforts to produce the chocolate, velvet and violence necessary for Tosca to leave you breathless and yearning. Opera Queensland’s production of Tosca shouldn’t be missed. With its complex, modern sets and period costumes by Dale Ferguson, contemporary lighting concepts by Mark Howett, and masterful direction by Patrick Nolan, this is an extravaganza; a unique and successful revitalising of one of the world’s most sacrosanct cultural artefacts.

 

02
Dec
18

Depthless

 

Depthless

The Farm

Judith Wright Centre

November 30 – December 1 2018

 

Reviewed by Shannon John Miller

 

 

Six lights pinned to the proscenium blanket the stage in a rich, dark purple hue. A drum kit sits to the right, where a mess of guitar effects pedals, and chords are strewn across the floor in the shape of a crescent moon ending in amplifiers upstage. But everything is side-on, and to the right as if we’re about to view a concert from the wings.

 

A man, Guy Webster, appears from the darkness gently playing a simple riff on an acoustic guitar, and channelling Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, adding poetry and lyrics. A light in the far corner swings like a lighthouse, bathing the audience in film noir. And behind that light a genderless form emerges, Harman, languishing upon the ground, as if being moulded from clay.

 

 

She then appears in a short gold, sequinned dress and deliberately toys with clichés of feminine beauty, fantasy and desire. Her movement is expressive and infantile, conjuring the tragic Hollywood princesses; Munroe, Lana del Rey, and Lolita.  However, these skins are abandoned and replaced by Denham and deeper more emergent cravings. And the electric guitar becomes a site of male power of which Harman seeks to possess and subvert. A rock battle ensues, with Harman and Webster’s dispute conveyed through a breathtaking pas de trois between them and the electric guitar.

 

Running just under an hour, we’re treated to a uniquely performative rock odyssey. Harman, fully embodies the defiant muse, desperate, through expressive movement, to break free of both artistic assumptions of her sex, and the confines of her musical creator, Webster. Harman’s choreographic process is seemingly limitless in her ability to communicate physically. She leaps exquisitely from a sumptuous, lilting naivety to a worldly, violent grace, while playing on the audience’s assumptions of women’s roles in art, sex and dance.

 

And she is a worthy adversary to Webster, a remarkable musician who pushes his acoustic and electric guitars past their limits, even if at times a little too loudly. He experiments with every conceivable part of the instrument from arpeggios, to plucking strings of the pegboard, and torturing it in distortion with his many implements. It’s as if the guitar is a third character in this two-hander. He draws from the guitar a soulful grotesqueness, then resolves dissonances with recourse to musical energy evocative of Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Hans Zimmer. At one point, he repeatedly launches the guitar across the stage, dragging it back by its chord like the god Sisyphus punished for all eternity to roll a boulder up a hill.

 

There is real conflict and tension here as one artist seeks to assert dominion over the other’s right to possess the guitar. Webster, trying to preserve a status quo as Harman remains unyielding in what is a beautifully engineered tug of war. We, the audience are in the crossfire, and it’s our expectations of what we suppose to be gendered artforms that are challenged, and at stake.

 

 

While the work is supreme, the structure could be tightened of unnecessary dramatic pauses. Yet even still at its zenith, the work explodes in a drum kit-fuelled frenzy of anger and joy; an ex-machina soothed only by a fragile reverie. But who will surface victorious?

 

Ballads by multi-ARIA award winning musician Ben Ely of Regurgitator, are beautiful and while seemingly unrelated, are perfunctory as is the dialogue to the play, because the central narrative is the politics of movement between Harman and Webster. This unique work is more than just showcasing two talented performers, but an important commentary on the state of the art, and audiences’ oppressive demands on what is entertainment.

 

 

 

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.