Archive for the 'Reviews' Category

24
Mar
17

Odd Man Out

Odd Man Out

Noosa Long Weekend

In Association With Ensemble Theatre

The J Theatre, Noosa

March 23 – 25 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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David Williamson’s Odd Man Out sold out in Sydney over an eight-week season. Secure in the knowledge that it would be another smash hit for Williamson and Ensemble Theatre, Noosa Long Weekend invited the company to bring the production to The J for an exclusive pre-festival fundraising weekend (4 performances only), launching the rebrand of the festival only weeks prior.

Noosa Long Weekend Festival is now Noosa Alive! presenting an exciting program of world class events over 10 days in July.

Williamson’s success is unparalleled in this country. His work not only reflects the many aspects of our individual lives and the broader societal values to which we subscribe but also, it brings to light the little details of our relationships, our connections with other humans. Always funny, always touching, always extremely intelligent, examining all the things we think we should be getting right and all the things we know are not right with the world, Williamson is a master of making misfortune a gift. We see his characters expand and grow in the advent of disaster rather than be defeated by life’s difficulties.

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While Anna Gardiner’s design (lit by Christopher Page) is contemporary and suitably symbolic, at times it feels almost too sterile, which is perhaps the point: it suits every scene and our focus remains on the performers. Alistair Wallace’s soundscape adds an interesting dimension, most effectively incorporated into the second act to up the pace and underpin the absurd comedy act required of Ryan in each new social situation. 

When a production is mediocre we don’t take much away from it (except perhaps a thought that we’ll not see that company again for a while, just while they work themselves out!). But when the actors excel in bringing a terrific, insightful script to life, we experience a degree of what the characters on stage are going through. This shared empathy is part of what makes live theatre so special, so vital, and how it’s possible to invest so much emotionally in what’s essentially a cute little love story. In the case of Odd Man Out, the story is much larger, and we feel more deeply than we expected to for Ryan, a high-functioning autistic physicist, and for Alice, a physiotherapist with a ticking biological clock; we quickly became complicit in her attempts to change Ryan, in a frustrating journey through life and love.

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In creating Alice, Lisa Gormley has discovered something beautifully gentle and natural, and building on it gradually, layer by layer, she develops incredible strength and purpose so that we understand completely by the end of the play, her unfailing love for Ryan and her determination to support him, in spite of the challenges he continuously throws at her. We see her undergoing the kind of transformation that can only come from a place of whole-hearted love and unwavering kindness. This role might be wasted on anyone else but Gormley gives Alice the necessary warmth and depth, and good natured sense of humour to enable us to believe in her crazy pursuit of happily ever after with a guy who seems incapable of understanding her needs, or communicating his own.

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Williamson has said to me that Justin Stewart Cotta (Dream Homes’s memorable “Lion of Lebanon”) is one of our finest stage actors – high praise indeed; I’d seen the proof of it during our brief rehearsal period and limited run of that production, directed by the playwright, for Noosa Long Weekend Festival 2015 – and in Odd Man Out we see once again, Cotta’s knack for nailing a challenging character, bringing to this complex role a heartbreaking vulnerability that might remind you of Noah Taylor and/or Geoffrey Rush in Shine, and well-studied idiosyncrasies, which are likened in the play to Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond in Rainman. And in this moment, Williamson very succinctly makes a point about our lack of references in the mainstream, since the release of Rainman, to Autism Spectrum Disorder. In recent years we’ve seen a bit of a run on bipolar and depression and dementia in the movies, however; unlike sitting in a cinema and feeling somewhat removed from the situation, when we’re just metres away from the humans having to find a way to live with a mental illness or developmental condition in a world that doesn’t offer much assistance, we can’t help but feel for them, and wonder how, given the same set of circumstances, we might behave.

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Ryan is hyper-intelligent but emotionally stunted and socially anxious, and innocently offends everyone with whom he comes into contact, including Alice, his sharp wit and honest observations providing the play’s funniest and most uncomfortable moments. An awkward and highly entertaining scene involving good friends and wine (or is that friends and good wine?) puts the approach to the test with hilarious results. But without support from her parents or friends (that gorgeous Rachel Gordon as best friend Carla, let’s face it, is far more bitch than BFF), Alice has had to find a way to teach Ryan a new way to present himself to the world. The consequences are disastrous, giving us a mother of a monologue from Cotta, just in case we weren’t already convinced of his utter conviction in the role. These two bare their souls and connect with such genuine honesty and intimacy that we can’t help but be moved. A friend told me after the show that for him, in Ryan and Alice he saw his parents’ relationship, Autism included. And he could see he was the child, whom Ryan and Alice can’t quite agree to have…until we find ourselves at the neat, optimistic ending (there’s no spoiler there if you’re familiar with Williamson’s unashamedly, cleverly crowd-pleasing style). Look, there may have been a few tears shed.

Gordon, Gael Ballantyne, Bill Young, and Matt Minto beautifully flesh out the secondary characters, but this show rightly belongs to the effervescent Gormley, and to Cotta, in his most honest, detailed and nuanced work to date.

A Williamson play is always such a gift to actors and audiences, and this one, his best yet, so sensitively directed by Ensemble’s Artistic Director, Mark Kilmurry, offers greater insight than ever into the way humans behave and successfully – or not at all – relate to one another. 

18
Mar
17

Constellations

Constellations

Queensland Theatre

Bille Brown Studio

March 9 – April 9 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

Humans are meaning makers.

Sam Strong, Artistic Director QT

 

You may have had to learn the dance routine slowly and in its component parts, but in the end, you had to let go and dance.

Howard Fine

 

The universe doesn’t care about time…

Kat Henry, Director

 

We have all the time we’ve ever, and never had.

Marianne, Constellations

 

Nick Payne’s award winning Constellations is an extraordinary play, and Kat Henry’s world class production for Queensland Theatre and Queensland Museum (and a major coup for the World Science Festival) is nothing short of astonishing, challenging actors and audiences to truly be present, live in the moment, and make the connections between seemingly random occurrences before opportunities (and loved ones) become lost to us.

Essentially, Constellations is a beautiful and complex love story, but it’s also about the choices we make and the infinite possibilities presented across ‘multiverses’.

Historically, physics has explained time chronologically, as in the “arrow of time”, charging forward in a single trajectory, however; an alternative view sees time as something immediate, infinite, without beginning or end, presenting endless opportunities. In A Time Apart, Paul Chan describes the quality, not quantity, of time as “A kind of time charged with promise and significance.” Upon further reading it becomes clear that the two types of time are entangled and while some may regard time as something to be kept, others derive greater satisfaction in its release…

The creative team behind Constellations is a scintillating meeting of minds, bringing the abstract and complexity of quantum mechanics, string theory and relativity, and the challenges of the unlikely relationship between an apiarist and an astro physicist into a reality accessible to all. (Can you lick your elbow? Try it!).

Within a deceptively simple design lies lots of clues: the dots we connect to make meaning from the play, in the same way, if we’re living mindfully, that we’re able to make meaning of our lives. Anthony Spinaze’s design draws on the visual representation of the scientific theories, the hexagonal spaces of bee hives and a smooth, shiny, deep blue undulating surface, beneath which we sense a tumultuous emotional landscape. At any given moment, the actors appear to be standing in space, or on the peak of a mountain, or within any interior indicated in the text. We are anywhere and everywhere all at once. Spinaze’s aesthetic is one of the most inspired, intelligent and effective designs we’ve seen for a long time, and so useful in terms of giving the performers a real-surreal place in which to play. 

Ben Hughes’ lighting is inherent in the design, built into the landscape and shining like streams of starlight from the wings and the rig above. The side lighting is particularly effective as we settle into the rhythm of the play and watch the relationship dance across various universes, and immensely satisfying is the final effect, covering the floor with the constellations of the title. A swirling black hole exists out of sight and yet right under our noses, continuously appearing in segments during the repeated motifs, the impressive choreography of the performers (how are they finding their marks in the dark?!) incrementally leading Roland and Marianne toward their inevitable fate. Guy Webster’s original compositions and a salient soundscape take this production into another realm, sending us at the speed of light between alternate worlds, poignant moments.

Lucas Stibbard and Jessica Tovey are perfectly cast, generously offering beautifully nuanced, incredibly rich material to one another and making every second vividly real, despite the challenges, which are more often found in film, presented by so much repetition in the text. This play could easily be a disaster of monumental proportions, and boring to boot, but Director, Kat Henry, is in possession of directorial superpowers. She employs a couple of them by crafting just enough of each vignette (we see an extraordinary 59 – or is it 60 – scenes in all), giving the actors clear boundaries, literally, within the space, delineated by lines and light, and also enough space between these boundaries and the actors’ bodies in which to allow them room to recreate each part of the story in a fresh, new way. I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like it, certainly not on a Brisbane stage. And the blocking! (Because even within these scenes, driven by impulse, there is a certain amount of direction to get them to where they need to go). 

When speaking about working on this play on Broadway, Jake Gyllenhaal observed, “There’s no moment for autopilot. It demands a constant presence,” and while this is true of every acting job, Constellations showcases the incredible skill and highly attuned instinctual natures of these two performers. To put it in a film context again, it’s as if we’re seeing every single take during a shoot, but every single take is being captured for a different film, depending on the choices made by the characters (and by the actors embodying those characters). It’s next level Sliding Doors. Bravo, Kat Henry, for diving in so deeply. We’re able to plunge the depths of human existence with Roland and Marianne, and come up for air at the end of the night in a state of serene acceptance of the tragic circumstances because, as incredibly moving and devastating as this conclusion is, we completely understand the way everything just is…and always was and always will be.

Whether or not you’re a performer, Constellations is a masterclass in staying in the present moment, applying fearless choices and responding courageously, instinctually and intentionally to whatever’s happening in a given moment.

Constellations is astonishing work; it really could change your life.

Special Event
For two evenings only, do not miss the unique opportunity to attend a performance of this critically acclaimed play, accompanied by an onstage conversation between Constellations playwright Nick Payne and World Science Festival co-founder and physicist Brian Greene.  Following the performance, Nick Payne and Brian Greene will delve into our current understanding of the multiverse, the mysteries that remain, and why this theory captivated Payne’s imagination inspiring this theatrical tour de force. This exclusive event is a collaboration between World Science Festival Brisbane and Queensland Theatre. Book online

 

10
Mar
17

Every Brilliant Thing

 

Every Brilliant Thing

QPAC, Paines Plough & Pentabus Theatre Company

QPAC Cremorne

March 8 – 11 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

#BrilliantThingsProject

Inspired by Every Brilliant Thing, we’re asking you to share one brilliant thing that you think makes life worth living. Use the #BrilliantThingsProject hashtag on Instagram or Twitter, or visit qpac.com.au/the-creatory

 

You’re seven years old. Mum’s in hospital. Dad says she’s ‘done something stupid’. She finds it hard to be happy.

You make a list of everything that’s brilliant about the world.

Everything worth living for.

Ice cream

Water fights

Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch TV

The colour yellow

Things with stripes

Rollercoasters

People falling over

 

Adapted from the short story, Sleeve Notes, based on true and untrue tales, Every Brilliant Thing is the most precious piece of theatre in the world right now. While everyone is finishing up being very angry around one corner and getting ready to be very fancy around the other (and being very funny across the river, around the corner and down the road), this little play, staged in the round in QPAC’s intimate Cremorne Theatre, is something that could potentially tour forever, such is its intimate tone and at the same time, its extensive reach and invaluable lessons in real-life gratitude, as opposed to the meme-heavy token #gratitudeporn currently flooding our social media.

Written by Duncan Macmillan and originally starring Jonny Donahue, this touring production features James Rowland, a master in non-verbal specificity and crowd control. It’s not so much a case of the traditional audience participation or interaction employed in this show but, as a friend observed after the show, the finer art of “audience integration”. Not only are we completely engaged in the story, but some are invited to be a part of the telling, and in the provision of props. Before the show begins – before it can begin – Rowland hands out pieces of paper with either multiple lines or a single word printed on each. Numbered, these are the brilliant things of the title, thousands upon thousands of them, creating a list of everything worth living for. The joy is in the detail, and the tragedy contained between these lines, embedded in the silences. Rowland holds space for us to consider every brilliant thing, and contemplate what might be on our own lists.

There is magic in so many moments, including listing the items themselves (and we never grow tired of hearing number one: ice cream), and the scenes in which the audience members assist.  For example, the awkward moment when a young front row fellow laughs nervously whilst delivering a lethal dose to the dog, Ronnie Barker. As the vet probably shouldn’t find the situation funny, he’s asked to play out the scene a second time, and it’s surprisingly – but not – absolutely devastating. And when the primary school teacher and school counsellor, Mrs Patterson, removes a shoe and a sock because she was directed to do so in a previous scene requiring a sock puppet and thus, next time she is called upon, already knows the drill. This is sweet and funny as the latter scene takes place some 10 years after the first. The most affecting interaction though, is when a gentleman plays the son (and then later, in a clever turn, the father), as Rowland imagines the answers to a child’s innocent and persistent stream of “Why?”.

This is meta-theatre at its most intimate, gently letting us in on the secrets of putting a show together, and at the same time, giving us a glimpse of just one way of trying to keep all the pieces of a life together. The sadness is even almost bearable because its shared, and it strikes me that for some Every Brilliant Thing could be a truly cathartic thing.

 

It’s a beautifully crafted show, delivered with pathos and sensitivity, which necessarily shines the light on life and quite blatantly and simply states that if you’re thinking about ending your life, don’t. There’s too much to live for. Start making a list…

07
Mar
17

American Idiot

American Idiot

shake & stir and QPAC

QPAC Playhouse

February 25 – March 12 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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DO YOU HAVE TIME TO LISTEN TO ME WHINE?

THIS IS THE DAWNING OF THE REST OF OUR LIVES.

In fact, this is the dawning of a whole new age of Aquarius; the new moon in Pisces during the opening week and an auspicious year one, in the first of a cycle of nine. This means we were already craving change; something new, something edgy, something to make us sit bolt upright and inspire us to sow some seeds for the future. We don’t have to be a part of the 24/7 news cycle to appreciate that in the current political climate, much of American Idiot rings as true as it did when the concept album went straight to the top of the Billboard charts in 2004, and when the show smashed onto the Broadway scene in 2009.

The Age of Aquarius is about acknowledging the system is broken…and not waiting for someone else to fix it.

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Green Day’s American Idiot is a new kind of music theatre experience, and unlike the string of political and social rock musicals with which we’ve grown up (West Side Story, Jesus Christ Superstar, Hair, Spring Awakening, Next to Normal), which all have super strong stories, incredibly, this show rides on only the flimsiest excuse for a book (by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer, also the show’s original director). In fact, the entire story is probably just the album description. (It’s not, I checked). More like Lloyd Webber’s Superstar in form, also groundbreaking in its time, American Idiot even has a Christ-like figure (or two, if we count the alter ego angel/devil dealer St Jimmy), Johnny, Jesus of Suburbia, whose story is told over the course of the song of the same name.

American Idiot relies on its punk rock pop and acoustic sound, its grungy rebel aesthetic and the star power brought to the stage by creators, Green Day, and the contemporary artists who star in it, in this case, The Living End’s Chris Cheney until February 26 and then Grinspoon’s Phil Jamieson.

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Michael Mayer told the New York Times in April 2010, “My idea all along was to keep the 13 songs in their original order and to interrupt it at times with other Green Day songs and the sparest of dialogue, because I didn’t want to have any extraneous words”. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

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The Australian premiere company is sensational, bringing big voices and rampant energy to QPAC’s Playhouse stage. The look and feel is fantastic, chaotic. It’s shake & stir’s first foray into this more expansive space and with a bold creative team, led by Director, Craig Ilot, to create the terrifying world of an idiotic America, they’re a welcome fit. A massive departure from their previous offerings, although with the same rock star energy and attitude we see applied to the schools’ touring company, this is not the usual shake & stir show. It’s inspired programming, perfect timing, and set to shift the gaze from shake & stir as a tight knit team of contemporaries, to MainStage presenters with a bolder mission to reach newer audiences still, and prove massive success at the box office while other companies continue to, by choice or necessity, play small.

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Josh McIntosh’s set design, utilising scaffolding and stairs, a hidden bed and eight enormous in-built television screens, provides the perfect anarchic playground for the cast of angry characters and also, for optikal bloc’s vivid AV design, which includes a barrage of chaotic images and lyrics – we get a taste of what’s to come in the opening minutes with the 24-hour news cycle popping up, as it does if we let it, on each screen – and a clever representation of that sacred ground, 7-Eleven. Matthew Marshall’s rock concert lighting states offer exactly the right mix of chaos and abandon, although we are blinded frequently and for some sensitive types this will not be a happy memory of the show. Lucas Newland’s choreography is edgy and angsty, sharply conceived and executed. Melanie Knight’s costumes capture a perfectly punk style, incorporating leather, tartan, torn denim, black hosiery and boots. It’s actually refreshing to see army fatigues, and Dirty Dancing’s Kurt Phelan cutting a fine figure in an officer’s uniform, despite the negative connotations of war at this point (at any point) in the not-quite-a-narrative. The look and feel and gritty sound will attract a whole new generation of theatregoers, but at the same time another set may well stay away. And that’s entertainment. At the first show on opening night – I can only assume the oldies and those having to travel from farther afield because we’ve never built our Instagram numbers to 10K and struck a deal with any of the nearby accomodation options (I’m counting myself in the latter category), were invited to the early show – the sound was muddy and the band overbearing. I thought it might be a punk thing? But no, and it will have been rectified by now. Under the musical direction of music industry stalwart Glenn Moorhouse (also on guitar), the on-stage band could easily sell a national tour without the rest of the show happening around them. These are some freakishly talented, dynamic performers.

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Ben Bennett, in his professional stage debut, leads a uniformly excellent cast, as a convincing Johnny, Jesus of Suburbia, styled to look alarmingly like Billie Joe Armstrong (the original Broadway Johnny). The Living End’s charismatic Chris Cheney gives St Jimmy a wicked Machiavellian grin and legit Green Day frontman movements like a snake, making it easy for us to believe in the simple allure of spending hard won cash on the drugs he magically procures from his pocket. Bringing the hyperactivity down a notch, Boulevard of Broken Dreams and Wake Me Up When September Ends capture the melancholy that underpins the show’s inherent angst. 

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Rowena Vilar’s dream sequence aerial is accomplished and delightful to watch while we question what the hell is it doing in there? We can forgive this very poor excuse to throw in a super sexy number because she’s mesmerising. Likewise, Strictly Ballroom’s Phoebe Panaretos (Whatshername) and Ashleigh Barlow (Heather, the only female character granted an actual name), do their best with embarrassingly underwritten roles that continue to perpetuate the myths of (Vilar) the sexy nurse/slave to men, (Panaretos) the girlfriend/good fuck/slave to men and (Barlow) the doting mother and desperate wife/slave to men. Definitely a theme there. While there are some shoddy attempts to lift these women out of their boxes, even when Heather ups and leaves the hopeless, useless Will (a stereotypical sofa slob, played by Alex Jeans, a performer who could do so much more given half a chance), it’s at the insistence of a friend. Likewise, Cameron MacDonald does what he can with the role of Tunny, similarly thinly veiled as representative of a vast section of the population (because we all dream of that extraordinary girl in dazzling white and crystal embellishments performing aerial acts for our viewing pleasure during a stint in hospital).

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In case we haven’t felt affected along the way (or in case we’ve felt more affected than we had expected to), the show closes with an overly sincere and unnecessarily sentimental, full company acoustic rendition of Good Riddance (Time of Your Life), which would have been better left as the play out music. It undoes much of the hard work, apologising in a way that feels very Robin Goodfellow, too earnestly hoping we can all still be friends by the end! But that’s okay because otherwise, of course we might leave and kick over a trash can, or shout impatiently at somebody waiting for their Uber. As it turns out, we have a delightful conversation for the next hour while one of the friends is waiting for her Uber, so perhaps it is, after all, the perfect note on which to end.

The contemporary collective voice of several generations, American Idiot is Brisbane’s biggest, loudest, funnest, most offensive premiere of the year. You’d be an idiot to miss it.

07
Mar
17

Propel

 

Propel

Expressions Dance Company

Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts

March 3 to March 11 2017

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

Deeper than Ink L - R Michelle Barnett, Richard Causer, Alana Sargent, Benjamin Chapman, Jake McLarnon and Elise May

I feel I really need to be a champion for the art of contemporary dance and I take that very seriously.

Natalie Weir, Artistic Director, EDC

Propel is the second incarnation of an Expressions Dance Company (EDC) initiative to provide emerging and established choreographers with the opportunity to create new works on the company. Propel was introduced in 2014.

This is EDC’s first season for 2017. Former EDC dancer Richard Causer is back, along with long-term members Benjamin Chapman, Michelle Barnett and Elise May (now also promoted to Assistant to the Artistic Director). Jake McLarnon and Alana Sargent have recently joined the company. Sargent, formerly from Sydney Dance Company, also designed the costumes for Propel.

Hollow Lands - Alana Sargent

Opening the program was Hollow Lands by Lisa Wilson, the most experienced and established of the four choreographers. She was inspired by the light installation Through Hollow Lands by the Seattle-based artist/designer Etta Lilienthal.

Lighting designer Ben Hughes (with Bruce McKinven and Leonie Lee) has created a striking three-dimensional network of fluorescent tubes, arranged in rectangles with various sides missing, evoking Through Hollow Lands. Warm sidelighting of the dancers highlights their sculptural muscularity, enhanced by simple white shorts/skirts and tops, or dresses.

In her program notes, Wilson says her response to the installation was to explore the idea of ‘coming to the brink’. The six dancers approach the lights in awe and appear to be both attracted by them, and repelled by a force around them. They reach out, shrink away, and hurtle over the lights. At times they move away from the framework.

In a slower, more lyrical section, Elise May undulates, and Richard Causer and Alana Sargent dance a sensual duo. With all six dancers back on stage, the movement becomes more frenetic towards the end, before five fall to the floor, leaving one still upright.

Written on the Body - Jake McLarnon and Alana Sargent

Written on the Body-Benjamin Chapman and Michelle Barnett

In the second work, Written on the Body, Elise May combines dance and video, with the loose general theme being our perception and the effects of others on our own inner world. It was difficult to see how such a general theme related to the dance and the movement, except, of course, that the dancers are perceiving each other and affecting each other, and the audience is also perceiving them and affected by them. A feature of the work that does directly and strongly express connection is the complex shapes formed by two or more of the five dancers balancing on each other, or performing intricate lifts.

The video, extending across three separate screens at the back of the stage, sometimes consisted of staticky white dots, and at other times of intriguing, occasionally beautiful images, such as closeups of grass stems and leaves silhouetted against the sky.

When the images were interesting and beautiful, I tended to watch the video and not the dancers, and when the images were less arresting, I focused on the dancers instead. Is that the intention? It was hard to connect the images with the dancers’ movement.

Waiting Alone - Richard Causer

Chinese choreographer Xu Yiming has been working with EDC as part of the company’s Australia China Dance Exchange. His work Waiting Alone made a big impact, not only with its style and sound, but with the outstanding performance of Richard Causer.

In this short, intense solo, Causer’s strength and maturity enabled him to put his technique completely at the service of expressing emotion – loneliness, desperation, and a feeling of ‘What have I done?’ or ‘How can this be happening?’

Starting by turning slowly on the spot, and crescendoing in a frenzy of windmilling arms and seamless movement down to and up from the floor, Causer eventually subsided into a defeated crouch, with head bowed. Throughout the solo, the dancer repeatedly draws one or both hands down over his face and bows his head.

In a departure from the varied mix of electronic music/sound effects of the first two works, the soundtrack for Waiting Alone is the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata for piano, overlaid with the sounds of screams, bangs, crashes, the wind whistling, and gulls crying. The sound and the dancer’s movement are a spine-tingling combination.

During this Propel season, EDC dancers Benjamin Chapman and Jake McLarnon will also perform Waiting Alone. It would be fascinating to see how each of the three dancers interprets this solo.

The final work on the program is Amy Hollingsworth’s Deeper Than Ink. The title metaphor represents an intense involvement with another person as a tattoo on the soul – only deeper. The simple, yet stunning costumes for all six dancers are long black pants, and sheer very pale tops, the arms and upper section densely mottled in blue-black, creating the illusion of tattoos.

The work is dimly lit and misty, with vignettes of movement at different positions on the stage suddenly illuminated and then plunged into darkness. In complex huddles and groupings, the dancers express aggression, despair, and sometimes consolation. One person is often pulled, resisting, away from another, creating an atmosphere of loss. The music (by Ben Frost, and Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto) ranges from eerie filmic grandeur to dirge-like strings, and metal-inspired dark energy.

In Propel’s three longer works, a wealth of different movement ideas were expressed, demonstrating the success of this choreographic development program in nurturing creativity. Some pruning of repetition and closer focus could fine-tune these works from an audience point of view.

The dancers all shone throughout the whole performance. Athletic, expressive, and each with an individual style, they are inspiring and energising to watch.

22
Feb
17

The Flick

The Flick

Queensland Theatre

QPAC & Red Stitch Actors

QPAC Cremorne

February 10 – March 5 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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One of the last old movie houses in America to use 35mm film, The Flick in Massachusetts, becomes a microcosm of the world when three young people show up to their shifts in their dead-end jobs. And that’s really all they’re doing; showing up and showing each other who they think they are and who/what/where they want to be when they “grow up”. We’re struck by their humanity, and the simple intimacies revealed in Annie Baker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning writing.

…she writes in a way there doesn’t seem to be one defining moment where that transition takes place. It’s more like you watch the play and you feel really moved, something shifts inside but you can’t pinpoint when it happens, really powerful, that’s more like life.

– Ngaire Dawn Faire

The Flick is acclaimed Director, Nadia Tass, honing in on the delicacy and vulnerability of the human condition, moving her actors through the space as if they belong there, as if they are really there and we are not. This is what theatre can be, and what fourth-wall theatre is supposed to be, but very often is not.

The run-down, down-and-out aesthetic is expertly, lovingly created by Shaun Gurton (set), David Parker (lighting), Russell Goldsmith (sound) and Daniel Nixon (sound & AV).

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Featuring the exquisite talent and insight of Kevin Hofbauer (Avery), Ben Prendergast (Sam) and Ngaire Dawn Faire (Rose), with appearances by Dion Mills (Skylar / Dreaming Man), Tass’s production of The Flick was always going to be one of the most highly anticipated and richly rewarding plays in QT’s 2017 season. It exceeds expectations. 

AN EXQUISITELY OBSERVED MEDITATION ON LOVE AND CHANGE

When Rose appears in the golden light of the projection box I see her dark hair and her pointed chin and her pale skin and she’s my brother’s wife…ex-wife. But not. But hot tears stream down my cheeks anyway because I forgave her so long ago and never told her. And we loved her so much. Still, we love her. From across an ocean and right in the middle of all our lives, as humans do. And I take a breath, and when she reappears it’s through the old red swinging doors and onto the stage and into the brighter white ugly lights of the cinema between the seats, and she says something, which is funny, and we laugh, and the conversation and the scene continues, and she’s just, beautifully, Rose. It’s theatre. It finds a way to reach right into your heart and not let go if you let it.

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In this way, incrementally, The Flick lures us in and holds us in space and time, a continuum that stretches across hours – 3 hours – and we don’t notice how long we’ve been sitting there, in the darkness, on the other side of the movie screen. The closing credits of each old film flicker above us, projected onto the ceiling of the Cremorne, each time indicating the break between sessions, during which the employees sweep the floor and take out the trash. It’s so ordinary and lovely and hopeful and silently , secretly devastating, and for me, a gentle reminder to value the people in our circles for whatever it is they have to offer. And what do we offer them? What value do we add to the lives of the people around us?

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Avery joins the small circle of friends as a new employee, is shown the ropes by Sam, and they too become friends, picking up discarded popcorn together, discussing favourite films and marvelling over the projectionist, Rose. They play a neat game, citing the degrees of separation between two actors at a time. They quote Ezekiel 25:17 as per Pulp Fiction. They resell movie tickets to make their dinner money. When a love triangle develops, things get complicated, and when Sam has a weekend off to attend his brother’s wedding, things get more complicated. When Sam returns, the final outcome seems very simple and regrettable, and real. It’s fascinating, the way alliances form and dissolve, isn’t it? And I can’t imagine a more satisfying and disturbing ending to bring the message home. 

This is exceptional theatre, keeping us mesmerised on the edge of nothing other than the comedy and tragedy of the very ordinary, and leaving us with our own ordinary extraordinary lives and relationships to consider.

17
Feb
17

Single Asian Female

 

Single Asian Female

La Boite Theatre Company

La Boite Roundhouse Theatre

February 11 – March 4 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

things have to change…

Single Asian Female gives a voice to the voiceless and talks about race and gender in ways we often don’t.

– Director, Claire Christian

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Single. Asian. Female. It’s a joke because, remember the film? But it’s no joke that the truths shared in Michelle Law’s searingly honest and delightfully funny debut are instantly, regrettably, familiar to us. Of course, a lifetime of being on the receiving end means the racial slurs and assumptions to which this piece gives voice and context, are more familiar to some than others. It’s a timely, nicely conceived work, bold and furious and funny, and while it can do with a more discerning dramaturgical touch, on its first outing Single Asian Female wins the open hearts and minds of audiences and artists. Like Future D. Fidel’s unforgettable Prize Fighter, Law’s contemporary timeless story, inspired by aspects of her own, will rightly take its place in this country’s canon of works; it’s not only highly entertaining and moving, but also, another opportunity to open up our performance spaces and school curriculum to people of colour.

La Boite is employing all the colours, telling all the stories. 

I read something about someone wanting to get rid of a particular story. But why would anyone feel the need to do that? Acts of destruction waste so much energy. Challenging and questioning the dominant myth may be useful, but losing it from the conversation altogether? Not so much. It’s true that some stories are lost along the way, but they’re eventually uncovered, or remembered, or replaced by another version that has the same substance and soul message. This is why we persist with telling them, writing them down, putting them on the stage and screen… Isn’t it vital to keep the stories, to share them and not destroy them or discard them just because someone suddenly decides they don’t appear to be relevant to a particular group of people? The stories are another group’s stories. It doesn’t mean they have no value for you, and it certainly doesn’t mean they were created with an intent to offend or to bury any other stories past, present or future, it simply means they’ve come from someone else in another place at a particular time and you have the choice, always, to recognise any value in them from your unique personal and cultural perspective. And to continue to contribute your own version of events. Go on, get creating rather than destroying.

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Let’s keep all the stories and concentrate our efforts on contributing more stories. Stories are for sharing. So we hold space for all of them. There is enough space.

This production, this story, is another hammer, which La Boite rightly prides itself on wielding (this company too, sans hashtag, is all about leading from Queensland) and it will go a long way in continuing to shape our shared reality. 

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These are the stories that are with us and amongst us.

– La Boite Theatre Company Artistic Director, Todd MacDonald

There’s nothing to fault in the wonderful, easeful performances of the three leading ladies, each a fiercely “strong woman”, firm in her resolve to thrive, and funny in her unapologetically wry take on so many situations, which we find equally appalling and amusing. Director, Claire Christian, gives each situation to us straight, trusting the source and allowing her actors to play with the material, resulting in some of the sharpest, most original comedy of the year.

Lana: WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR EYES? THEY LOOK HUGE.

Mei: OH … THANK YOU.

In a complex and appropriately cluttered and homely, surprisingly functional multi-level space designed by Moe Assad and lit by Keith Clark, the women revolve around each other and their Golden Phoenix Chinese Restaurant (amusingly, for long-term Sunshine Coast residents, located in Nambour, but it could be anywhere), which will bring about either fortune or disaster in the end. La Boite feels as festive as ever, with Chinese lanterns hanging in the foyer and the red carpet rolled out for opening night. There’s even cabaret style restaurant seating available inside the theatre so some audience members really get to feel a part of the action, a clever, inclusive design element. We delight in picking up our tickets (for the tiered section) encased in a shiny red and gold embossed envelope before the show, and cracking open our fortune cookies after it. 

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The Wong family women are real to me because they were inspired by people I know: generous, assertive, resilient women who hold the world on their shoulders.

– Writer, Michelle Law

Alex Lee’s Zoe is a superb realisation of the eldest daughter, harnessing the extreme emotions of a young, talented, ambitious creative soul suffering from anxiety, having yet to secure a place in the world outside of her mother’s realm and representing not just Asian young adults but every young woman everywhere. I’d love to see Lee’s solo show sometime – how could I not? It’s called I’m Eating Peanut Butter In The Shower Because I’m Sad And You’e Not The Boss of Me. Lee is a delight.

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Courtney Stewart’s Mei is the younger, impressionable and eternally frustrated, just-wanna-finish-school-and-go-to-the-formal eye rolling second child, on the verge of finding out for herself the truth about her father’s character and her own. (Interestingly, this dad is unseen and painted as the devil, having selfishly, callously caused every problem faced by the family). Stewart was an inspired inclusion in last year’s developmental showing of Soi Cowboy, a commissioned Brisbane Powerhouse production, which we’re sure to hear more about this year. 

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Hsiao-Ling Tang is an ideal Pearl with her frantic gestures juxtaposed against complete stillness (a sense of the sacred self knowledge coming up against the contemporary overculture’s unachievable expectations), her stubborn use of Chinglish and her insistence that shoes be taken off inside the house (and that Chinese snacks be available to friends during study group – how embarrassing – hilarious). Her tiger mother bouts of intense frustration and raw anger at something unseen prompt us to sit up in surprise and sadness and awe before settling back into a place between laughter and tears (of recognition, sympathy, empathy), when she finally reveals the secret that could be the family’s undoing… Tang will appear later in the year in the world premiere of Michele Lee’s Rice, the winner of the Queensland Premier’s 2016 Drama Award, another must-see.

These women, as if they’d been working together for some time already, convey genuine affection and concern for each other. The connections are real, making their stories completely relatable, regardless of our cultural background, a fly-on-the-wall shared experience. Such a magical thing, live theatre…

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Emily Burton is perhaps the most endearing performer I’ve seen on a Brisbane stage (Dash Kruck and Tom Oliver up there also). I adore her, and much more so when she’s perfectly cast, as she is here, as Mei’s lanky, daggy, wannabe Asian misfit friend, Katie. She’s got a bohemian willowy geeky tomboy cosplay comical sad panda thing going on and it works superbly as a foil to mean girl Lana’s constant digs, and Mei’s reluctant rebelliousness and her insecurities about who she thinks she wants to be. A scene in which we see Mei trapped between Katie’s longstanding friendship and Lana’s passive aggressive popularity test is so uncomfortable to watch; it’s probably stingingly familiar to most of us if we’re honest, as is Mei’s choice in the moment and Katie’s reaction. Like similar moments, it could be overplayed but Burton finds a balance between the truth of the character and the tragicomedy of the situation.

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Patrick Jhanur is just gorgeous as Paul. His gentleness though, his subtleties (and some of his words), are at risk of becoming lost in the noise and pace of the women’s world. This is quite probably a deliberate thing and will be more astutely balanced/managed as the season continues. The self conscious banter between he and Zoe is delightful, making us squirm and giggle and smile, and hope that everything will work out for these two. But is this character just the token male, included as a woman might be, to fit that space in a play populated with men, penned by a man? I don’t think so. As we see during a discussion about the chance to have a child, with vulnerability and a tenderness not always afforded a male character, Jhanur steps up for this role, and perhaps there is simply, gradually, a little more flesh to be added to its bones. 

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Emily Vascotto has vibrant, wicked, gleeful Isla Fischer/Lizzie Moore energy and if you don’t know our Lizzie Moore, you really ought to get out…more. A real-life red-headed Bratz Doll, Vascotto embodies the type I’d warn my daughter about, as in, keep your friends close and keep that one closer. With less experience on stage than the other girls but with no less sass, Vascotto walks a fine comical line between being immediately recognisable and so much larger than life that we lose sight of who Lana really is. I think she’ll settle into this role during the season and certainly, will do so without the vignettes involving her character losing any momentum. At least, let’s hope not, with some momentum lacking on opening night. (I think we accept that this is typical of an opening night performance and later, we’re unsurprised by reports of a cracking pace). The occasional lag seems due to The Family Law style episodic structure, each chapter landing with an unapologetically political or moral thud. Like, BOOM. It’s never too much but it’s almost too much at once; it’s almost overwhelming, but then, the reality is that life IS overwhelming. There IS this much blatant racism to deal with in this country, every day. We have ALL of these issues to consider, and more. 

One has to write what one sees, what one feels, truthfully, sincerely.

– Anton Chekhov

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To finish with Tina Arena’s Chains is such a great gimmick (and these girls can really sing it!), but it’s not my favourite closing number. I feel we should be singing along with something…upbeat. Karaoke is gold and if you promise it you need to deliver on it, just as the slinky has its moment on the stairs. (Gun. Bang. Etcetera.)

In the spirit of the current trend to make a short show a good show, it’s worth noting that a discerning dramaturg might take a red pen to the text, make more efficient use of the more stylised moments (a raw, real look at online dating and the daughters’ stories being taken into account by the end), and make it a 90-minute no-interval knockout…but think about that. Would we have quite as much to digest or to discuss? Would we feel as deeply about any of the characters without the time to meander through their world with them? The rich texture of this tale is in its detail and while I’d often prefer to get home earlier (but I know, it’s so interesting to stay for speeches too, so I usually do), by the same token I’d love to see the full length production, as it stands, return with yum cha at interval and actual karaoke afterwards. In fact, let’s make the food together. It’s perfect festival fare.

In the meantime, don’t miss seeing Michelle Law’s personal-universal play just the way it is, at La Boite’s Roundhouse. Don’t miss the opportunity to take part in our nation’s most pressing conversation. Don’t miss being part of the cultural change, the global shift; the impetus behind powerful art and empowered people.

 

Single Asian Female is the baton being passed on. Don’t drop it or decline to take it. Don’t be a dickhead. Don’t be that (white) guy.

 

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