Archive for the 'Reviews' Category

10
Aug
19

L’Appartement

 

L’Appartement

Queensland Theatre

QPAC Cremorne

August 3 – 31 2019

 

Review by Shannon John Miller

 

 

On stage of the Cremorne theatre, we see an expansive set courtesy of designer, Dale Ferguson—the cross section of an interior modern apartment; a white, ultra-modern nexus dynamically flattened and yet bubbling with little staircases, mezzanines, doorways to other rooms, impractical geometric shelving and uncomfortable looking modern furniture. It is impressive but sterile and ironically uninhabitable.

 

Middle-income, generation-X, Brisbane couple, Rooster (Andrew Buchanan) and Meg (Liz Buchanan) have treated themselves, after 12 years of being together, to a well-deserved, dream holiday in Paris; a week away from the daily grind of their lives and their three-year-old twin daughters. They’re hoping to reconnect with each other in the City of Lights— the City of Love; Paris.

 

 

 

Rooster is a physical education teacher. He’s funny, playful and earthy. His wife, Meg is a retail assistant for a business that sells Chinese imitations of contemporary furniture. She’s also familiar with a relatable sense of meekish modesty. They’ve arranged to stay at a classy Airbnb in the heart of Paris, and we’re privy to the handover by the hosts; upwardly mobile young French couple, Serge (Pacharo Mzembe) and Lea (Melanie Zanetti).

 

Serge is dashing, fit and his work involves curing cancer. Lea, his partner is angelic, sophisticated and happens to be a photographer for National Geographic. Both are attractive, intellectual, well-connected, up-and-coming professionals with an impressive CV of humanitarian and environmental sensitives. They’re millennials living an almost impossible life of affluence and social mobility. Of what their minimalist tastes allow, nothing in their apartment is by chance, everything is carefully selected for its excellence and distinction, including a bottle of valuable wine sourced from a friend’s boutique vineyard which they gift to the Aussies.

 

 

Over a couple of drinks, Lea and Serge reveal that they’re going to help build a well for a third world village. They also warn the couple that they’re not to smoke in the apartment and that a package will be delivered while they’re away. They leave, and Rooster and Meg are finally left to enjoy their holiday. However, in the aftermath of the interaction, Meg has been altered, and is sent spinning off in a direction of self-reflective remorse. She’s critical of the French couple’s conspicuous pretentions and sense of style; intimidated by their overachieving and social status.

 

These petty jealousies however lead to inroads of much darker dissatisfactions as the couple bicker over unresolved conflicts and unrealised, forgotten ambitions. Meg’s unfulfilled, working in an unskilled field, out of alignment with her true purpose. She’s been a devoted wife and mother. One of their daughters has a learning impairment. In comparison, everything seems to have fallen into place for French Lea, a childless millennial who’s followed her dreams and is living her best life.

 

 

Meg feels as though she’s compromised and directs this blame at Rooster, chastising him for having too simpler goals; for not being more assertive, further provoking unprocessed issues. Their relaxing holiday soon becomes a miserable exploration of the couples’ loss of self-actualisation.

 

As Rooster attempts to save the mood, Meg seems hellbent on sabotaging the trip. And perhaps they’ve always argued this way, or perhaps it’s because they’ve momentarily stepped outside the 12-year vacuum of their domestic ignorance to discover in Serge and Lea, parallel versions of what could have been. Nevertheless, a mysterious parcel arrives, and when the French couple return a laughable war of opposing ideologies ensues.

 

 

Director and playwright Joanna Murray-Smith has masterfully built a world, which, while it is an ostensible comedy of errors where two opposing forces come together, has much darker satirical undercurrents.

 

It’s about the language of privilege and the middle-classes arming themselves with moral outrage; the new language of distinction and social mobility. It’s about the west’s pre-occupation with ethnicity, of the casual racism that punctuates our day-to-day interactions, the façade of authenticity in a world of good intentions, fake news and fake furniture, and of misguided understandings of political correctness and indigeneity. Aptly, the program notes say that L’Appartement is a “comedy that asks if good intentions are the ultimate crime of the middle class”.

 

We see ourselves in every character as the players ride their natural instincts so expertly and as playwright Murray-Smith holds a mirror up to the audience. Characters draw false equivalencies, moralise naïvely on misappropriated indigenous culture, matters of taste, and other currencies of the middle-class. While both couples are just as equally privileged, they fight over the scraps of political correctness, attempting to out-do each other in the arena of virtue signalling.

 

L’Appartement is a marvellously devilish work, laugh-out-loud funny, wry, cleverly serious, and successfully epitomises the pitfalls of social politics in modern society.

10
Aug
19

Lady Beatle

Lady Beatle

La Boite & Little Red Company

La Boite Roundhouse

August 7 – 10 2019

 

Reviewed by Shannon John Miller

 

 

Like most kids, I would first come to know The Beatle’s music through my dad. With his collection of 45’s, which he still has, we would listen to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Yellow Submarine and Penny Lane amongst others from the crackling turntable. I remember watching that needle wondrously glide and float upon the grooves of the record as Dad would dance along and play air drums, lost in a broken rock and roll dream, perhaps. And now, years on, admittedly my favourite genre of music is orchestrated versions of pop songs performed by some of the most extravagant cover bands like the London Symphony Orchestra and Boston Pops Orchestra playing Hey Jude and Eleanor Rigby. We all have our personal stories of how we know The Beatles. They’re a rite of passage and like Bach, Mozart or Shakespeare, seminal in their modern pop music inventions.

 

Always keen to hear how artists interpret The Beatle’s canon of pop, vocalist Naomi Price, reprises her titular role as, Lady Beatle with co-creator Adam Brunes, Mik Easterman on keys, Andrew Johnson on bass, Michael Manikus on drums and Jason McGregor on guitar. Described as a “kaleidoscopic journey through The Beatles’ most monumental hits this performance marks the beginning of a three-month tour across the country.

 

 

The band assembles on retro podiums. The light is scarce and broody but for a contemporary chandelier of crystal shards cascading with sparkles just above Price as she takes the stage in an iconic straight jet-black wig and military issue marching band uniform.  While we’re in the stalls, there’s cabaret seating in the “mosh pit” of La Boite’s theatre and the audience, clinking with wine glasses and bottles, are immediately receptive to the energy Price’s band are promising. 

 

Kicking out a punchy overture of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club, Price and her band will continue to wow audiences throughout the night with beat-driven reimaginings of Hey Jude, Yellow Submarine and Come Together with particular noteworthy performances of Eleanor Rigby, Don’t Let Me Down and Here Comes the Sun. (The latter for which Price received a standing ovation part way through the show.) She not only showcases the full breadth of her vocal dynamic but also that she has the desperate yearnings and poetry within her to take us on the emotional journey. One of the difficulties with such a show is to elevate the material higher than just mere covers; to be more than just a juke box monologue. And she does just that. She brings something new and old; a courageous new rock music language both timeless and innovative.

 

Price is bold, electric, she twists and shouts, she uses her body, she kicks and turns, she uses every artifice and physicality at her disposal, she lets loose, then turns inward; tiny and small. She approaches the audience like we are her friends, like we’ve come over to her house after school and we’re going through her vinyl collection together as she shares her favourite Beatles’ songs.

 

 

Between pieces, Price stops to reflect in Liverpudlian on more obscure notions. Her stories are presented as if she is omnipotent, she is everyone, she is no one, impossibly moving forward and backwards in time, explaining in an almost fractured poetry a series of vignettes about her grandmother who taught her about The Beatles, about Paul McCartney, Ringo, John Lennon, George Harrison and Brian Epstein’s tragedy. Price mixes up the fantastical and the factual sometimes coming from the point of view of a tortured fangirl wanting to be the fifth member of The Beatles. But at times the intention of the narrative is lost, juxtaposed between a seemingly innocuous tribute and the melancholy pages of an angsty teenage diary.  With themes of existential crises, insignificance, and the burden of living in the shadows of unrealised dreams, Lady Beatle is part memoir, part fiction, part documentary. As a narrator, Price is unreliable as she weaves stories together some seen naively through a kaleidoscope of modern sensibilities. But we come to understand her stories may not necessarily be a cohesive arch; the vignettes are undeveloped and at times leave unappealing malaise and unanswered questions with the audience to reconcile.

 

 

Nevertheless, this is a fun and unabashedly toe-tapping show with innovative lighting design by Jason Glenwright, sound design by Jamie Taylor and costuming by Leigh Buchanan. A tightly executed operation, which serves to honour the music of a most world-beloved band. In Danny Boyle’s recently released film, Yesterday in which a struggling musician wakes to discover that he is the only person who remembers The Beatles’ music, I felt similarly reminded of how Lady Beatle taps into our own personal relationship with the music of The Beatles; a relationship which only we can know, and like the film Yesterday, is secretly hidden and unknown to the rest of the world. 

 

Lady Beatle tours until November 9. Tour dates here.

 

 

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.

 

21
May
19

Kill Climate Deniers

 

Kill Climate Deniers

Metro Arts and That Production Company

Metro Arts

May 15 – 25 2019

 

Reviewed by Shannon Miller

 

 

As I left David Finnigan’s play Kill Climate Deniers, I checked my phone and was struck by the news that Bob Hawke had died. My first reaction was of a selfish, mortal fear of having accomplished nothing in my life, and that death and annihilation were real even for leviathans. Some years before I was catching a taxi with a friend from the cab rank at the State Library of Queensland and I heard someone behind me shouting, Blanche! Blanche! in a voice unmistakably Bob Hawkes’. I turned to see the man himself standing behind me, unassuming, yet distinguished, and dressed in a brown-grey suit, quickly taking the hand of his beautiful companion. Together they vanished into the taxi they’d hailed. I was taken aback by his presence, immediately star struck and with a jealous pride, I thought to myself even then, how does someone carve out for themselves a life of meaningful contribution like Bob Hawke.

 

And now, following the result of the recent federal election, Metro Arts’ play Kill Climate Deniers couldn’t be more relevant with proponents of climate change reform waking with a severe election hangover to the realisation that their worst nightmares have in fact come to pass. That Australian voters have swung away from serious environmental policies in favour of more personally affecting economic imperatives.

 

‘Strange as it sounds, it is an enormous achievement of consciousness to recognise that, as a species, we face great problems which are of our own making and which, for the moment, we are unable to solve’. These words from Doug Cocks’ Global Overshoot: Contemplating the World’s Converging Problems are projected onto the stage as we take to our seats, and they will no doubt underpin the philosophy of this play which is unapologetically about the politics of climate change.

 

Out of some fractured abstract beginning scenes and angsty poetry readings, a traditional narrative emerges; a comedy about the besieging of Canberra’s Parliament House during a live performance of Fleetwood Mac by a troupe of eco-terrorists who ostensibly hold the audience hostage—the ransom of which is for the government to end global warming.  Holed up in the ladies’ bathroom, the Environment Minister played exuberantly by Jessica Veurman and her trusty social media manager, Charleen Marsters together navigate their way out of their predicament John-McClane-Die-Hard-style.

 

 

Veurman is perfectly cast as the glamourous Environment Minister, a puppet ruler who finds herself completely out of her depth and in the centre of a fierce protest between eco-propaganda, climate science and campaign fear mongering. She’s peddling the government’s solar radiation management policy to essentially blot out the sun and combat global warming and her social media advisor is deftly sculpting her a hip and unbiased public image. Veurman is forced to stand for her ideals and eventually goes full Kill Bill on her marauders while Martsers is charming, capturing her boss’s insta-stories and boosting her follower numbers.

 

 

The writing is clever and genuinely funny, metaphysically self-referencing and critiquing itself, and while at times the text delves too obviously into rant and political diatribe, it’s buoyed by the cast; all strong, energetic and contemporary women who work hard together to pull this off. With its costume-wig swapping and satirical lampooning, it’s similar to the sketch comedy and political strawmen of Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell characters. While there’s relevance to the politicisation of Peter Garret’s band Midnight Oil, references to the playwright’s 80s and 90’s pop music influences, although added for colour and to give the audience a break from the preaching, are filibuster, unnecessarily prolonging an already too long show. At over two hours with no interval, actors are fatigued by the end defaulting into campish ham with the text exhausted of witty commentary, giving over to silly fight scenes and farce. Nevertheless, the audience lap this up. It’s funny, silly stuff with some serious thought-provoking messages about climate change, the divisive nature of politics and the private sector agenda seeking to capitalise on the public’s fear, confusion and ignorance, with the true causality of inaction getting lost and forgotten in the message: the dwindling environment itself.

 

Caitlin Hill’s noteworthy performance as the narrator stood out as the show’s moral compass and the technical artists: Daniel Anderson’s lighting design, Wil Hughes’ sound design and Justin Harrison’s AV design are all impeccably schmick and visually arresting under the eye of Timothy Wynn’s expert direction.

 

15
May
19

Richard III

 

Richard III

QUT 2nd Year Actors

Creative Industries Precinct

May 7 – 11 2019

 

Reviewed by Shannon John Miller

 

 

Director, Travis Dowling’s program notes give us insight as to why QUT have ambitiously selected Shakespeare’s Richard III to showcase the bold talent of their Bachelor of Fine Arts 2nd year acting students. He opines that “we need only look at the recent history of our political system to see that the ambition and actions of these characters are still present in our world today.” It’s only fitting that Richard III’s lyrical prose, with its machinations akin to the revolving-door leadership of current Australian federal politics and its slaughterhouse cabinet reshuffles finds its mouth peace in the rising millennial voting body of its confident young cast.

 

The story follows the treacherous uprising and hubristic downfall of Richard III, the short-reigned last king of the House of York whose death marks the end of England’s middle ages. Motivated by an evil career demon within, it’s his charm and eloquent dance with language that allows him to perpetrate his atrocities and traverse the poisonous royal court to the top. “Now is the winter of our discontent,” our villain opines in his opening line played formidably by Rachel Nutchey whose dynamic repertoire effortlessly encompasses Richard’s many faces. From his vulgar tuning of the women in his midst to his raging threats of violence, Nutchey navigates the titular character’s demanding spectrum with ease, transforming herself physically to effect his malformations and psychologically as she swings to the audience, entreating us to delight in her puppet mastery with a spontaneous comic timing.

 

Half the battle in modernising Shakespeare is the suspension of disbelief actors must effect, which requires them to tap into workable anachronistic instincts, while orating convoluted and archaic dialogue without being clunky and disingenuous. But the women of the cast have got this one with strong performances from Isobel Grummels playing Queen Elizabeth, Imogen Trevillion’s Lady Anne, Lucy Heathcote as the Duchess of York, and Sidney Shorten as Queen Margaret. And it’s when they’re all playing together that the dramatic tension, like a tightening spiral, really collects and draws us in. We quickly forget ourselves and are consumed into their lyrical and tumultuous predicaments.

 

However, in an age where presentation is everything, it’s the costuming, hair and makeup that need attention. With a young and vibrant cast posited in contemporary grit and grunge, it would be prudent to have a finger on the fashion pulse and invest in good wardrobe design.

 

The stage, although minimal at first, is lit with a dull effervescent-purple floor, which resembles either a discothèque or the cold floor of a slaughterhouse. The walls are draped in translucent flaps of plastic which evokes Psycho’s famous shower scene or perhaps Dexter’s clinical killing room and this allows director, Dowling seemingly infinite possibilities when it comes to blocking his actors on and off stage. With entries and exits choreographed tightly against Sage Rizk’s punchy and grim soundscape, and Glenn Hughes’ gruesomely stark lighting design, action is effectively obscured beyond the plastic shrouds. There’s lots of blood too with director Dowling choosing thankfully to Macbethise some of the dispatchings.

 

There are also bold voices and noteworthy performances amongst the cast, especially Ethan Lwin’s Clarence, Angus Linklater’s Buckingham, Tate Hinchy as the affable Hastings and Ben Jackson. This is a confident production of enthusiastic young talent whom will no doubt pursue promising careers in the dramatic arts, and it’s their director who truly cares about them, who’s pushing them to exploit their talents and physicality, and whose success in grappling with the demanding text has resulted in a solid and visually engaging production.

 

15
May
19

The Dinner Party

 

The Dinner Party

Expressions Dance Company

QPAC Cremorne Theatre

May 10–18 2019

 

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

 

Expressions Dance Company

 

Power can be used in many ways and can be misused. I love the famous saying, ‘Power corrupts: absolute power corrupts absolutely’… I invite the audience to decide who really holds the power at this dinner party.

 

Natalie Weir, Choreographer

 

In its first mainstage season this year, Expressions Dance Company is performing The Dinner Party, choreographed by former Artistic Director Natalie Weir. New Artistic Director Amy Hollingsworth chose well with this piece, both for its intense theatricality and intricate, breathtaking choreography, and for its gracious tribute to Weir.

 

The Dinner Party is a reworking of Weir’s The Host, performed by EDC in 2015. (Before that, Weir created a version for the Queensland Ballet in 1998.) In the 2015 incarnation, the work had a cast of seven dancers, and four string players of the Southern Cross Soloists performed the music live. The Dinner Party has a cast of six, and the music is recorded.

 

Expressions Dance Company

 

Weir sees the dinner party as a setting for complex interactions between its six characters, involving power, manipulation, domination, submission, love, desire—and some love and consolation.

 

The octagonal black dinner table is the key element of the minimal set. In endlessly inventive choreography, the dancers perform on the table, fly over it in gigantic leaps, huddle under it, move it around, and hang off it tipped on its side.

 

As the central figure of the Host, Jake McLarnon is a towering and dominant presence, his long limbs covering impossible distances. His character is upper-class, wealthy and controlling, but he doesn’t have everything his own way.

 

At first, the Host manipulates the hapless drunk Wannabe (Jag Popham) like a puppet, in some of the more humorous moments of the work. Popham uses his strength and athleticism to create a character of spineless subservience.

 

The Rival (Bernhard Knauer) is a more serious threat. Knauer creates a sense of danger and malicious charm in this role. The struggle between the Host and the Rival is fierce and exciting, as they hurl each other into the air and wrestle, their formal clothing now dishevelled.

 

The callous Rival also toys with the Insecure Party Girl (Josephine Weise). She tentatively wields her sexual power, but is no match for him. Her movements alternate between expansive allure and protective wrapping of arms and legs around herself. With fearless acrobatic strength, contrasting with her fluffy, girly costume, Weise projects her character’s combination of fearfulness and youthful brashness.

 

Expressions Dance Company

 

The Host is involved with two women: the Lover (Isabella Hood) and the Hostess (guest artist Lizzie Vilmanis). The Lover seems to be the least troubled of the characters, although a languorous duo with the Host develops into a competitive trio with the Hostess.

 

The Hostess is a pivotal role, reappearing as a highlighted character throughout. She is a mature woman, obviously of high status, like the Host. This is made very obvious at the start, when she literally walks all over the dinner party guests. In an emotionally charged performance, Vilmanis combines arrogance with sober dignity and a feeling of sadness and regret.

 

The partnering in various duos and trios is thrilling to watch in its daring and control, as bodies wind around each other in unexpected ways, or are hurled through the air. Weir’s choreography is always inventive, and full of physical energy, yet with a sense of refinement rather than violence.

 

Expressions Dance Company

 

The music is appropriately intense and dramatic. The composers are not credited, but include Prokofiev.

The costumes by Brisbane fashion designer Gail Sorronda are various combinations of black and white, and perfect for the characters: formal suits for the men, with black tails for the Host and white for the Rival; elegant long black net and ruffles for the Hostess; a very short ruffled black outfit for the Party Girl; and sophisticated filmy white and black for the Lover.

 

Expressions Dance Company

 

The lighting by Ben Hughes is moody, suitable for a dinner party, with occasional piercing shafts of light illuminating key moments and characters.

Following the Brisbane season, regional audiences will have the chance to see The Dinner Party. It will tour for 6 weeks (from 28 May to 6 July) around Queensland and New South Wales, and to Darwin and Alice Springs.

 

Dinner Party – Trailer from Expressions Dance Company on Vimeo.

23
Apr
19

CLUEDO! The Interactive Game

 

CLUEDO! The Interactive Game

Brisbane Immersive Ensemble

Baedeker Wine Bar

April 17 – May 25 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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