Archive for the 'Reviews' Category



08
Jan
19

Jersey Boys

 

Jersey Boys

Dodger Theatricals, Rodney Rigby and TEG Dainty

QPAC Lyric Theatre

 

January 5  – February 16 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

You sell a hundred million records. See how you handle it.

Nick Massi

 

You ask four guys how it happened, you get four different versions.

Tommy DeVito

 

Comparison is the thief of joy.

Theodore Roosevelt

 

Of all the jukebox musicals, Jersey Boys is the best (And I ‘reckon SHOUT! The Legend of the Wild One comes a close second), and this production, unless you saw the original touring production (2009-2012) is the best! A sizzling, slick retelling of the real life story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, featuring their original much-loved music, and flamboyant characters and events to shape the era that saw the blue-collar boy band become one of America’s biggest pop sensations of all time, selling 175 million records worldwide. A little dramatic license allows time to move swiftly by, and almost all perspectives to be taken into account, as Frankie Valli (Ryan Gonzalez), Bob Gaudio (Thomas McGuane), Tommy DeVito (Cameron MacDonald) and Nick Massi (Glaston Toft) take turns to narrate, and manoeuvre themselves through fame, fortune, misfortune and finally, to land a place in The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, back when a place in The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was hard won. Like, when top of the class and good behaviour awards actually went not to the next name listed in the roll, but to the kids who were top of the class and well behaved. Like, when five stars and superlatives actually went not to every show under the sun, but to the productions that could blow your mind and change your life. There’s a bigger picture here…

 

For an entertaining and highly energetic musical production with a strong story and a smash hit, chart-topping, finger-snapping score performed by one of the tightest little musical outfits in the country (MD Luke Hunter), I mean it; Jersey Boys is the best. I know you’ll love it. You’ll actually love. this. show. You already love the music.

 

 

If you want the breakdown from a comparative point of view, read on.

Let’s just quickly note that as per the book (Marshall Brickman & Rik Elice), the girls play second fiddle; it’s the band’s story but even so, in a range of support roles Cristina D’Agostino, Mia Dabkowski-Chandler and Mackenzie Dunne seem even less a part of the story than in the earlier production. Even given the chance to prove that there’s more to the woman, D’Agostino is an extremely bitter and angry Mary Delgado – and perhaps, to the male writers and director, award-winning though they may be, she is reasonably so – but in each moment, particularly those fragile moments after the fury, leading into My Eyes Adored You, which is delivered beautifully and delicately, it would be far more interesting to see the full gamut of emotion, and I’m afraid we don’t. Imagine, just for fun, for half a second, what Paige Rattray might ask of her within the same limited timeframe? As The Angels, the trio is vocally precise and the harmonies just gorgeous. It’s a shame we don’t get to hear more from them during the road trip / tour scenes. But, not their story, y’know? 

 

 

Another missed opportunity is in the role of Tommy Devito, with Cameron MacDonald coming across at times as overly aggressive, however; others see this as the ideal interpretation of the character. My guess is that he’s overcompensating and that he’ll settle as the season continues. At the moment, if there’s any sense of vulnerability, guilt, shame or softness it’s a case of too little too late. Originally, MacDonald had understudied the role, and now he misses the opportunity to strip away Devito’s many layers, as Anthony Harkin did, without having built this character from the core, though of course the actor – and director – and coach – would say that he did exactly that. But as performer, the trick is to have done all the work, allowing us to catch glimpses of the degrees of shade without letting us in on the work it takes to get to that place night after night. These subtleties, or lack thereof, are inconsequential if you’ve never seen someone else embody the role.

 

Thomas McGuane doesn’t let memories of Declan Egan’s Bob Gaudio cloud his own captivating performance. With Egan taking on the UK touring contract after our Sydney season ended, it must have been thrilling for everyone involved to see McGuane step into his shoes. He’s a standout, a proper superstar, with the voice, and energy and charisma to slow-burn for days.

 

Who can forget the wit and sass of Helpmann Award winning cabaret star, Michael Griffiths, as Bob Crewe? Unfortunately, Glenn Hill doesn’t appear to, and he is allowed to overplay to the hilt. Again, if you’re a Jersey Boys virgin you might be amused by his particularly camp posturing, but I miss Griffiths’ stylish and sophisticated take on what must have been just as challenging a role in real life at the time. It’s a pleasure to see Enrico Mammarella return as Gyp, and always a pleasure to see in any guise, Luigi Lucente.

 

 

Ryan Gonzalez opens as Frankie Valli, and perhaps we’ll get less aggression as he settles into the season, or perhaps we’ll get a better sense that this is Valli’s fierce determination (we’ll see yet another interpretation of the role with Daniel Raso at alternate performances). It seems ridiculous to confirm that he can hit the notes – if he couldn’t he wouldn’t be here – but there’s a bit to settle into yet. Having done it all before, Glaston Toft hits his stride early, and of course he’s vocally splendid, and this time he’s also fitter and finer, more relaxed, in the role of Nick Massi.

 

 

The staging is slicker, the television studio scenes are snazzier, and though the production overall looks and feels less casually confident than before, the vocals and harmonies are spot on, and the story’s a good one. It’s a perfectly finished and polished jukebox production, and the crowd does indeed go wild! Believe it! Because this Jersey Boys is just as glossy as its new-look souvenir program.

 

With just a few Brisbane shows remaining, there’s no reason to miss Jersey Boys; certainly not because you’ve already seen it! We know that we love to return again and again to the stories that resonate with us, and if this is one – if one of these versions of the story is the one – that resonates with you, don’t let the opportunity pass you by. There. That’s Jersey Boys

 

They ask you, what was the high point?

…when everything dropped away and all there was, was the music – that was the best.

 

18
Dec
18

A Very Naughty Christmas – The Second Coming

 

A Very Naughty Christmas – The Second Coming

Understudy Productions

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

December 6 – 16 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

Elliot Baker & Sophie Christofis. A Very Naughty Christmas.

 

THE POLAR OPPOSITE OF CAROLS BY CANDLELIGHT

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Emily Kristopher & Stephen Hirst. A Very Naughty Christmas.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Austin Cornish. A Very Naughty Christmas.

10
Dec
18

A Christmas Carol

 

A Christmas Carol

QPAC and shake & stir theatre co

QPAC Playhouse

December 8 – 20 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.

– Charles Dickens

 

And in the end, light wins.

– Josh McIntosh

 

DON’T EVEN READ THIS. JUST BOOK THE TIX ALREADY.

 

Brisbane has seen three Christmas shows run simultaneously this year in a bid by leading companies to capture the Christmas market by encouraging us to establish new yuletide traditions. It’s a no-brainer, brilliant; everyone’s a winner. Give heart-warming, life-affirming, amazing experiences created especially for you by artists who stay employed right up until the end of the year in our venues that, by being filled to overflowing for every show, reinforces the case for our need for new venues so more humans get to enjoy live entertainment. This is what it’s all about. 

 

All three productions are of the highest quality, but it’s A Christmas Carol that exceeds expectations. It’s not only a compassionate take on the timeless tale, and performed with ease and extra sparkle by a stunning cast, but it’s truly visually spectacular. It’s not overstating the fact to say that the combination of visual elements surpasses anything we’ve seen before, with the exception of a flying carpet perhaps. You’ll get no spoilers from me, however; you’ll have to see the theatrical magic for yourself. 

 

shake & stir’s superb retelling of Charles Dickens’ classic novel, adapted for the stage by Nelle Lee and directed by Michael Futcher, might not appear to be for everyone; at first glance it looks dark, sombre and a little bit scary. But it’s also very funny and completely family friendly (QPAC and shake & stir recommend the family members be 8 years and older), and as set and costume designer, Josh McIntosh reminds us, in the end, light wins.

 

Josh Mcintosh has actually outdone himself with A Christmas Carol’s seamlessly shifting set design of Neo Victorian Gothic walls and windows and staircases and balconies, creating imposing movable pieces that come together like a jumbo 3D puzzle in a whirlwind of choreography, and in true Gothic style, create an additional character in its own right, of 1800s Victorian London. Somehow there are spaces that also seem cosy and reassuring, and this is helped by Jason Glenwright’s stunning lighting states, bringing daylight into the darkest corners of the world without losing the sense of the shadows we see at the edges.

 

In amongst the moments of Christmas cheer, the mood is eerie, foreboding, suspenseful; everything that the mega smash hit next door offered to deliver and didn’t. Unsurprisingly, because this company goes to such lengths or because the theatre ghosts kindly arranged it, air con colludes with creatives, chilling us to the bone so that a shiver runs down the spine even before we catch our first a glimpse of the Ghost of Christmas Past. And is it really the actor on stage? Or an apparition? It’s the magic of theatre, created by Craig Wilkinson of another Brisbane based creative company steadily taking over the world, optikal bloc.

 

Despite some highly physical characterisations, particularly in Eugene Gilfedder’s Scrooge, and in Bryan Probets’ Jacob Marley and the spirits of Christmas past, present and future (if it is indeed his elegant gesture inside the sleeve of the Elder-esque figure), there’s actually very little pageantry or pantomime involved. These heightened performances are delightful, and comparatively naturalistic when we remember perennial favourites, George’s Marvellous Medicine and Revolting Rhymes

 

The real secret to the success of this production lies in its magical alchemy behind the scenes, in the spaces between shake & stir’s founders and Artistic Directors, Nelle Lee, Nick Skubij and Ross Balbuziente, and the phenomenally talented creative team they assemble each time. Honestly, how we still have them in Brisbane is beyond me. Like those of The Little Red Company, shake & stir’s mainstage productions are truly world class, and they could choose to be based anywhere in the world. However, a beautiful producing and presenting partnership with QPAC and finding your work so brilliantly realised by the likes of director, Michael Futcher, and the design team would make anybody reluctant to leave the nest.

 

Original, whimsical musical arrangements performed live by wandering minstrel Salliana Campbell add festive spirit and fun to an often haunting soundscape. Campbell is a natural addition to the shake & stir family, fitting into every scene with her easy, relaxed manner and accomplished musicianship, and even brightly, unfalteringly, returning Scrooge’s Christmas morning greeting. The lovely Arnijka Larcombe-Weate is another new addition, however; we will need to wait for the next production to see her potential more fully realised.

 

 

Futcher is one of my favourite insightful directors, his light touch able to take on board the bleak tone of the original material and its central unlikeable character, but also dispel any dark power that it may hold over us by excavating the inherent beauty and kindness of human nature, and the nuances in each moment of joy, in this case, the simple message of peace and goodwill. So while this is a dark and sometimes terrifying story, the light really does win in the end. Some lovely, typically shake & stir comedy comes through, and this is also testament to Lee’s ability to adapt a complex classical text that on stage becomes suitable for almost all ages. I will mention that a particularly terrifying projected image stayed with Poppy throughout the rooftop party and lingered during the drive home, so that we had to hear Dear Evan Hansen twice more. This is not a terrible thing. The current detour due to roadworks takes us home via Forest Glen, an extra twenty minutes down the road, so the deluxe album, including deleted songs and Katy Perry’s curious rendition of Waving Through A Window, was perfect. And Poppy remembers a perfect evening out!

 

This company is well known for its founding artists’ ability to turn a hand to just about anything, and their performances don’t disappoint. Lee offers a gorgeous and gratitude filled, bubbling, bustling Mrs Cratchit, which is supported by the heartfelt, heart-warming performances of the boys (Skubij and Balbuzienti, two of the few amongst us who can convincingly play much younger than they are). And in his shake & stir debut, Lucas Stibbard is a particular Mr Cratchit, not dithering, not obsessive, not quite frightened rabbit…but there’s a sense of the downtrodden, the underdog, and he harnesses this energy beautifully to turn around each low point for the sake of his family and the youngest boy, the cripple, Tiny Tim. I won’t spoil it, but this character is a little bit of quiet genius, which may or may not make perfect sense to you, depending on your imagination and compassion. (And if you really want the spoilers, simply read the other reviews. What is it with this frantic, desperate need to reveal all?). 

 

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A Christmas Carol is the new next best beautiful annual tradition after The Nutcracker – many will say it’s their preferred option – if the presenting partners can make it work. If so, I’d like to see the ticket prices reflect the nature of the gift this show would be to so many families – and not only families – that would otherwise miss out.

 

There will always be artists and sets and spaces demanding payment (actually, the artists are usually the least demanding), and there will always be a demographic that can’t even entertain the possibility of taking themselves, let alone a family of four or five to a show, especially at Christmas time. So let’s find a way to make this brilliant, beautiful, uplifting, thrilling and life-affirming experience more accessible. Would you gift a ticket? Keep letting our companies and venues know that when you book your seats, you’d like to Pay It Forward rather than Pay A Booking Fee. 

08
Dec
18

Crunch Time

 

Crunch Time

Metro Arts & Counterpilot

TAFE South Brisbane Norman Price Theatre

December 5 – 15 2018

 

Reviewed by Shannon John Miller

 

 

In a dark chamber at the Norman Price Theatre, South Brisbane TAFE, seven diners including myself are seated at a table. The surface undulates with a virtual table cloth, projected from technology above. Waiters stand at attention against dark walls, and director Nathan Sibthorpe sits at a computer console nearby. Some diners have come together, however mostly we’re strangers, and we attempt awkward introductions and polite chit-chat as we wait.

 

The Good The Bad and The Ugly by Morricone underscores a sudden flurry of animated activity on the table. The pre-recorded voice of Lauren Jackson explains the rules of the game. We’re given tokens; a ‘tick in a box’ – a branded icon of Crunch Time created on a 3D printer. The projector throws selections upon the table, and we place our tokens on our respective choices, the system then calculating our consensus. We’re told the majority have voted for sparkling water. We then vote similarly on red wine, white wine, or beer.

 

Images of a commercial kitchen appear in virtual plates on the table, and we’re introduced to the guest, and self-confessed mediocre cook, Fiona Ward, a manager with Queensland Performing Arts Centre. She tells us that she’s eight metres away in a kitchen ready to prepare our meals. While charming and impromptu, she reads as if unrehearsed, from either cue cards or teleprompt off-camera. Her dialogue, deliberately scripted and superficial, as if to reference the banal discourse of Australian TV cooking shows such as Huey’s Cooking Adventures, and Good Chef Bad Chef.

 

We vote on the ingredients for a starter, ultimately settling on egg, rice paper rolls, corn, coriander and soy sauce. Ingredients are then submitted to the kitchen for a sort of mystery box test for Ward, (who has helpers) while, Jackson’s voice-over coldly asks us at random about our food experiences, expectations, favourite foods, and allergies. We’re then presented with our dishes, and dine on the creations of our democratic making. The structure is then repeated over five courses.

 

Uniquely immersive and as an interactive dining experience, this is a slick, digital confluence of a board game, a game show, and a reality cooking show. As a participant it’s not hard to imagine the concept’s possibilities if applied to broader domestic, and consumer products like a restaurant, or a home entertainment system.

 

Execution of the sound engineering and multi-media technology are of the highest order, extremely clever and genuinely exciting to engage with. Participants seemed to genuinely enjoy the evening. However, as there were no conventional narrative or dramatic elements, the content and strength of the show is reliant, in part, on the diner’s social skills and interactions to fill gaps. With Jackson’s pre-recorded voice over, and Ward’s teleprompter live-feed, diners turn inward to escape the game’s digital isolation and superficial, consumer cultural aspects.

 

Subsequent dishes, again democratically elected by us, included a pumpkin and coconut cream mash with paprika chickpeas and carrot, seasoned beef strips with rosemary and couscous, a deconstructed Hawaiian pizza, and a Kahlua, liquorice and ice cream thickshake. Meanwhile, we’re treated to a fantastic sound system of eclectic music: Jazz, Beethoven’s 9th, Chopin’s Waltz in C# Minor, Verdi’s’ Requiem.

 

The food is lacklustre, and no offence to Ward; we know she’s chosen for political reasons. The program blurb says each performance has nominated a particular individual from a sphere of political or artistic influence to play cook. However, for this reason she is underutilised, relegated to the kitchen, reading meaninglessly from cue cards, and preparing our meals without political contribution. Given the old maxim one should never discuss politics at the dinner table, I concede this was avoided at risk of being divisive and unfun. Nevertheless, here we are, at a show which purports to be premised on dining and the politics of modern democracy. Neither of which are boldly executed.   

 

The main character here is the technology, and Crunch Time feels like a pilot concept with the capability of sitting within a much greater dramatic idea. Rather than a conventional show, it’s more a vehicle showcasing the potential of the interactive technology, which was truly mesmerising. However, with some better plotting, and dramaturgy, the structure could be lifted from its monotonous and predictable repetition, in which participants are busied answering arbitrary questions about capsicum or dill.

 

Going over two hours, the experience could’ve been shorter with fewer courses, and with more activities that facilitated interaction and debate. While the show’s underpinning influences may have been political tribalism and the disillusion of democracy, those concepts were seemingly absent.

 

In his program note, Director, Nathan Sibthorpe describes the catalyst for Crunch Time, “…we saw general populations vote for Trump, Brexit and the return of One Nation. I was deeply shocked by all three. I couldn’t find anyone in my immediate community who supported these ideologies!”

 

At one point during the evening, a diner confessed to having a dairy intolerance, even sharing her medication as proof. Nevertheless, the group, unempathetic to her appeals, voted for cheddar. What does this say about democracy? About us? Sibthorpe opines, “…democracy demands that we listen to the people that we don’t know. It demands we cooperate. Try to understand. At the end of the day, we’re all eating at the same table and we all have to eat!”

 

While foreshadowing a change in the way we understand theatre, Crunch Time is a terrific concept show. While seemingly dishing up consumer friendly fluff, it poses a foreboding conundrum about the underpinning narcissism lurking behind the veil of democracy.

05
Dec
18

North By Northwest

 

North By Northwest

QPAC & Kay McLean Productions

QPAC Lyric Theatre

November 29 – December 9 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

 

The world’s first slick stage adaptation of Hitchcock’s famous action suspense thriller is not my favourite show this year. I love the sensational design, and I totally get the sense of it; I get the style, I get the humour, I get the cleverness of it, but I don’t love it. BUT EVERYONE ELSE LOVES IT.

 

 

How to meticulously recreate a classic film on stage, anyway? With an eye for detail, a mega-budget and main stage venues from Melbourne to London, that’s how, and Simon Phillips (Director) and Carolyn Burns (Writer) have succeeded in doing so since 2015 with Hitchcock’s North By Northwest. But if you want to read the rave reviews READ EVERY OTHER REVIEW. On the same weekend, I was more engaged and entertained by a 60-minute, low-budget, cute, corny indie comedy that successfully strings together excerpts on stage from Tarantino’s cult films. It was charming, clever, ridiculous and hilarious. Whether or not its next incarnation is intended to more accurately represent the films to which it pays homage (there’s no need!), or simply continue to evolve as an irreverent, riotous tribute (there’s potential!), if that production had even half of a Kay Mclean (Andrew Kay & Liza McLean) or mainstage company budget, you might also have had the chance to consider its merits. But without the marketing slice of a bigger pie, you probably didn’t even know it was on.

 

 

 

 

If it’s what makes you happy, North By Northwest lives up to the hype in so many ways, but it lacks soul. Unlike Ladies In Black, which was so surprising and delightful, the play’s performers don’t dare venture beyond the most obvious role requirements, or make us feel anything. This is a shame for those wanting to be swept up in the romance and the espionage without the distraction of how things are achieved technically. And in saying that, in terms of style and in the interests of experimentation, not much heart or soul is needed to convince us that the substance of the 1959 film has been replicated on stage, and as it is, it’s a fun little ride, a real “comedy of suspense”. Just don’t expect actual suspense, you know, the type you don’t need to leave home for because Netflix.

 

 

 

 

North By Northwest is a smash hit; it’s enjoyed sold-out seasons all over the world and will continue to do so, so don’t believe a word I say, but look instead for the opportunity to find out for yourself, as to whether or not this production exceeds expectations. It’s certainly not just for the film’s fans, although it’s a faithful adaptation, losing none of its light, kitsch, cheekily melodramatic, suit-and-scotch-and-cigarettes Mad Men tone, which is attributed to the original writer, Ernie Lehman. It’s ingeniously designed and deliberately stylised, using the most deceptively simple theatrical devices and cinematic elements to cleverly and playfully reveal the landscape, the auction items and the cropduster in the most contemporary-classic way, on either side of the stage. It’s true. Oui. Tres amusement. The most commonly asked question in the foyer on opening night was, but how will they do the plane? 

 

Well, no spoilers here. It’s the same trick, a neat trick each time, involving the actors as stagehands/film crew and it takes most of Act 1 to accept it. Whether or not you accept Matt Day as George Kaplan darting and diving around on stage beneath it is another matter entirely. And as for the highly anticipated chase sequence across Mount Rushmore? You’ll either love it and laugh hysterically or…not. This is Phillips taking the ridiculous – due to restrictions around the use of actual Mount Rushmore imagery – to new heights. Pun intended.

 

 

 

 

So, despite the cinematic score and dark lighting throughout, the most famous scenes of the film have more a sense of utter silliness than any sort of suspense or fear of imminent death by cropduster. Each stylised sequence relies heavily on the carefully incorporated AV elements that are supposed to help us suspend disbelief…or are they? The distance we feel from the action is also intentional, and this is why I get the impression that Phillips has had some fun with this, without necessarily considering what this show is. And just like anything newish – the surge in the development of new musicals/song cycles is a good example – we’re reminded that perhaps a show does’t need to be any one thing. But it does need to be consistent in its delivery.

 

I love the cars, delightful surprises. This device, used for the taxi and the earliest chase sequence, is simple and clever and precise. The train carriage is also simply and effectively achieved. A row of telephone booths and the precision lighting of this scene elicits appreciative laughter. Flying, gliding, dividing set pieces create each location without question, and the seamless transitions between each. These are the elements, along with Amber McMahon’s styling and not-so-subtle femme fatale performance, that give this production class. See?

 

IT’S JUST AS THEY SAY: A PERFECTLY SLICK, STYLISH, SENSATIONAL ETC PRODUCTION. 

 

Some of the performances are superb.

 

The “cast of thousands”, featuring Amber McMahon, whom I adore, and Matt Day, whom others adore, also includes Brisbane’s Christen O’Leary and Leon Cain, almost unrecognisable in some roles, and even as extras scurrying across the stage beyond the main action in blatant disregard of any old fashioned notion that in the theatre, movement pulls focus. 

 

North By Northwest is to live theatre what Get Smart was to television, what Dick Tracy was to film, and what Avatar was to circus when we first experienced those departures from the way it was always done. North By Northwest is bold and tricky and new and a bit exciting, but it’s not my favourite.

 

 

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.