Archive for the 'Theatre' Category

23
Mar
19

Hydra

 

Hydra

Queensland Theatre & State Theatre Company of South Australia

Bille Brown Theatre

March 15 – April 6 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

There is this woman, Charmian Clift. And I have to dress up as her and go out and be her.

 

 

A sea change. A haven for creatives. Heaven on earth. Until it’s hell.

 

Sue Smith’s Hydra is the new work we’ve been aching for. More than a simple drama built around the words of one of our most under-appreciated female writers, Hydra is a haunting, unsung song cycle actually, the imagery so Australian in its detail yet so universal in its broader sense. Its glittering prose wakes something. Inner eyes flash open, inner ears tune in and we become aware again of that sleeping voice inside beginning to growl and hum and trill with possibility, and also of that other voice reminding us, be careful what you wish for.

 

On the Sunshine Coast, we are the sea change that others crave. We never wanted to feel as if we were stuck in the city without space and sea and sky all around. It’s a choice to stay here. It’s why we live here. But the lure of the Greek islands remains real to us too, just as it must have been to Charmian Clift and George Johnston then, in the fifties; an ideal expat island lifestyle promising escape from the uninspiring daily drudgery of Australia.

 

 

Smith writes about artists as fallible human beings and not as mythical creatures, capable of changing the world one word, one song, one picture at a time, although once they believed they could. These are the artists who support artists. The women who support their men. The addicts supporting, and enabling, the addicts. And the friends, like family, who make a choice to walk away, finally, after nothing more can be done for the ones we love. And what makes us love them, anyway? Do we even remember? When the end comes, did we ever really know what it was that caught our attention, our whole heart? Does it even matter, when a connection runs so deep, when there is so much scar tissue, when there are so many stories to tell, that the wounds won’t ever heal while we insist on retelling them?

 

It’s not a happy story, although there is joy, wonder and contentedness in the tiny moments.

 

 

Anna McGahan shares Clift’s wounds and words in a way that fills us with wonder, delight, and yes, some despair. Her precise vocal work and the cadence of her speech is naturally lilting and wonderfully poetic without being predictable or pointed or laboured, finding entries into Clift’s language and imagery as if she is opening doorways to a fairy realm. And perhaps she is, giving us a peak inside her bohemian faery bower. Bryan Probets breathes a full life into George Johnston, her famous husband (the author of My Brother Jack), even as the character’s breath fails him. On multiple occasions I wish him ill, hoping his breath will catch for the last time, long before it is destined to do so. At one stage I think he’ll stumble into the sea and drown. Good! No. He stays and lingers, and seethes and rages, and slowly, too slowly, he rots and Clift remains by him.

 

Incredibly, Clift helps her husband to write the great Australian novel in lieu of her own, finally physically placing a canvas cover over her typewriter at one end of the table. The metaphor is plain, as she dulls her light to allow his to shine. And so it is in creative partnerships. Yet her turn will never come. Not really.

 

Narrated by Martin, the couple’s omnipresent Greek Chorus son ( a gentle, patient and emotional performance from Nathan O’Keefe), this tragedy of quite ordinary proportions – excepting the proportion of gin consumed, which is quite extraordinary indeed – is elevated by its language and the intensity of the relationships at stake. Vic, better known as painter, Sidney Nolan (Hugh Parker) and wife, Ursula (Tiffany Lyndall-Knight) are the best buddies who become distant friends, opting for sanity and a life beyond the heady days and nights on Hydra, rather than a sad extension of that period, which is impossible to transfer. The romantic artist’s existence becomes the nightmare of every waking hour; the mythical, miserly struggle just to survive, even in Australia, the lucky country. Let’s leave the discussion surrounding the inexplicable miscasting of the French and Greek roles until another time. Let’s simply agree that it’s always a delight to see Ray Chong Nee.

 

 

Director, Sam Strong, breathes gentle, respectful life into this version of events, crafting each of Smith’s scenes to stand alone in the storytelling, as well as adding, piece by piece, the detail that will urge us to look more closely at our own lives, our choices, our commitments…our worth. Almost in three parts, the journey for which we join these characters traverses oceans and years, and delves into their heaving, sighing, cracking, crumbling hearts. While it takes almost a third of the performance for the actors to settle and simply share their story, this is (unfortunately for first audiences everywhere) a bit typical of opening nights. The last couple of chapters of the story, set in Australia once the couple are perceived to have achieved a modicum of success, offers the most real, raw and honest performances of the evening. It’s almost as if we suddenly reach the real story. These are breath-holding, heartbreaking moments, and there are tears. It’s the women in the audience who are visibly affected. And McGahan’s gin-drunk dancing and weeping and collapsing will be mentioned in our Women in Theatre Bridge Club and various book clubs and other women’s circles, going down in Australian theatre history as one of those, “I was there. I saw her do that” moments.   

 

 

Vilma Mattila’s simple and elegant white design is a dream, so pleasing to those who have been to the islands of Greece and seen it before them, as much as to those who have not, and still long to. Nigel Leving’s darkness, creating the purity and peacefulness – and longing – of nights on the island, and sparkling white daylight, despite the perfectly timed thunderstorm outside in real life, which acts like a footnote from the gods at a crucial moment. Quentin Grant’s composition and sound design lures us into the dream before startling us out of it.

 

These words, though. These words of Clift’s, stitched seamlessly into the text by Smith, are like pieces of glass worn smooth by the sea. The memories of jagged edges are so distant that the gems they’ve become might never even have existed in that form, like somebody else’s version of past events.

 

There’s a deeply felt need here for the woman to exist on her own in order to create, just as Virginia Woolf wrote. For a woman’s most authentic work to be conceived and completed, she must exist in space and time for some time, supported, and utterly alone.

 

There is a sort of dreamlike quality in returning to a place where one was young. Memory is as tricky as a flawed window glass that distorts the view beyond according to the way one turns one’s head. Charmian Clift.

 

06
Mar
19

Dead Puppet Society Academy

Train and Perform with the Olivier Award Nominated Brisbane Company:

Dead Puppet Society

 

 

Home from sell-out seasons overseas of The Wider Earth, and nominated for an Olivier Award (Best Entertainment and Family) for that outstanding production, in their 10th anniversary year, Dead Puppet Society is once again opening the doors to their training Academy. Emerging to mid-career artists and tertiary students are invited to apply.

The ensemble will meet weekly, and under the guidance of our senior artists take part in training, learn the fundamentals of puppet construction, and work towards the creation of an original public performance at Brisbane Powerhouse.

The program offers artists the opportunity to connect, collaborate and forge new working relationships while actively learning, listening and finding the space to let imaginations run wild.

 

THE ACADEMY OFFERS TO PARTICIPANTS:

 

  • Introductory workshops

  • Concept and creative development

  • Design and construction techniques

  • Rehearsal period and tech week

  • Public performances

  • Individual mentoring

  • Guest artist talks

  • Insight into the design process for Storm Boy

 

THE DATES:

Weekly Training:

Tuesday nights from 2 April to 4 June, 4-7pm at Brisbane Powerhouse.

 

Intensive Rehearsal Week:

Monday 10 June to Friday 14 June, 10am-6pm daily at Brisbane Powerhouse.

 

Performances:

Saturday 15 June at Brisbane Powerhouse.

 

COST:

$550 + GST

 

APPLY:

Applications are now open until 22 March 2019. Please email a copy of your CV and why you’d like to be involved.

 

 

 

04
Mar
19

Two

Two

Ensemble Theatre

QUT Gardens Theatre

March 1 & 2 2019

 

Reviewed by Shannon Miller

 

 

“First night in here? Well, you’ll get used to us. We’re a lively pub, but it’s, eh, calmed down a bit now.” In this busy two-hander, British playwright, Jim Cartwright’s Two, has married-in-real-life couple, Kate Raison (A Country Practice) and Brian Meegan (Sea Patrol, Water Rats) play Landlord and Landlady, along with 12 other characters between them.

 

 

Set in an indistinct hotel somewhere in regional Australia, the story is ostensibly about a publican’s acidic relationship with his wife, and the characters who patronise their bar on one particular night. They had their twenty-firsts there, their wedding reception, and now they own the “bloody” place, the Landlord protests in his opening monologue.

 

Raison and Meegan have good instincts as they seamlessly change costume, and tag team with revolving door precision to inhabit the other characters with a balance of parochial small-town cliché, and dark idiosyncrasy, essentially holding up a mirror to the frustrated psyche of those held prisoner to their regional fate and circumstance.

 

The set is simple: an unremarkable pub bar with stools, green and yellow chunder-coloured carpet, and a tarnished, hand-smudged bar mirror. The drunken nostalgic misery of the 80s blares Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up, Divinyls’ All the Boys in Town, Angels’ We Gotta Get Out of This Place, and Madness’ It Must Be Love as Landord and Landlady bicker ominously during a busy service. 

 

 

There’s a nameless old woman bemoaning into her beer how her life is practically over, and that her husband sits at home, watching the telly in the dark, drinking lemonade. “What’s it all about?” she opines. A little boy enters crying, looking for his dad; he’s been left in the car outside with some soft drink and chips, forgotten. Moth has a wandering eye, breaking the fourth wall to flirt with theatre goers, as his naïve girlfriend, Maude fusses over him, paying for his drinks, and gullibly trying to pin him down despite his unchangeable, smooth-talking ways.

 

Roy is violent, distrusting and possessive over his pregnant wife, Lesly. He interrogates her when she goes to the toilet, and physically strikes her at the slightest uprising.

 

While the language’s text is rooted in broad stereotypes, the characters’ words rise and twist around a poet’s tongue: “Fetch the butcher with his slaughtering kit,” the old woman says, “may I ask you all to raise your cleavers now please and finish the job, raise them for the bewildered and pig weary couples that have stuck, stuck it out.”

 

 

While the assignment of multiple roles encourages the audience to consider the elasticity of Raison and Meegan, we’re also invited to comment on the human condition. Raison and Meegan mime with props and relate to bodies which are not there, and while this is an obstacle for suspension of disbelief, it provides a disarming aesthetic as characters carry imaginary glasses overflowing with beer, and mutter with abstract repetition.

 

Based on dysfunctional domestic relationships, the vignettes, some stronger than others, are interesting, but are at times no more than short character studies, rather than fully developed flash narratives, which only serve to break tension and flow. In the 70 minutes running time there was virtually no sustaining story until the last 10 minutes. This is a comedy, too, albeit darkly humorous, and the audience tended to enjoy the show, laughing in the rights spots with some good-natured heckling.

 

27
Feb
19

Death of a Salesman

 

Death of a Salesman

Queensland Theatre

QPAC Playhouse

February 9 – March 2

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

THE REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM THAT DEFINED THE 20TH CENTURY

 

What is a human life worth?

 

I saw the very first preview performance (this is the first time the play is seen by an audience outside the privacy and security of the rehearsal room) and two and a half weeks later, one of the final performances of the season. Despite my knack for writing really interesting and insightful and particularly generous preview reviews because I can imagine that a show will be exactly where it needs to be by opening night (I keep telling them that!!!) we tend not to write up previews – in fact, we’re asked not to – because at this stage the production is still in its infancy, and things can be a little clunky, or not quite clear. There’s still time before opening night to make changes and tweak things, and this is why you’ll often pay less for a preview ticket…and why it’s often a good idea to make a return visit to experience the show all over again, as the director intends it to look and feel, before closing night.

 

 

And so, in true teacher guise, I experienced Queensland Theatre’s first offering for the year, Death Of A Salesman, not once but twice: the first time, at the end of an excellent and entertaining day of professional development with Andrea Moor, analysing the text and remembering tricks to try with drama students to get realistic scenes on their feet without any fuss or (ironically) theatrics, and the second time, with our senior drama students after a chat with the director in the Playhouse Lounge. As  you can imagine, if you know the play at all or anything of it, there were some strong reactions to the matinee performance on Wednesday February 27, and some tears.

 

 

Arthur Miller’s seminal text from the 1940s remains as disturbingly relevant now as ever. With society’s emphasis on mental health, the worth of a man or woman, our best advice coming to our newsfeeds in the form of funny memes, the #metoo movement, and the somewhat token efforts to overhaul our education and health systems, Jason Klarwein’s faithful production for Queensland Theatre stands firm and strong. This version is a towering warning sign, as we continue to veer towards our own self-destruction as a workaholic, weary society. Sounds dismal, doesn’t it? Well, we know there’s not going to be a happy ending. Willy Loman is not a happy man. His failure to attain for himself, and deliver to his family the fabled American Dream sees him broken, unable to celebrate the success of others or relinquish his stranglehold on the past, defeated and eaten up by envy, self-loathing and regret, unable to go on.

 

 

Peter Kowitz lives and breathes every complex, tragic aspect of Willy Loman. Every haunted look comes from somewhere we wish we could see into more clearly so that we might know the ways to help him to see for himself the good that his long-suffering wife, Linda (Angie Milliken), still sees in him, and that we want to believe is at the core of every man. It’s a slow-burning, heartbreaking performance, challenging us to withhold judgement and simply accept that he’s always done only what he’s always felt he had to do. Kowitz has boundless energy in the moments spent in Willy’s mind, literally leaping and dashing about the stage, in stark contrast to his downtrodden state each time he returns to reality. Kevin Hides leaves his indelible mark on this production as the distinguished, rich, dead, older brother, Ben, and what a settle-back-in-your-seat pleasure it is to hear his beautiful, distinctive vocal work again. Likewise, elevating this role into another realm entirely, Charles Allen holds our attention, and in his voice and powerfully still presence, brings both ancient wisdom and boyish joy to the role of the neighbour Charley, the man whom Willy recognises – while Charley does not – as his only friend. “Now, isn’t that remarkable?”

 

 

 

Thomas Larkin’s finely layered performance – perhaps the best we’ve seen from him; certainly it’s the most demanding role he’s been gifted and he rises to every challenge – is just as heartbreaking, the measure of a man made clear to Biff by his father and Biff’s perception in turn made clear to us, that he will forever fall short of expectations. Larkin and Kowitz find something so raw and real in their father-son relationship that even the toughest teenaged boys in the audience are visibly affected, finally shifting in their seats after their perfect stillness throughout the savage shouting, and tears around the kitchen table, and awkward embraces by the sink, and end-of-the-night promises on the stairs.

 

 

Jackson McGovern, the perfect foil for Larkin’s Biff, is his younger brother, Happy (really, this is such superb casting, these two), and for a whole disquieting scene, he is also Willy’s heartless employer, Howard.

The audience reaction to this scene is something else, taking the travesty of Willy’s situation beyond even the mood the actors have established.

Each of Willy’s offers to take a pay cut are met with audible sighs of disappointment, shock, immense sadness. The air in the Playhouse gets heavy. The pauses on stage start to get uncomfortably long and it’s perfect. I’ve never heard or felt anything like it. The energy of the entire audience is with Willy, wanting desperately for him to see his worth and to sell that.

 

 

I always feel when I read this play on the page as if not enough attention is paid to Linda, who chooses her suffering and enters graciously into a life of it. (Imagine the contemporary sequel! Again I say, Bubnic it!). She can get a bit lost, but attention must be paid to Milliken, whose magic is in her seemingly effortless embodiment of the woman behind the man and the mother of their two hopeless, lovely boys. Her attempts to gently influence, and interrupt and disrupt the train wreck of family events / non-events are well measured, and her outbursts are as magnificent as her quieter, more nuanced, more devastating moments. We feel kids and adults alike, all around, cringing and squirming, and the couple in front include me in their parenting discussion during interval (they’d seen on the news that our College has banned mobile phones on campus).

 

Meanwhile, Miller’s words out of Milliken’s mouth have never been truer. 

 

 

The slightly jarring, suddenly changing lighting states to signify Willy’s altered state of mind happen seamlessly now, making what has always been a little confusing in the text abundantly clear on stage. The new wave design team here include: Verity Hampson (Lighting Designer), Justin Harrison (Composer/Sound & Projection Designer), Anthony Spinaze (Associate Designer/Costume Designer) and Richard Roberts (Set Designer). No, no one is new to their job but there might be a lovely new combination of aesthetic and abilities right there.

 

If I could, I would even see this production a third time. The play is a masterpiece. By leading us into their world and onwards to the crescendo of their lives, we recognise something of ourselves in these characters – these humans – and in their choices, and in the story they tell. It’s actually our story and there is medicine in its darker aspects, its shadows, if we are willing to look beyond what we are led to believe is best and real and right.

 

19
Feb
19

Matilda Award Winners 2018

2018 MATILDA AWARDS

STILL Brisbane theatre’s night of nights. Perhaps Paul Bishop said it best: the importance of the Matilda Awards is that we come together not to celebrate brands, but to celebrate our stories as humans.

 

The new judges deemed the following stories and storytellers the winners. Congrats to all!

 

2018 GOLD MATILDA AWARD

Debase Productions
This special, open award recognises either a standout production or performance element in the year’s theatrical season or, in this instance, recognition of an individual company or group for their contribution to the industry as determined by the judging panel. DeBase are being recognised this year for their commitment to making theatre of excellence in Queensland for over 20 years, touring nationally and internationally, focusing on the use of comedy to address social issues in a way that is in tune with their target audience.

 

INAUGURAL EMERGING FEMALE LEADER AWARD

Christine Felmingham
Announced at the 2017 Matilda Awards Ceremony, this award is sponsored by the Brisbane Women Arts Leadership Group with a cash prize of $1000, provided by the sponsors of the award.  The Brisbane Women Arts Leadership Group will work with the recipient of the award to develop a 12 month program of mentoring and development that is specific to the recipient’s needs and goals. The Program could include one-on-one mentoring with an Arts Leader, networking opportunities through invitations to opening nights and other industry events and professional development.

 

The Lord Mayor’s Award for Best New Australian Work

Crunch Time – Counterpilot

Including works from all performance categories, this is a very competitive category and this year is awarded to an outstanding new work that pushes the boundaries of what contemporary theatre is or can be. A transmedia performance work, sitting in the world of immersive theatre, Crunch Time places its full trust in the hands of the audience, combining intricately complex interactive digital design, with a guest chef from a public position, to set the scene for a performative dinner party designed to model the processes of democracy while providing the audience with a uniquely immersive theatrical event

 

Best Video Design

Craig Wilkinson – A Christmas Carol

An original and captivating video design that incorporated new video forms, staging magical gestures that were both theatrical and cinematic to impeccably support the aesthetic of the production. Craig’s design enchanted audiences with its spectacle, but only ever to serve the wonder of the story being told.

 

 

Best Lighting Design

David Walters – Nearer the Gods

In a production that that deals with both human foibles and the mysteries of the star-studded universe, David Walters’s original design displayed exquisite lighting artistry, providing moments that transported us beyond the characters’ earthbound realities, giving the audience evocative glimpses of the cosmic enormities that grounded the story.

 

 

Best Sound Design/Composition

Babushka – Happily Ever After

Babushka, in collaboration with Luke Volker, created an impressive sound aesthetic that incorporated blind-siding arrangements of a combination of original composition and existing works, utilising exquisite vocal harmonies and live music to deliver a darkly seductive and wickedly theatrical score.

 

 

Best Costume Design

Penny Challen – The Owl and the Pussycat

From a Surfers Paradise beach as part of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games Festival 2018 to a season at Flowstate and then on tour, the costume design for this work needed to be flexible and pack a visual punch. And that’s precisely what Penny Challen succeeded in doing. A visual feast, within an innovative contemporary context, the costume design provided seamless dramaturgical support for the work, with each costume displaying an impressive attention to detail and providing a vibrant and precise expression of the characters within their pea-green world.

 

 

Best Set Design

Josh McIntosh – A Christmas Carol

For inventive use of scale, theatrically realising a shifting cityscape that brought a vivid liveliness to this world. Josh’s modular design enabled a dynamic relationship between the characters and their environment, where the whole world seemed to open up and close in on its inhabitants as the story unfolded. This outstanding scenic design created a highly adaptive space that traversed numerous locations and technical requirements in a way that clearly evoked the environment of Ebenezer Scrooge’s world, while giving the artists a space within which to explore and create.

 

 

Best Director

Natano Fa’anana and Bridget Boyle – We Live Here

To the excellent directing team of Natano Fa’anana & Bridget Boyle, for their elegant and nuanced direction, and sensitive, funny, yet hard-hitting sharing of the story of the people of Hummingbird house. These directors worked collaboratively to create an incredibly strong visual narrative that seamlessly combined forms of circus and recorded narration to portray real stories. The result of their attention to detail was a compelling and unforgettable theatrical experience.

 

 

Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role

Andrea Moor – Hedda

Andrea Moor was barely recognizable in her standout portrayal of Aunt Julia Tesman, completely embodying the bogan matriarch, skilfully bringing both humour and heart in this layered and nuanced supporting performance. This outstanding work solidifies Andrea’s place as one of Queensland’s theatrical treasures.

 

 

Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role

Jackson McGovern – The Owl and the Pussycat

Jackson found gravity, balance, humanity and humour in an eclectic array of larger-than-life characters including a turkey, a pig, a bear and a moon. In a challenging breadth of roles, the skill of the performer shone through to create many memorable and standout moments that expertly supported the storytelling.

 

 

Best Female Actor in a Leading Role

Noni Hazlehurst – Mother

In a solo work written specifically for her, Noni gave an outstanding performance, giving voice to Christie, a lost, fallen and ultimately dispossessed woman existing on the fringes of society. Through her nuanced portrayal, we were able to connect with the humanity of this beautifully wrought character, and perhaps reflect on our own.

 

 

Best Male Actor in a Leading Role

Paul Bishop – Poison

For his compelling and unflinching portrayal of a father faced with life after the death of his son and the breakdown of his marriage, Paul Bishop brought the depth and breadth of his experience as one of Queensland’s most experienced actors to this work, presenting an intimately moving performance that captured the complexity of loss as both particular and universal. With Paul’s embodiment, the sticky details of this character’s backstory open up to accommodate our own grief and heartaches.

 

 

Bille Brown Award – Best Emerging Artist

Carly Skelton – The Hatpin

In the early stages of her professional career, Carly is being acknowledged for her portrayal of Harriet Piper, clearly meeting the professional requirements of the challenge. Carly displayed a solid skill base within a fully realised character journey replete with inventive choices and excellent comic timing that was skilfully coupled with vulnerability and empathy.

 

 

Best Circus or Physical Theatre Work

We Live Here – Flipside and Metro Arts

A unique collaboration of physical theatre, circus and recorded verbatim stories, this intricately nuanced production utilised a strong ensemble, excellent skills base, transformative design, stunning direction and detailed, touching performances to deliver an impossible-to-forget story about life in the face of death. For many, this work offered one of those divine experiences in the theatre – where an inexplicable moment in time and space lands with such emotional resonance that it transcends all language as a way of connecting us to each other.

 

 

Best Independent Production

The Sound of a Finished Kiss – Now Look Here and Electric Moon

In a strong year of independent work, The Sound of a Finished Kiss was considered the best overall independent production because of the unique nature of the musical work, the execution of the production, the degree of difficulty and uniqueness inherent in the original concept and the way in which all elements of the production came together to create an innovative theatrical experience of the indie musical reimagined for Queensland audiences.

 

Best Musical or Cabaret

The Sound of a Finished Kiss – Now Look Here and Electric Moon in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse

The indie musical reimagined for Queensland audiences, this compelling story of love, loss, betrayal and share-housing was explored in an inventive work inspired by the songs of The Go-Betweens. Using four singers, a live band and eleven songs from this iconic Brisbane band, The Sound of a Finished Kiss proved to be a powerful coming-of-age story that cut across genres and generations.

 

 

Best Mainstage Production – TIE

Prize Fighter (La Boite & Brisbane Festival) and The Longest Minute (Jute, Debase and Queensland Theatre)

This award is shared between two exceptional productions this year. Prize Fighter is recognised for the further development that has refined it into a powerful theatrical work of excellence. The urgent heart of this production explores the compelling story of a Congolese refugee, haunted by his past as a child soldier, as he fights to build a future in Brisbane.

The Longest Minute is acknowledged as an excellent collaboration between Jute, Debase & Queensland Theatre, fully immersing a diverse audience in the world of sport & theatre. By capturing attention through a uniquely local premise, this play sneaks up on us to explore underlying social, cultural and gender themes within its compelling story.

All elements of both productions were consistently outstanding and worked harmoniously to deliver theatre of excellence.

 

 

 

 

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.